I’ve introduced and worked on fractions using a variety of tools and resources over the years. In 1st grade, we explore fractions as part of our Halfway Day celebration on day 90- halfway through the school year. In third grade, I expect my students to have some understanding of fractions from their work in previous years, but, they always seem to need me to start with the basics. Over the years, I’ve found that what I do to introduce fractions helps lay the foundation for a successful fractions unit. Here’s a look at my tried and true strategies and resources for my fraction unit.

Fractions of a Set using M & M’s

Hands down, my favorite math manipulative is food. It ups the student engagement, and beginning with concrete explorations is so important. As I was walking through Costco one day I saw these ginormo bags of M&M’s and knew that was exactly what I was going to use to introduce my fractions unit! I’ve used this lesson several times over the years and it’s always a hit!

I pass out a handful of M&M’s to each student. I don’t count them out. I don’t separate them into neat little cups. I just distribute.

Students then sort them into colors and record the amounts on their recording sheet.  Then we all come together and discuss what we knew about fractions. After, students record their fractions on the right side of their recording sheet.
I’ve also upped the level a bit with my third graders by partnering them up. Each student has their own recording sheet and records their new amounts and fractions. You can even take it a step further by creating groups using partner pairs.
If you’d like to download the recording sheets I used, just click the image below.

Introduction to Fractions

The most effective method of introducing fractions I used is by creating fraction strips reference posters we use throughout our unit. With one day’s lesson, we introduce and explore the concepts of unit fractions, fractions of a whole, fractions on a number line, same size wholes, comparing fractions and equivalent fractions. Students create their own fractions strips through this hands-on exploration.

To begin, I cut many same size strips of construction paper and then have larger sized paper available as the base. Each student uses a glue stick and a Sharpie for our lesson. Students divide the first strip in half and show the partition and label the unit fractions. We then label the strip as if it was a number line.

One half fraction strip

We then continue using the strips of paper to build additional fractions. By lining up the edges of the strips and the half point, it’s easy to explore the concepts of equivalence and same size wholes. Creating the fraction strips ourselves helps students truly understand.

quarter fraction strips

After dividing strips into fourths, the next strip is divided into eighths. By keeping the first strips as multiples of each other, it’s easier to explore and discuss equivalence. Here, students can easily see that 4/8 is equivalent to 1/2.

Fraction strips reference poster

After working with eighths, I introduce thirds and then sixths. We discuss that 3/6 is equivalent to 1/2 despite being created by thirds. We explore why that equivalence works. Students always have a strong concept of doubles and halves so it’s easy for them to understand that three-sixths is half of the whole.




We also created anchor charts with our previous and new learning.

My anchor charts are always a bit sloppy.  I create them with kids, so my handwriting is hurried, and I’m not the best artist in the first place.  Just my disclaimer. 🙂

The next day, we created another anchor as we began to compare fractions.  We looked at our paper strips and used them to help us.  Comparing fractions is difficult, and as much as I want the kids to understand how one fraction is bigger than another, we also need to talk about some generalizations and rules.





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Hi! I'm Tessa!

Tessa Maguire image

I’ve spent the last 15 years teaching in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades, and working beside elementary classrooms as an instructional coach and resource support. I’m passionate about math, literacy, and finding ways to make teachers’ days easier. I share from my experiences both in and out of the elementary classroom.