No doubt about it ... comparing fractions with different denominators is challenging. It's hard to believe that this skill is now being taught to 3rd and 4th graders! Some might argue that it's not even developmentally inappropriate at those grades, which might be true if they are expected to find least common denominators. But if we help kids develop fraction number sense instead of having them memorize algorithms, they will blow you away with how easily they use creative thinking to solve comparison problems.
How can you do foster this kind of creative and critical thinking? It's easy! You can start by engaging your students in games and activities that will motivate them to want to think and that will reward them for unique approaches to problem solving.
The Power of Predicting and Justifying
One simple method is to ask your students to predict or estimate the answer to a problem before solving it AND to ask them to justify their prediction to a partner! This method is especially effective when they repeat the cycle of predicting, discussing, and checking answers over and over. No one likes to be wrong, so asking your students to explain WHY they believe in a certain outcome will make them think critically about their reasons. If they are right, they are rewarded by feeling a sense of pride. If they are wrong, they are motivated to figure out where they went wrong in their thinking because they will want to get the next one correct.
Comparing Fractions Freebies
Penguin Fraction Predictions and Fraction Predict and Compare are two similar activities that are guaranteed to stimulate creative thinking about fractions. In both activities, students are shown with two fractions in number form, and without talking they predict which one will be larger. They each write the comparison using <. >, or = and then compare their answers with a partner. Together they talk over their predictions and justify their answers. Finally, they are shown the fraction bars on the backs of the cards as a way of checking their answers. Each time the activity is repeated, your students will become more adept at using a variety of strategies to compare the fractions.
Classroom Tested-Teacher Approved!
When I created Penguin Fraction Predictions, I asked for volunteers who were willing to test out the activity. Kris Sandwell agreed to try it in her 3rd grade class, and that evening she shared this feedback with me:
"Just to let you know - my students LOVED this. They did not want to leave and requested that we play it again - not once, but twice! Thank you so much!!! It went exactly as described. There was so much conversation going on - how to figure it out, do we use number lines or some other tool, what was the best tool to use, how to we do equivalent fractions, etc. These were 3rd graders and they had so much fun I almost wanted to start yelling down the halls about how incredible the activity was. I would strongly recommend this for any teacher who teaches fractions!"Formative Assessment or Center Game
I was thrilled that Kris's kids love the activity, but I was more excited about her comments regarding their conversations and the critical thinking that was taking place. The activity works really well as an formative assessment before you introduce the concept of comparing fractions. As you walk around the room observing your students, you'll see who will need extra help and support with this concept. The activity would also work well in a math center to reinforce the concepts after you teach comparing fractions.
Penguin Fraction Predictions and Fraction Predict and Compare are essentially the same activity, but one has a penguin-theme and the other one doesn't. You can download both of them for free from my TpT store. They come with the fraction cards and the game board needed for the lesson. Both lessons are samples from my comparing fractions products. If you like these freebies, take a few minutes to check out the fraction products in my store. I love creating helpful resources for teachers, and I think that these are some of my best!