Teacher Tip: Use Number Lines to Help Kids Compare Fractions

Many grade-schoolers struggle to understand fractions. Some have trouble knowing if a fraction is greater than, less than, or equal to another fraction. They may also incorrectly apply what they know about whole numbers to fractions. For instance, your child might think that 1/4 is larger than 1/2 because 4 is larger than 2.

Research shows that a number line is a great way for kids to see how parts of a whole can be divided. It allows them to compare fractions and see if one is greater than, less than, or equal to another.

It’s easy to create and use a number line to help your child understand the concept of comparing fractions. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. On a piece of paper, draw a number line that goes from 0 to 1 (or any other two sequential numbers). Then draw a small set of fractions in between. Let’s use 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4.

  2. Come up with a short story problem for your child to solve using the number line to solve it. For this example: Who Kicked the Ball Farther?

  3. On the number line, ask your child to show that Javier kicked a soccer ball down 1/4 of the field.

  4. Next, ask your child to show on the number line that Amy kicked a soccer ball down 1/2 of the same field. Use different colors or hash marks to distinguish between Javier’s and Amy’s kicks.

  5. Then ask your child, “Who kicked the ball farther—Javier or Amy?”

  6. On a separate piece of paper, have your child show the relationship between those two fractions using the symbols >, <, or =. In other words, 1/4 < 1/2.

  7. Finally, ask your child to explain why you need to know that Javier and Amy were using the same field in order to say who kicked the ball farther. That helps your child get the concept of comparing different parts in relation to the whole.

Teaching your child how to compare fractions can be a smoother task with a visual prompt like a number line. Applying realistic situations can engage your child’s attention and help him better understand the concept.

—Bob Cunningham


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