updated June 18, 2011
According to the Visual Teaching Alliance website, 65 percent of students are visual learners. Educators and curriculum publishers use such information about how the brain works to change the way teachers present lessons to students. The ability to identify and calculate fractions ranks as one of the most critical skills a child develops during the elementary school years, and serves as the foundation for more complex mathematics, such as algebra and geometry.
Fraction strips, in their simplest form, are simply boxes -- arranged symmetrically on a sheet of paper -- that represent fractions. For example, students create or label a box that represents "one whole," then label same-size boxes in rows below it, with each row divided into smaller and smaller fractions that equal the whole. If the teacher then instructs the students to represent one-half in a box below the whole, the second row's box will have two parts labeled "1/2." Below that box, the students must divide each half into two parts, which requires a box with four sections labeled "1/4." This lesson helps students break down fractions from largest to smallest, while creating a visual representation of the changing sizes of fractions in comparison to their numbers.
Fraction strips come in different groupings, from halves all the way up to twelfths, and teachers can use the strips in several ways. For example, teachers can provide students with a worksheet of fractions they must copy onto blank fraction strips. Alternatively, strips cut from worksheets function as a matching activity or game for individual students or groups.
Teachers can easily create fraction strips with word processing or desktop-publishing software, printed in black ink on white copy paper or in attention-getting colors. If teachers or school districts prefer ready-made worksheets, most education supply stores and websites sell fraction strip worksheets in multiple sizes and for all ability levels. Educator-endorsed sites such as Math-Salamanders and Math-Drills also offer free downloads of teacher-created fraction strip worksheets.
The Visual Teaching Alliance claims that using visual aids can "improve learning by up to 400 percent." Fraction strips also let educators and parents easily identify each student's level of understanding, and students can monitor and assess their own progress, as well as each other's work through peer editing and small group activities.References