Are Fractions Numbers?

Author: Student Achievement Partners

  • Description
  • Files

What we like about this task


  • Addresses standards: 3.NF.A and MP.3
  • Requires students to construct a viable argument and use examples to justify their reasoning (MP.3)
  • Focuses on the cluster-level expectations for grade 3 (3.NF.A), “Develop understanding of fractions as numbers” 
  • Asks students to think about fractions as numbers without requiring that they have been taught operations with fractions
  • Addresses major misconceptions students often have with fractions

In the classroom:

  • Encourages students to talk about each other’s thinking in order to improve their mathematical understanding
  • Allows teacher to gather data on student understanding and use it to plan future instruction
  • Provides opportunity for students to choose and use concrete objects or pictures to help them conceptualize and solve problems
  • Allows students to work independently or collaboratively

This task was designed to include specific features that support access for all students and align to best practice for English Language Learner (ELL) instruction. Go here to learn more about the research behind these supports. This lesson aligns to ELL best practice in the following ways:

  • Provides opportunities for students to practice and refine their use of mathematical language.
  • Allows for whole class, small group, and paired discussion for the purpose of practicing with mathematical concepts and language.
  • Elicits evidence of student thinking both verbally and in written form. • Includes a mathematical routine that reflects best practices to supporting ELLs in accessing mathematical concepts.
  • Provides opportunities to support students in connecting mathematical language with mathematical representations.

  • Making the Shifts

    How does this task exemplify the instructional Shifts required by CCSSM?

    Focus Belongs to the major work of third grade
    Coherence Extends student’s understanding of the number system; lays foundation for grades 4 and 5 work with fraction operations

    Conceptual Understanding: primary in this task

    Procedural Skill and Fluency: not targeted in this task

    Application: not targeted in this task

  • Task

    Are Fractions Numbers - Student Task

  • Commentary

    There are a number of ways this task could be used in a 3rd or 4th grade classroom. This task could be used in third grade in the beginning of a unit of study on fractions. It gives teachers an idea of their students’ number sense as it relates to fractions. While teachers would not expect their students to have a deep understanding of fractions (yet), some students may apply their knowledge of whole numbers or their experience from real life situations, in order to correctly answer some or all of the questions on the task.

    This task may also be used as a pre-assessment in fourth grade to determine what level of understanding students have about fractions from third grade. Alternatively, instructors may choose to use this task towards the end of a study of fractions – either in third or fourth grade – as a mini-assessment of the work students have done with fractions. Once teachers are able to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses in their students’ understanding of fractions, they can plan focused lessons for future instruction.  

    This task may be used as an activity that starts with independent work and then transitions into partners or small groups. This allows students to create their own ideas and generate examples to support their thinking, without being influenced by the ideas of others. Once students have had time to think about and work with the questions on their own, encourage them to work together. Some of the most profound learning comes from discussions around students’ developing thinking, sharing various student solution methods, and asking students to justify their reasoning.

  • Additional Thoughts

    As part of the Major Work of third grade, this task can enhance classroom discussion about the concept of fractions as numbers 3.NF.A). Number line diagrams are important representations for students as they make the connection between fractions and whole numbers. Understanding fractions as numbers means, first and foremost, seeing fractions as useful for describing quantities. This is the focus of fraction work in Grade 3. Then, in Grades 4 through 6, students learn how to compute with fractions and solve problems involving arithmetic with fractional quantities.

    The work students do with fractions in third grade is predominantly conceptual, as can be seen at the cluster and standard level. The word “understand” is used in the Standards to set explicit expectations for conceptual understanding. Similarly, when standards call for students to “explain” a concept, there needs to be a deep level of understanding in order to arrive at a meaningful explanation. It is important for teachers to carve out sufficient time for students to be able to develop a deep conceptual understanding of fractions in third grade, so they have a strong foundation on which they can build their skills using fractions.

    Understanding a fraction (and whole numbers) as a point on the number line and understanding the properties of operations on fractions (and whole numbers) are two key concepts students develop in K–5 in order to understand the rational numbers as a number system (6–8, NS). For more information on the specific expectations for students working with fractions in grade 3, read pages 3–5 in the progression document, 3–5, Number and Operations–Fractions.

Supplemental Resources