Teaching Number Line Fractions (with a freebie!)

Third grade is the first time that number line fractions (or linear model) are presented. At first glance, it can seem like a complicated concept, but it doesn’t have to be!

Colored paper clips for teaching number line fractions? Teaching fractions on a number line in math can be engaging with these tips and ideas! Check out these fun activities!

I like to use colored paper clips when I first start to teach students about number line fractions. Yes, colored paper clips. I use these because it’s a great way to transition from identifying fractions to fractions on a number line. I provide each student with a string of paper clips of two different colors (this is the perfect opportunity to differentiate by providing different fractional lengths). I ask them to identify the fractions of the paper clips. For example, 2 paper clips are red out of a total of 4 paper clips. Then we discuss that each paper clip is a unit fraction of the entire string. Each paper clip has the length of 1/4. Then using markers, we lay the string of paper clips down and “create” a number line from it.

Then we discuss where each paper clip end hooks to another are where it is partitioned on the number line. We also discuss how it’s important that these partitioned pieces are equal in size. This is a nice transition into learning about number lines, reading them, and partitioning them.

After we practice for a bit with number lines using paper clips, I conclude the lesson with this practice sheet. (This is FREE for you down at the bottom of this post, along with the sheet above).

The next day we continue to practice so students can get used to reading fractions on a number line. I start them off with this math center number line activity. Students have to match the person (with a fraction t-shirt) to the correct house. The houses are already partitioned but not labeled with the fractions. What’s nice is these are all separate roads – so when lined up (like the image below) students can also see equivalent fractions. (This also has blank streets and houses so students can partition it themselves when they are ready!)

Once students are ready to move on to partitioning a line themselves instead of it being done for them, I either have them work independently on this activity or play it as a game with a partner. Students have to partition the “electrical wire” with the birds (with fractions on them). This is found in my fraction math workshop unit.

After we have mastered fractions on a number line – reading it and partitioning it – we then have to start talking about fractions greater than one. Here is where I briefly introduce mixed numbers and improper fractions. I provide students with a fun cut and paste activity where they must find the fraction and glue it in the right stop on the train – it’s in improper fraction form so students are still seeing that the denominator doesn’t change.

We also practice by creating number line fractions using benchmarks in this clothesline fraction activity. You can read all about this fun idea in my previous blog post here (it also has a freebie!). We have also looked at the partitioned marks on a ruler if we have time. (Let’s tie in some measurement and even science!)

We spend a lot of time talking about number line fractions since it’s a new math fraction concept. To grab the freebie for the number line fractions using paper clips enter your information in the box at the bottom of the post. I hope some of this was helpful.

The majority of these activities are found in my Fractions Math Workshop Unit. You can check that out here.


To download the free fraction number line sheets in this post, click here.

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