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!

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. (See picture below – never mind the mess and quality of the photo… remember, teacher not a photographer. HA!)

Then we discuss where each paper clip end hooks to another is 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!)

Whew! I rambled on. We spend a lot of time talking about number line fractions since it’s a new math fraction concept. Thanks for reading all that. Ha! Here is that freebie for the number line fractions using paper clips (click here or on the image below). 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.

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