Making Sense of Fraction Story Problems with Visual Models

"Now that I am a teacher, I want to give my students the tools they need to tackle these story problems and ultimately change their perspectives on math."


When you ask your students what they dislike about math class, you will likely hear that they don’t like story problems. Story problems are confusing and hard to figure out. When I was a 5th grader, I felt the same way. Now that I am a teacher, I want to give my students the tools they need to tackle these story problems and ultimately change their perspectives on math. I do this by using clever highlighting and math models. We introduce math models when students are in 1st and 2nd grade, so by the time they get to 5th grade they are pretty good at it. When we solve challenging problems, I sometimes allow students to work in pairs. For this lesson, students worked in pairs to solve 3 different fraction story problems using thinking classroom practices. They got progressively harder from problem to problem. Having a partner and being able to model their thinking on the reusable Wipebook Flipcharts made a lesson that would normally be boring and frustrating, fun and successful.


Easily Fix Models

After reading the math story problem and highlighting the most important information we make our models. The amazing thing about doing this work on the Wipebook Flipcharts is that I can walk from group to group and we can easily wipe away mistakes and fix our models without having to start all over again. This is especially helpful with the story problems we are working on. The ability to just wipe off and fix it is fantastic. For some reason, when you ask students to erase on their paper when they are using a pencil, they are devastated. Not with the Wipebook Flipchart!


Student model a part of a part on Wipebook Flipchart (Problem 1)


Problem 1 - Finding a part of a part. For this type of problem students use a square model to represent the whole. They then shade in the part that they have vertically and then take a part of that part by shading in horizontally. I love that we are able to use multiple colors on the Wipebook Flipcharts and show the colors overlapping. The answer to the problem is the part that is shaded in both colors.


Students can write nice and big with all the space.  This makes their solutions easy to see when they are presenting (Problem 1)


Students working together to solve challenging fraction story problems (Problem 1)


Large Enough to Present

Once students have had some time to work on the problem, they get to present their solutions to the class. The Wipebook Flipchart makes this easy. The paper is nice and big. We talk about how to use all the space to make our model big enough so that everyone can see them. Presenting the solutions to the class gives the students a voice and ownership in the work. It is so important for them to hear how a student would solve the problem rather than always having the teacher model the solution. Students often come up with different and amazing ways to model and solve problems that I may have never even thought of. These innovative solutions might be just what another student needs to understand a concept.


Students are able to make accurate models since they have a grid that they can build on. (problem 2)


Problem 2 - Finding an unknown total. For this problem students were trying to find the total. They used a tape diagram model to show the parts they knew and work their way to finding the total.  


Students presenting their solution to Problem 2  to the class.


Grid or No Grid

For these story problems we opted to use the grid side of the Wipebook Flipchart. This gave my students a choice and an easy way to partition their models. When they don’t have the grids in their notebooks their models aren’t as accurate. I love the flexibility of being able to choose to have the grid or not depending on the situation. This makes the Wipebook Flipchart great for math content but also for all other subject areas.  

Problem 3 - For this problem, students were working with the part of the model that is left over. They had to work backwards to solve the problem.


Students presenting solutions to Problem 3


Francesca Moen, Teacher, Salem Woods Elementary


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