Fractions As the Denominator

As I was organizing my student work pictures this morning, I realized I had tweeted out this awesome work, but never blogged about it.

My students are very comfortable with putting fractions in the numerator. They use them all of time when decomposing, adding and comparing fractions like in these two examples…

IMG_8910_2 IMG_8300

The other day, two of my students finished early and as an aside asked me if there could be a fraction as the denominator. I asked them to try it out and see what they thought.

They wrote their question and then started playing around with some fractions in the denominator. At first they were writing a bunch of fractions with a fractions as the denominator in attempt to find one that jumped out and made sense to them. They tried drawing some pictures of them along the way to see if they could illustrate what it would look like.

The first one they drew was 1/1.5 in which the rectangle was cut into thirds and had 1.5 shaded. When I asked what they would name what they just drew, they said 1.5/3. Hmmmm, back to the drawing board. They moved to 1 / 2/8, drew a rectangle cut into 8ths and shaded 2 of them. After shading, one student wrote 1, 2, 3, 4 over each 2/8 and said that there were four of the 2/8’s in his picture, so 1/ 2/8 must be 4. I asked what the whole was in the picture and left them to play around with that idea for a bit.


I came back to these additions to the work:


When I came back they said they realized that 1/ 2/8 was really a fraction more than 1 since 2/8 / 2/8=1. When I asked them to show me where that thinking was in their representation, they said since 2/8 was really 1 in their picture, it took four of them to make four wholes. I especially liked how they multiplied the numerator and denominator by 4 (the reciprocal of the denominator) to get to 1 in the denominator. Interesting to think about the algorithm for dividing fractions at play here.

As others in the class finished their work, they started to mess around with this question, trying to make sense of it. This student attempted to put it into a context using the meaning of a fraction we use a lot, “a pieces the size of 1/b,” however with b as a fraction, it is not helpful here.


One student wrote this as his thought about the fraction as the denominator.


I am left thinking a lot about the progression in which students learn complex fractions.

3 thoughts on “Fractions As the Denominator

  1. mathconfidence

    A great fraction as a denominator is 12 divided by 1/2. This example can also help students know why Keep Change Flip works and perhaps will help them remember it as well.
    When asking students if they have a favorite division with fractions problem, i tell them i have one 12 divided by 1/2 and they can adopt it 🙂


  2. Pingback: Fraction Division and Complex Fractions | Math Minds

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