Math for Teaching: Ways We Use Fractions

A fraction is a number, which can tell us about the relationship between two quantities. These two quantities provide information about the parts, the units we are considering and the whole. Determining the whole is important when working with fractions.

Thinking about fractions as unit fractions

This is ‘two sixths’

but we could think about this as units of one-sixth

or we could also think about it as “two times the unit created by partitioning the whole into six equal parts”

Understanding unit fractions helps students develop fractions number sense and supports work with fractions operations.

26 can represent one or more of the following, depending on the context:

Each of these fraction meanings is included in the Ontario curriculum. Although within the curriculum for specific grades students are not expected to use all meanings, they sometimes use a mathematically correct fraction which is unexpected within the lesson focus. When educators understand each of these meanings, they are better able to assess student thinking as correct as well as connect that knowledge to the lesson focus.

For more information on these meanings, see Paying Attention to Fractions: K-12 on

Curriculum and Assessment Policy Branch
Dr. Cathy Bruce TMERC 2013
Last revised August 7 2015