Techniques for Teaching Division to Children

The principle of division comes into play more often than children realize.  They divide a pizza, split the cost of a favorite DVD and may even separate allowance into categories for spending and saving.  What better technique to teach division to children than to use real-life experiences and hands-on activities?

Hands-on division –

This technique is especially helpful with younger students.  Using objects that can be counted and shared with the children, you will demonstrate the process of division.  Gather children around a table and place an empty bowl in their midst.  Next, introduce a bag of individually-wrapped treats such as lollipops, stickers or jelly beans.  Allow for at least two per child and have children help you count the total number of treats as you place them in the bowl.  

“Okay, there are 42 treats here. How can we divide them so everyone has the same amount?” Wait for the children to respond, and then proceed to explain. “I will give each of you one treat, and then I will go around again and give you another.  We’ll do that until we have a few or no more left.”

As you hand out treats, have children hold them until you are finished.  If there are two or three left over, show them to the children and explain, “These are the only ones that are left, and there aren’t enough to give each of you another one. So, since there are only a few that remain, I’ll put them back in the bowl.”  You have just introduced the concept of remainders in division problems.

Everyday examples –

Discuss how we use division every day when we share with others. Examples: A student cuts a sandwich in half to share with a friend.  You grandmother divides (or cuts) a chocolate cake into 12 pieces.  A teacher divides students into three or four groups to do class projects.  Children divide up and choose teams for a game of soccer.

Now discuss the fact that some things can be equally divided while others cannot. For instance, a dozen books cannot be equally divided among ten children, because once everyone is given a book, there will be two books remaining. 

“Can thirteen balloons be equally divided?”  These questions help students think and also demonstrate that some things can be equally divided and some cannot.  When something is not equally divisible, it always has something leftover, or a remainder.

Naming numbers –

Once students are familiar with division terms, they can quickly identify the part each one plays. Write the following words on the board – dividend, divisor, quotient and remainder – then illustrate them with a division problem such as 64 divided by 7. 

Work the problem aloud, and draw arrows from the four words to the numbers that are in those positions. (Remind students that if a number can be equally divided, it will not have a remainder.)  Change the problem to 64 divided by 8 to illustrate the remainder position.

Review division words until students can quickly answer the following questions:  What do we call the number that is being divided? (Dividend) What number is it divided by?  (Divisor)  What do we call the answer to the division problem? (Quotient) And if there are any numbers left over? (Remainder)

Next, print large, bold numbers on four index cards: 89, 6, 3 and 1.  Call four students to the front of the room and have them face the board while you hand each of them a number.  Have them turn around when you ask, “Which student is holding the dividend?  Who has the divisor?  Whose card has the quotient?  Who has the remainder?

Short cuts –

There are certain shortcuts that allow students to quickly determine if a number is equally divisible by certain other numbers. Two examples: If they add up the digits in the dividend and can divide that number by three, the dividend is also equally divisible by three. If 963 is the dividend, have them add 9 + 6 + 3 = 18.  Since 18 is equally divisible by 3, so is 963.

Another example: If three students want to share a pack of 72 water balloons, they can share them equally with no leftover balloons.  This is because 7 + 2 = 9, and 9 is divisible by 3.  You can find lots of other division shortcuts with other numbers when you click here.

Division review –

There are many games and activities that reinforce what children have learned about division facts.  Fishing at Lake Mathatobie begins when you choose an option of Easy, Medium, or Hard.  It’s a fast-moving game, so be sure you first know how to handle that fishing pole! You can also help the leprechaun collect pots of gold while avoiding troublesome delays in the game Lucky Drops!

Before children grasp the concepts of division, they need to have their multiplication tables memorized.  Once they are comfortable with those facts, division problems can be worked more easily.  If they seem fearful of moving into a brand-new arithmetic concept, point out how we already use division every day.

Take time to do lots of hands-on-division.  Be sure children know the names for parts of a division problem – dividend, divisor, quotient and remainder. Memorize some handy short cuts to figure if a number is equally divisible by another number. Vary your teaching techniques to keep things interesting, and children will learn that division is not as hard as they expected.