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Teaching Fractions Through Color

With the book, Mix it Up, by Hervé Tullet, I have designed an integrated math/arts extension activity for grade 2. Mix it Up is a fun, colloquial picture book that simulates a child’s engagement with paint. The book is very well aligned with the aim of the grade 2 arts curriculum to develop the fundamental concept of secondary colours. (The Ontario Curriculum, 2021). The book does not specifically address any math concepts, but my plan is to use the structure of the book as a springboard for students to engage with paint during a lesson about simple fractions.

Mix it Up is designed to be used in an intimate one-on-one setting, such as bedtime, with it’s calls for the child to physically touch the book in the beginning. The book begins with, “tap that gray spot. Just a little, to see what happens.” Although this element of the book is not ideal for my purposes, I think that I could use the introduction as an opportunity to give my students a moment for movement before the real lesson would begin.

“Everyone in the class, quickly hop up and find something that is gray!”

“Ok! Now tap it! TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP!”

I would then have my students collect tubs of red, blue and yellow paint for their stations. At the stations there would be wet paper towels and a stack of small, square pieces of paper with a circle drawn on each one, and the words ‘red, yellow, blue, white and black’ stacked to leave room for the students to write next to them.

I would have the students divide the pieces of paper equally amongst themselves, as a quick fair-share warm-up. Then I would ask my students to take one sheet and divide their circle into two equal parts with a pencil.

Here begins the integrated math/art activity. I would read the page, “With one finger, take a little bit of the blue... and just touch it to the yellow. Rub it… gently.”

Ok, now everyone, I want us to write a ‘1’ next to the word ‘blue’ and another ‘1’ next to the word ‘yellow’. Now let's put our finger in the blue and dab it once on one segment of your circle. We’ll clean our finger and then put it in the yellow. Dab it once on the other segment of the circle. Now we’ll fold our paper in half along the middle and SQUISH and RUB the two colours together. Lets open up our pages now and look at the colour we have created. Green!”

I’ll have my students put the page next to them to dry and repeat the exercise to create purple and orange, following along with the pages of Mix it Up. Along the way, I would prompt my students with the question,

“What fraction of the new color is made of yellow? Blue?”

The use of a pie chart to illustrate fractions of a whole lines up well with the specific expectation B1.6 — “use drawings to represent, solve, and compare the results of fair-share problems that involve sharing up to 10 items among 2, 3, 4, and 6 sharers…” (Although we are not exactly working with the concept of fair share, this exercise will still allow students to visualize how “whole” new colours are made up of different “pieces.”)

When we reach the page, “Great! Can you remember all that? Now let's have some fun.” I would put the book aside and ask my students to split their next circle into three pieces. They would then repeat the above exercises using two dabs of yellow, one blue... etc... to create different shades of green, orange and purple. I will get my chance to illustrate the specific expectation B1.7, about fraction equivalency, when my students divide their circles into four.

When the students create their secondary colour using two dabs of each primary, I will have my students compare the colour to the first one they created using just one dab of each colour. With this I will be able to show that one half is equal to two fourths. I will make this comparison again with thirds and sixths.

At this point, I would likely turn back to Mix it Up. I would give my students a short math break as I read through the paint mixing scenarios and questions posed in the book. I expect that I would receive some fun answers to, “So shake the book really hard. What do you think would happen?”

After a few pages like this, the book introduces white and black into the colour mixing scenario, before coming to an end. At this point I would open up the class and encourage students to make their own colours by dividing up their remaining circles into 2,3,4 or 6 parts. I would remind my students to write down how many dabs of each colour (including white and black) that they are mixing together. I would then make my way around the room to see what colours the students are creating. I would ask my students about the composition of each colour, looking for answers like, “This colour is one fourth blue, two fourths red and one fourth white.”

In order to integrate another element of the arts curriculum into the activity, I would add one final element to the project. Specific Expectation D2.2 of the Grade 2 arts curriculum asks that students “explain how elements and principles of design are used to communicate meaning or understanding in their own and others’ artwork.” (The Ontario Curriculum, 2009) Once all of the colours have dried, I will have my students gather their collection and name the colours as though they are crayons. I would encourage my students to think of how each colour makes them feel and what they associate that colour with. Is it “sunset orange?” or “envious green?” This final wrap-up activity will give students the chance to imagine how they could use their colour compositions to express themselves in their art.

...Finally, I do believe that all of these swatches together would make rather fetching wall decor. ☺


  • Tullet, H. (2014). Mix It Up (Illustrated ed.). Chronicle Books.

  • Art with Mrs. F. (2019, June 9). Mix It Up [Video]. YouTube.

  • Ontario Education. (2020-2021). The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8: Mathematics.

  • Ontario Education. (2009). The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8: The Arts.

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