From integers to fractions: The role of analogy in transfer and long-term learning

Shuyuan Yu, Pooja Sidney, Dan Kim, Clarissa A. Thompson, John E. Opfer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fractions are the gatekeepers to advanced mathematics but are difficult to learn. One powerful learning mechanism is analogy, which builds fraction understanding on a pre-existing foundation of integer knowledge. Indeed, a short intervention that aligned fractions and integers on number lines improved children's estimates of fractions (Yu et al., 2022). The breadth and durability of such gains, however, are unknown, and analogies to other sources (such as percentages) may be equally powerful. To investigate this issue, we randomly assigned 109 fourth and fifth graders to one of three experimental conditions with different analogical sources (integers, percentages, or fractions) or a control condition. During training, children in the experimental conditions solved pairs of aligned fraction number line problems and proportionally-equivalent problems expressed in integers, percentages, or fractions (e.g., 3/8 on a 0–1 number line aligned with 3 on a 0–8 number line). Children in the control group solved fraction number-line problems sequentially. At pretest and a two-week delayed posttest, children completed a broad fraction knowledge battery, including estimation, comparison, categorization, ordering, and arithmetic. Results showed that aligning integers and fractions on number lines facilitated better estimation of fractional magnitudes, and the training effect transferred to novel fraction problems after two weeks. Similar gains were not observed for analogies using percentages. These findings highlight the importance of building new mathematical knowledge through analogies to familiar, similar sources.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105918
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
StatePublished - Jul 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Author(s)


  • Analogical reasoning
  • Mathematical development
  • Number line estimation
  • Numerical cognition
  • Progressive alignment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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