5 Ideas for Teaching Subtraction

HeidiSongs.com 5 Ideas For Teaching Subtraction.
 

It has been said that you may need to find 20 different ways to teach one concept!  This is certainly true of addition and subtraction.  And after a while, the ideas start to run dry.  But the kids need to keep on using manipulatives while learning if they are really going to internalize the concept.  So I just try to keep thinking creatively as much as I possibly can to keep it fun and motivating for all of us!

Here are five ideas for teaching subtraction.

Snack Time Subtraction

Snack Time Subtraction
 

One thing that I always do is use food to teach subtraction.  Here’s how:  In a small group, roll a die.  Everyone gets that number of pieces of cereal.  Then roll a die or spin a spinner and have everyone eat that number of pieces and count the ones that are left.   This works great, since there is no chance of counting the ones that have been taken away!   Have the children practice writing that equation (or watch while you write it) before going on to another problem.

Dice
 

Tip:  You will need two dice; one with larger numbers and one with smaller numbers.  You can make your own by writing with a permanent marker on a blank wooden cube, or simply cover the numbers on a die with a sticker.  Make sure your dice are two different colors.

I do already have a free downloadable pattern for blank dice uploaded to my blog, and you can find it right here. I made it for my Sight Word Dice game.  Just draw dots or write numbers on it!    (I always try to include a blank master when I provide games, so that teachers and parents can customize them as they wish.)  Below is a photo.

Sight Word Dice 2
 

Dice- Blank
 

Another tip:  Make sure that you have your students show you how many they are going to eat in the palm of their hands before they put them in their mouths!  Otherwise, you will have some children that will find that their answers are different than other children’s answers since they at the wrong amount of cereal.

We also had the kids roll the dice and make a subtraction equation out of it and write it. Then we had them make pictures to illustrate the equation.  For example, 5 – 2 = 3 might have a picture of five pigs, but two of them are crossed out, etc.

 

Acting Out Subtraction Equations

Acting Out Subtraction Equations heidisongs.com
 

Another thing I do is act out equations!  The kids really like this.  We do it with both addition and subtraction.  For subtraction, pick five kids and have them stand up in a group.  Then pick someone to pretend to be a bee that stings a couple of them. Those that get stung must fall down.  Then write an equation to illustrate what happened.

Act Out the Equation
 

This picture shows us acting out an addition equation, but the process is the same for subtraction! Just choose some children to come up and hold the signs as shown. Then choose some more to act it out. I always have another child “read” the equation as well.

As an alternative, you could have the kids pretend to be flies, and have another child pretend to be a frog that eats some of them.  Then write an equation.  The hardest part of this activity is that ALL of the children would like to come forward to do something, of course- but their attention spans are rather short!  So what I do is just do a couple of equations before recess or playtime, and then a couple of them afterwards, keeping a list of everyone.

We have done this sort of thing with the Five Little Ducks song, too.  You just stop the song after each verse and write an equation. The kids can write their own equations on whiteboards or magnadoodles, if you like.  The nice thing about that song is that it is always a “minus one” type of thing, so the answers are easy to get, and mistakes are usually few.

 

Using Ten-Frames

Using Ten Frames heidisongs.com
 

We like using Ten-Frames .  You could use egg cartons and cut off the last two egg cups on one end.  Each child should have their own.

CountTen Carton

This is a CounTen Carton from Cuisenaire.

Have the children put ten counters in the ten frame so that there is one counter in each spot. Then roll a die and have the kids take out that many and put them in the lid side of the ten frame.  Then write the equation and have them read it back to you.  Or, have them each write the equation themselves, and then touch the numbers while reading it back.

Dollar store ice cube trays are a MUCH cheaper alternative to the CounTEN trays- as long as there are ten spots!
 

Dollar store ice cube trays are a MUCH cheaper alternative to the CounTEN trays- as long as there are ten spots!

I like using ten frames so much for addition and subtraction that I bought a set of “Count-Ten” cartons from Cuisenaire.  They look just like plastic egg cartons, but there are only ten spaces.  They are sturdier and cleaner than using egg cartons.  If we wash them out, we can put cereal or other types of treats inside; then just eat and subtract!

Christmas Ice Cube Trays
 

To keep this activity fresh, we change the manipulative that we count with.  I have sets of plastic frogs, assorted insects, caterpillars and butterflies, seasonal erasers (like for Christmas or Valentine’s Day), toy soldiers, pirate “booty,” and stuff like that.  The kids love to use the different items to count.  It makes it seem like an entirely new activity.

Number Tree
 


We use these ten frames to make teen numbers also.  Just have them fill up the ten frame tray (or simply count them on the printed ten frame as you see above,) and then put a few more counters in the lid section (or in a cup, etc.), and then count them all.  My kids enjoyed making one of each of the numbers 10-20, and then coloring in that numbered apple on a tree that I gave them.  We used bingo bottles to fill in the apples. You can download the master for the trees here!

 

Number Tree Freebie from HeidiSongs
 

That idea came from Pre-Kpages.com, which is Vanessa Levin’s website.  She has some wonderful, fun ideas that can easily be adapted to suit more difficult K concepts.

 

Musical Math Lift the Flap Book

Musical Math Lift the Flap Book heidisongs.com
 

There is a printable subtraction lift the flap book with a zoo animal theme on my Musical Math Resource CD.

This is what one page of the book looks like with the flap down. Below you can see what it looks like when you open up the flap; five of the snakes are missing!
 

This is what one page of the book looks like with the flap down. Below you can see what it looks like when you open up the flap; five of the snakes are missing!


Subtraction Book Pg 1 Flap Open
 

When you open up the flap, you can see that five of the snakes are missing! The line at the top indicates where the flap should be glued. I had volunteers glue the flaps in for the children ahead of time.

There is no song for this one, but the kids get to draw zoo-animals on each page, and then learn to read it.  Each zoo animal has been started with traceable lines on each page so that the kids can easily finish the picture.  For example, the body and head of the elephant is already there on the page with dotted lines to trace.  Then, the children just have to add the legs, ears, nose, and tail.  There is also a subtraction song (and an addition song!) on the Musical Math Vol. 1 CD & DVD.  The kids love the motions to these songs!

 

Sticker Subtraction Fun

Sticker Subtraction Fun heidisongs.com
 

The dollar store sales big packs sticker sheets. Cut them into sets of four, five, or six per page, and then threw them into a couple of tubs.  The kids are going to pick a sheet of stickers and stick them down on the paper.  Then they will roll a die to see how many they should cross out.  Then they will count how many are left and write an equation.

Addition with Stickers 3
 

Obviously, this picture is of an addition activity, but that’s because I couldn’t find my photos of our subtraction stickers! Sorry about that, but you get the idea, right? 🙂  The kids picked a strip of stickers, and then rolled the die to see how many they should cross out.  Then they wrote an equation to represent what they just did.

To make it easier, you could have the children always subtract one or two, rather than roll a die.  You could also cut the strips of stickers so that there is a fixed number in every strip as well.

If you have some creative ideas for teaching subtraction, I would love to hear them!  Let’s keep these ideas coming, everybody!

– Heidi

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  1. When I teach the “missing number” concept (such as 5 – __= 2) I use a plastic cup to hide “some” manipulatives under and ask how many I took. For example, I put 6 bears on the table, I use a file folder to block the student’s view and then cover some bears under a cup and then show what is left. They have to guess what is under the cup. “How do you know?” Then we check and write the problem.

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