The Complete Guide to Teaching Addition and Subtraction
By Mary Montero
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Addition and subtraction may seem like basic skills for upper elementary students, but there are numerous ways to extend addition and subtraction skills with our students. I usually teach this unit right after place value (since they are so closely connected), and those two units set the foundation for the rest of the year in math. Conceptual understanding of numbers and operations in base ten is the foundation for many other math skills, so it’s important for students to deeply understand the associated strategies and properties. Let’s dive into my favorite tips for teaching addition and subtraction.
Download Everything You Need– for free!
This free PDF guide will allow you to have all of the addition and subtraction resources right at your fingertips. It’s packed with checklists, book lists, lesson plans, anchor charts, practice activities, and more!
Teaching Addition and Subtraction Lesson Sequence
It is vital that students use a wide variety of strategies based on place value to develop a conceptual understanding of addition and subtraction. I use this strategy checklist when teaching addition and subtraction to make sure I’m covering all of the critical skills.
Here’s my recommended order for teaching addition and subtraction.
Manipulatives Part 1 (Base Ten Strategy)
Start with using base ten blocks, regardless of which grade level (2-5) you are teaching. Place an age-appropriate addition/subtraction expression on the board and have students model it using base ten blocks. Walk through the steps of adding/subtracting using the blocks. Students should be comfortable manipulating the base ten blocks without regrouping before moving on.
Manipulatives Part 2 (Regrouping with Base Ten and Expanded Form)
Have students use base ten blocks to model regrouping of numbers prior to carrying out operations with regrouping. I highly recommend showing students virtual base ten blocks that allow you to regroup automatically.
Base Ten and Expanded Form Strategies
After students are comfortable with using base ten blocks and working with numbers, I introduce addition/subtraction with regrouping using base ten and expanded form strategies.
Properties of Addition and Subtraction
I spend several days teaching the properties of addition and subtraction and having students model them in a variety of different ways. The most important property to teach is the commutative property as this is critical for students to understand. This anchor chart is easily adaptable to grades 2+ by removing references to multiplication.
Subtraction Across Zeros
I highly encourage you to utilize base ten manipulatives to show students how to subtract across zeros. This conceptual strategy will work for many students. Others will need several strategies (more suggestions are in the free PDF!). Don’t forget to address numbers with many zeros to subtract across (2,000-1,387), but also numbers with only one zero but requiring multiple regrouping steps (123,208 – 62,845).
Addition and Subtraction Math Fact Practice
There are so many great ideas for practicing math facts in the free PDF guide, but here are a few favorites.
Run A Row
My students LOVE practicing their math facts with this fun relay race! The kids are in two lines and have to compete relay-race style to get all of the facts correct. The numbers 1-12 are on each team’s side of the board and then they have a number (in this case it was +7, but you can adapt it to other operations very easily) to add to each number. SO easy to adapt to addition, subtraction, and multiplication! Click here to see us in action!
Dice and Dominoes
Have students roll two (or four if you want to increase the difficulty) dice and add them together. I also like to have students pull TWO dominos and have them find the sum or difference.
Mental Math Practice
I start each math session with a quick 2-3 minutes of mental math cards. I give students a VERBAL, multi-step problem that they must solve. For example, Start at 12 → Add 4 → Subtract 2 → Add 100.
I always have these mental math task cards within reach too. You’ll help students increase number sense, math fact recall, computation skills, and problem solving with this full year bundle. Incorporating mental math problems into your daily routines can make a massive impact on your student’s automaticity with math facts and problem solving. These are a perfect companion for implementing number talks in your classroom!
Addition and Subtraction Enrichment Activities
Then we extend our learning with these practice activities.
Addition and Subtraction Flipbook
I created flipbooks as a way to consolidate our learning and as an alternative to interactive notebook foldable activities. The left-hand side is designed for teaching and reviewing the concept and the right-hand side is perfect for practicing the skill. We have an entire section in our binder for these so they can go back and reference them all year. The addition and subtraction strategies set is perfect for this unit.
This FREE addition game is a favorite for students to play that helps them really practice and conceptualize regrouping. It is easily adapted for subtraction.
The Great Zoo Review
This Great Zoo Review math project provides a rigorous review of multi-digit addition and subtraction. It truly requires students to think critically about which operation to use, why they are using it, and solving. This is my #1 recommended enrichment resource for addition and subtraction!
I created an Amazon Affiliate List of my favorite math picture books. The free PDF includes the specific titles for addition and subtraction with activity suggestions that make teaching your lessons easier.
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I’m so glad you are here. I’m a current gifted and talented teacher in a small town in Colorado, and I’ve been in education since 2009. My passion (other than my family and cookies) is for making teachers’ lives easier and classrooms more engaging.