3 simple subtraction ideas to use to help struggling kindergarten students

Teaching subtraction can be a lot of fun. However, if you are a primary teacher, it can be really difficult for students to master subtraction facts. After introducing the subtraction concept, you must use engaging and hands on subtraction ideas and activities to help students master the concept. Meaningful small group centers and math intervention time give students time to practice and work on subtraction skills.

Engaging Subtraction Ideas

One of my favorite engaging subtraction activities is my See it Write it Check it games. When first working on subtraction, we practice this whole group and use the Doodle Buddy app to write on our devices. It makes this game zero prep and it is a paperless activity. However, you can use whiteboards and dry erase markers if you do not have access to 1:1 devices. The See it Write it Check it games provide students with a quick way to review a taught skill, write their answers and it shows the answers. You can use this in a variety of ways once students know the concept. Small groups, math centers, tutoring groups, the entire class, and even just one student can use this to practice.

subtraction ideas

When we first practice subtraction, I like to show them subtraction with and without images. The images help them visualize since addition and subtraction can be hard to “see” without images or shapes. When we aren’t using images, adding in small manipulatives is helpful. When they see a subtraction sentence, they can create the groupings and practice taking away concrete pieces. This can go quickly if used with the See it Write it subtraction game. Students can see the subtraction sentence, use their manipulatives and get their answers written down. You can find the See it Write it Subtraction sets here.

Hands on Subtraction Ideas

As teachers, you know how important it is for students to have the opportunity to explore and interact with different concepts in order to truly understand them. Generating well-thought-out subtraction ideas help. Math centers are an invaluable tool for making sure math time is fun and engaging. Math centers provide students an opportunity to engage actively. This is very important when teaching concepts like subtraction. Subtraction can be abstract and/or concrete. Students have to learn to be visual when not given manipulatives to make the ideas concrete. Math centers give them the concrete and visuals to practice with. By allowing students to work with manipulatives, play subtraction games, or complete subtraction worksheets independently or with partners, they’re able to internalize the concepts they’re learning much more quickly than if they were just listening to you talk or completing sheets alone. This increased engagement leads to an increased understanding of key math concepts and helps build mastery of those skills over time.

subtraction center

When they are able to collaborate, students develop problem-solving and critical thinking skill as they work through challenging tasks together. Math centers are also great for individualizing instruction for each student. It allows them to move at their own pace and focus on areas where they need extra help without feeling embarrassed or pressure from working with other students. When students can choose activities that fit their individual interests and needs, everyone benefits from having personalized tasks within the classroom.


Small Group Math Intervention Subtraction Ideas

Teaching subtraction is a challenge as we’ve said. Teaching it in small groups is an even greater challenge. If a student is not grasping the concept as quickly as you’d like, intervening with math interventions will hopefully help. With so many different levels of understanding, it is difficult to make sure everyone is on the same page. Start back with the basics during small group. The best way to start is with smaller numbers. I like to keep the highest number 5 or less. This way, we can practice using our fingers, drawing it out, or using manipulatives. Smaller subtraction problems can also help them be less overwhelmed. I also use these math questions to help guide me during small group instruction.

If needed, do not use subtraction problems at all. You can work with subtraction story problems instead. Some students can visualize a story being told and this can help. Add in manipulatives to keep it hands on. Mini erasers, counters, and small objects work best. You can even use two different colored sets of teddy bears to help them visually see a difference. Using visuals, you can show them what happens when one number is taken away from another. This helps with making this more concrete than abstract.

Teaching subtraction doesn’t have to be overwhelming or intimidating. With the right approach, you can make it fun and engaging for all your students. Gradually progress from minimal subtraction to full on subtraction sentences with symbols. Before you know it, your students will have their subtraction facts down.

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