Math Background

Modeling Subtraction: Tips and Tricks

Help with Opening PDF Files

  • Use a variety of classroom objects as manipulatives, such as crayons, paper clips, books, and so on. Whenever possible, have children work with the actual objects shown in their books. Help children connect the manipulatives to spoken and written symbols. Emphasize the connections as children model subtraction.
  • Make your own manipulatives by cutting out, or having the children cut out, pictures from magazines and laminating them. Or have children draw a picture of a single item, such as an insect, a bird, or a tree. Then copy and laminate the drawings for use as manipulatives. You may wish to prepackage manipulatives into sets for groups of various sizes.
  • Children can make math collages to illustrate subtraction sentences. Have children glue items such as buttons, beads, or pasta onto paper. Then have them circle and paint an X over the items being subtracted.
  • Look for daily examples of subtraction in the classroom. Have children subtract to find how many days are left until the weekend, a school holiday, and so on. When the class is divided into smaller groups (reading groups, for example), have children subtract the number of children present from the number normally in the group to find how many are absent.
  • Give children a small cup and up to 8 beans that have one side painted red. Have the children spill the beans from the cup and write subtraction sentences by filling in the Subtract the Beans! (PDF file) worksheet. Vary the number of beans to practice different subtraction facts.

Houghton Mifflin Math Grade 1