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Article Summary: "The road to learning subtraction is pitted with sinkholes full of students who could never make the connection of subtraction and what it all means to them. We all know that the opposite of subtraction is addition and common strategy is to subtract through addition."

Home > Math Tips > 5 Fun Ways to Teach Subtraction: What is the Difference?

5 Fun Ways to Teach Subtraction: What is the Difference?

The key to teaching subtraction so most students understand and retain the information they are learning is to make it real. A real connection is the cornerstone of learning, because when a student internalizes the concept they have learned it - not before. Worksheets are only good in rote memorization of a math concept and math facts, which is good on a certain level - some mental math applications. However to truly memorize a math concept, a students needs to understand it first.

The road to learning subtraction is pitted with sinkholes full of students who could never make the connection of subtraction and what it all means to them. We all know that the opposite of subtraction is addition and common strategy is to subtract through addition. This method is used for learning subtraction, for example "36 minus 12 is 24" or "12 plus 24 is 36." Great the student just proved that he/she can memorize, however does the student really understand? Students need to understand first, if they are to learn.

Let's look at five fun ways to teach division that will prove a student understands subtraction.

One way is to use an interactive online computer game that involves critical thinking skills to develop a greater understanding of subtraction. One website that has such an interactive game is located on the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives http://nlvm.usu.edu/en/nav/frames_asid_155_g_3_t_1.html website. This game uses Base Ten Blocks to model separation of groups. Students have the option of using computer generated groups or creating their own subtraction groups. If they can create their own groups, then they have just demonstrated internalization of the concept. This interactive base ten block game has variations for grades K-8.

Another fun way to learn subtraction is to use different colored blocks. Have the students place 100 colored blocks in a container. Then have them remove 31 and ask them how many are left? This allows them to visualize the difference after the removing 31 blocks. Ask them to explain which are the minuend, subtrahend, and difference. This gives them a better understanding besides using the standard worksheet subtraction problem. Students will find this fun and a lot less boring than worksheets.

A third way is to subtract the number of days until the students' birthday, end of school year, or until a holiday break. This provides students with real world examples of how they can use subtraction everyday, while making it personal. The fun part is counting down the days until a special occasion.

A fourth fun way to teach subtraction is to have a simulated store. Students can buy things using play money and they have to subtract the cost of an item from the money presented to purchase it. This also provides a real world application for learning how to subtract. A different version is giving each student $10 and has them purchase as many items as they can with the $10. To make it challenging they are not allowed to use calculators or pencil and paper - only their minds. This is a perfect use of a mental math subtraction exercise that has real world applications.

A fifth way to have fun when teaching subtraction is to use windup cars. Two cars are placed on the floor at a given start point. Students are given stop watches to time how long it takes each car to go a selected distance. Next they have to determine the difference between the two times. Have them identify the minuend, subtrahend, and difference. You should use several cars that travel the distance at different times for a connection for calculating speed and other math applications.