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
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
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
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.