Teaching addition and subtraction is a huge part of kindergarten math and there are a lot of fun ways to teach it! I love to use books, games, and real word problems to teach and practice addition and subtraction. Check out my Addition and Subtraction product for these activities!
What are Addition and Subtraction Equations?
All year long we are laying the foundation for addition and subtraction without explicitly naming it as addition and subtraction. Around mid-year my students are ready to learn and use the vocabulary of addition and subtraction, especially equations.
I use books to introduce the concept of an equation. For your convenience, I have linked these books to my amazon affiliate shop. I love Pete the Cat books – Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons, Pete the Cat Got Class, and Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes – to introduce the concept of an equation. After reading those books, I focus on my two favorite books for teaching equations – If I Were a Plus Sign and If I Were a Minus Sign. These stories explicitly teach the concepts of addition and subtraction and the different rules for writing equations. They also use fun examples that the students love. When we are done, we create a class book with our own examples!
After students learn about addition and subtraction equations, they need time to practice this concept on their own. I love to use dice games to support this practice. At this point in the year children have played many games with two dice, without even realizing that this was addition practice. So now that we have explicitly named these games as addition, we need to push their practice further. For example, I use this bingo game as a fun addition practice with two dice, but I include the number line to encourage students to use it as a strategy when adding two numbers. This is a freebie in my Teachers Pay Teachers store!
I also love my Addition Cover Up game because the students play against a peer and try to cover up the most boxes. Here they can use two dice, like they are used to, or challenge themselves with adding three dice together.
Bowling for 10 or Bowling for 12 is another great way to extend their addition and subtraction understandings. Students will practice decomposing ten to find the matching number pair to add to ten. For Bowling for 12, students would add up the two numbers and cover up the total until all the numbers are covered.
Another awesome dice game is perfect for practicing both addition and subtraction. Children roll the die and write in the amount in the boxes and then add or subtract to get the answer. What I love about this game is that each page has a different addition or subtraction strategy to try. For examples, students would practice drawing to solve their equation, adding three numbers, counting on a number line, and counting backwards on a number line.
Counting on or Counting Backwards Strategies
Speaking of counting on or counting back, this is a strategy for addition and subtraction that, for most students, needs to be explicitly taught when the students are ready for it. If they aren’t ready for it, you’ll know because they will just continue to count all. For example, when playing a game with two dice, students usually count up all the dots to find the total. When students are ready, you can teach them to say the number they see (this is where all that subitizing work comes in!) and then to count the rest of the dots. Counting on is best taught in this visual way so that they can still physically count dots – it’s not jumping to abstract and mental math too quickly.
Counting backwards needs to be taught even more explicitly, because students need to know that they have to start with the biggest number. I like to model this with objects and show how if I have 2 cubes and take away 7 cubes, there aren’t enough cubes to subtract from. Yes, I know the answer would be negative numbers, but that is too abstract for students this young to understand (sure, they could memorize it, but not truly understand what it means).
Addition and Subtraction Word Problems
Before I give my students addition and subtraction word problems to solve, I want to solve some problems with my students. I find it’s best to start with a numberless word problem to model critical thinking and problem-solving steps. Check out this blog post to learn more. Completing a word problem together is a great opener or closer of a lesson and a great way to introduce the topic. Then I might do some problems in small groups where I can best support the students in all the steps of solving a story problem. Once they are ready, I can give them blank practice sheets where they can use dice to fill in the numbers. This helps to differentiate because students can use 1 or two dice to write in the original amounts. With this activity, I want students to practice writing equations and drawing to solve the problem and to show their thinking.
Teaching addition and subtraction is a key concept for kindergarten, but it doesn’t have to be hard! Children can learn and practice addition and subtraction through play, group activities, and books!
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