How to Teach Addition and Subtraction
How to teach addition and subtraction in kindergarten. Using hands-on activities is an effective and fun way to teach young children math skills. Here are 12 strategies for teaching basic addition and subtraction to kindergarten students.
When we start thinking about how to teach addition and subtraction in kindergarten, let us first understand numeracy development.
What we know about numeracy development is that students go through stages. As you see in other subjects, not every student experiences each of these stages in a linear way. This is a generalization of the stages you might see when teaching students the concept of addition.
- Direct modeling or counting (also called concrete): Students solve problems by having physical objects (counters, manipulatives, blocks) in front of them to manipulate.
- Counting more efficiently (also called pictorial): Students solve problems by drawing pictures, making marks on the page, or perhaps counting on their fingers.
- Working with the numbers (also called abstract): Students solve the problems by working with numerical relationships. EXAMPLE: 5 + 8 could be decomposed to 5 + 5 = 10 and then 3 more which is 13. At this stage, we would want students to have multiple problem-solving strategies as they take numbers apart and put them back together. This moves beyond just memorizing facts. (A., V. D., Lovin, L. H., Karp, K. S., & Bay-Williams, J. M. (2018). Teaching student-centered mathematics. New York: Pearson)
Addition and SUbtraction Strategies: Exploration
Before we can start teaching basic addition, we need to be able to count. At the beginning of the year, we dive into all of the counting books! Here are a few of my favorites!
I don’t stop sharing books with students once I begin teaching addition and subtraction. I simply add more books! Here are some other books I use throughout the year.
I have a math center activity that goes with this book! Check it out HERE.
Addition and SUbtraction Strategies: Composing and Decomposing
We begin looking at numbers a little more closely. This is the time to break out the manipulatives. I like to use different colors of math cubes. During my whole-group math instruction, I may say something like this “We are going to work with the number 6. I am going to use two colors to make six.” I then proceed to use two colors to make six. I make sure to say, “If I start with 2 blue, I will need 4 yellow to make 6, because 2 and 4 make 6.” Then I call on students to come by me on the carpet and help me to make 6 a different way.
We continue practicing this addition strategy for several days, showing different ways to make numbers up to 10.
Students also play the game, “Match It” with a partner. Using a sorting mat, one student will show a way to make a number. Then, their partner will match what they did. Both students then talk about how they made that number. I provide Math Talk cards as a visual cue.
Addition and SUbtraction Strategies: Making 10
Time to break out the ten frames! Using math manipulatives and ten frames, we practice making 10. It may sound like this, “Ten frames help me to see what a number looks likes.” I would place 7 snap cubes on the ten frame for students to see. “I can see that 7 is one full row of cubes and 2 more. I can also see that I need 3 more to have a full ten-frame, which makes 10.”
Addition and SUbtraction Strategies: Part/Part Whole
We talk more about putting numbers together and taking them apart. I count out 5 cubes and snap them together. Then, I count out 5 more cubes but break them into two parts and we talk about it. “2 and 3 make 5. What is another way I could break 5 into two parts?”
Addition and SUbtraction Strategies: Plus/Minus 1
We play the “Match It” game again but this time we match our partner and add one or subtract one.
Addition and SUbtraction Strategies: Drawing Pictures
This math strategy is an obvious one… we just draw pictures! We have fun solving each addition equation by drawing pictures. Snag this free file at the end of the blog post!
Addition and SUbtraction Strategies: Number Lines
We use our frog hopping number line to find the correct answer to our addition or subtraction equation.
Addition and SUbtraction Strategies: Number Bonds
We even practice number bonds in a concrete way! Can you see my little friends in the sadly constructed number bonds? (This is a Pinterest FAIL!)
I used painter tape to make these number bonds. SIDENOTE: Expo Marker does not come off of the tiled floor very easily. Neither does Duct tape. Your custodian will thank you for not making the same mistake I made one year. As students are listening to story problems, we are acting it out. Those who are not “in the story” are working on writing a number sentence for the addition or subtraction problems.
Addition and SUbtraction Strategies: Counters
We play a game called “Shake, Shake, Shake.” We start with 5 counters in our cup. Students pour out the counters and talk about their red and yellow counters. “I have 3 red and 2 yellow. That makes 5.”
Addition and SUbtraction Strategies: Story Problems
There are various types of addition and subtraction story problems you can do. One of my favorites is when we start with the answer and create our own story problems. Here is an example of an anchor chart you can create!
Addition and SUbtraction Strategies: Games - Addition Card Game
We use a deck of cards to play Munching Monster. Not only are we working on our comparing skills, we are still solving simple addition problems.
The best way to teach young students addition and subtraction is to provide different strategies. If you use our math curriculum, you will know that we don’t have just one “addition unit” or one “subtraction unit.” Instead, we teach these concepts in a spiral fashion. Each month we dig a little deeper. Remember, what we are trying to achieve is a complete understanding of number operations and to build a strong foundation in number sense. This can take some time AND students step up to this skill at different times. By providing spiral instruction, we are constantly reviewing and building on our prior knowledge.
Here is our math curriculum for kindergarten and 1st grade:
Addition and SUbtraction Strategies: Small-Group Instruction
You will always have those sweeties that need a little more support in understanding the concepts of addition. You can model addition problems using concrete materials and a variety of teaching tools in small groups. This is a great way to differentiate our instruction. Some students have already mastered the skills, so they need a challenge! Solution! Found!
For more about how to teach addition in kindergarten during small groups, check out our small-group math curriculum:
We also have digital math activities to practice addition and subtraction. Check out the resources here:
Do you have a favorite way of teaching the basics of addition to younger children? I’d love to hear it!
Thank you for your extra time and energy! Your blogs read like a good novel, filled with love and laughter! Why can’t Staff meetings be as informative and fun as you and your posts!!?? Big hugs and smiles all day! Justine Schmeiser
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I have seen some of your 1 minute timing addition and subtraction pages but cannot find them for purchase. They have little race cars on them and trophies with letters to keep track of student progress. I looked on this website and on TPT but didn’t see it…
YES! You will find it with this link: