Get a collection of FREE MATH RESOURCES for your grade level!

How to Teach Subtraction in 2022

If you are an elementary teacher looking for tips and ideas for how to teach subtraction, then you found the right place! Learn what subtraction is, why it’s important, what your students need to know, and get 5 helpful tips for teaching it in a fun and engaging way. Read all about teaching subtraction below!

how to teach subtraction

What is Subtraction?

Subtraction is an important tool we use to help us find out what is left when taking one number away from another. It is the method of calculating the difference between two numbers. When you have a group of objects and you take away a few objects from it, the group becomes smaller. 

Why is Subtraction Important?

It is important for students to learn subtraction because understanding how to subtract helps people engage with society effectively. For example, we use subtraction when dealing with money, cooking, travel and time. In addition, having a solid foundation of subtraction is useful when learning more complex operations such as adding and subtracting decimals, fractions and measurements.

What Subtraction Skills Do Students Need to Know?

Below are the Common Core and TEKs standards that relate to subtraction that define what students should be able to do by the end of the school year.

Common Core Standards

Below are the CCSS related to how to teach subtraction.

1st Grade

  • Apply properties of operations as strategies to add and subtract. Examples: If 8 + 3 = 11 is known, then 3 + 8 = 11 is also known. (Commutative property of addition.) To add 2 + 6 + 4, the second two numbers can be added to make a ten,so 2 + 6 + 4 = 2 + 10 = 12. (Associative property of addition.) (1.OA.B.3)
  • Understand subtraction as an unknown-addend problem. For example, subtract 10 – 8 by finding the number that makes 10 when added to 8. (1.OA.B.4)
  • Relate counting to addition and subtraction (e.g., by counting on 2 to add 2). (1.OA.C.5)
  • Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10. Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g. 8 + 6 = 8 + 2 + 4 = 10 + 4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g. 13 – 4 = 13 – 3 – 1= 10 – 1 = 9); using the relationship between addition and subtraction (e.g. knowing that 8 + 4 = 12, one knows 12 – 8 = 4); and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g. adding 6 + 7 by creating the known equivalent 6 + 6 + 1 = 12 + 1 = 13). (1.OA.C.6)

2nd Grade

  • Fluently add and subtract within 100 using strategies based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction. (2.NBT.B.5)
  • Add and subtract within 1000, using concrete models or drawings and strategies based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction; relate the strategy to a written method. Understand that in adding or subtracting three-digit numbers, one adds or subtracts hundreds and hundreds, tens and tens, ones and ones; and sometimes it is necessary to compose or decompose tens or hundreds. (2.NBT.B.7)
  • Explain why addition and subtraction strategies work, using place value and the properties of operations. (2.NBT.B.9)

3rd Grade

  • Fluently add and subtract within 1000 using strategies and algorithms based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction. (3.NBT.A.2)

4th Grade

  • Fluently add and subtract multi-digit whole numbers using the standard algorithm. (4.NBT.B.4)

5th Grade

  • N/A


Below are the TEKS related to how to teach subtraction.

1st Grade

  • apply basic fact strategies to add and subtract within 20, including making 10 and decomposing a number leading to a 10; (1.3.D)
  • explain strategies used to solve addition and subtraction problems up to 20 using spoken words, objects, pictorial models, and number sentences; and (1.3.E)

2nd Grade

  • recall basic facts to add and subtract within 20 with automaticity; (3.4.A)
  • add up to four two-digit numbers and subtract two-digit numbers using mental strategies and algorithms based on knowledge of place value and properties of operations; (2.4.B)

3rd Grade

  • N/A

4th Grade

  • N/A

5th Grade

  • N/A

5 Tips for How to Teach Subtraction

Below are 5 helpful tips for teaching subtraction to elementary students.

1. Read Aloud Picture Books that Teach Subtraction

Reading aloud picture books is a great way to integrate literacy into your math block and present information in a different way. Our favorite picture books for teaching subtraction are Arithme-tickle: An Even Number of Odd Riddle Games by J. Patrick Lewis, How Many Blue Birds Flew Away? A counting book with a difference by Paul Giganti and The Action of Subtraction by Brian P. Cleary. Check out the full list of math picture books we recommend!

2. Offer Hands On Learning Experiences

Hands-on math experiences help students make connections, remember their learning, and develop a deep conceptual understanding of the content. You can make any lesson interactive and engaging by offering math manipulatives. Our favorite math manipulatives for teaching subtraction are ten frames, dominoes, dice, linking cubes, unifix cubes, rekenrek, base-ten blocks, two color counters, dinosaur counters, bear counters, bug counters, abacus and number tiles. 

Teaching math vocabulary is essential for all students, but it is especially beneficial for students who speak English as a second language and students with learning differences. Key vocabulary terms for subtraction are subtract, difference, unknown addend, pictorial model, number sentence, commutative property, associative property, numeral, decompose, properties of operations, subtraction, fluency, fluently, equation, regroup, strategy, model, representation, place value, hundreds, tens, ones, expanded form, compose, decompose, number line, counting on, counting back, unknowns, quantity, comparing, estimate

4. Give Students Opportunities to Apply Subtraction to the Real World

Learning becomes more meaningful when students understand how it connects to the real world. Students are more engaged and invested in their learning. Some examples of ways we use subtraction in the real world are calculating budgets, as well as determining cost, measurement, time and value. Project based learning and word problems are examples of opportunities for students to apply their learning to real world situations.

5. Encourage Parent Involvement

Parent participation in math is essential because it impacts students’ attitude toward math, proficiency levels this school year, and future success in their math education. Be sure to keep communication open with families and share ways they can support their children in their math learning. Some examples of ways they can practice subtraction at home are when they are lending some toys, spending money, or calculating how much total time is left on a trip.

In closing, we hope you found this information about how to teach subtraction helpful!

1st grade math membership2nd grade math membership
3rd grade math membership4th grade math membership
5th grade math membershipElementary Math Resource Collection
how to teach subtraction

Share it:


Winter Opinion Writing FREEBIE!

Grab this freebie and engage your students in a fun seasonal activity. It’s a great way to practice opinion writing.