Today I am sharing 15+ Fun and Free Ideas for Teaching Subtraction!

Ideas for Teaching Subtraction - kindergartenchaos.com

Having trouble introducing subtraction or need some fresh, hands-on ideas for your students? Then this post is for you! I hope you find something today that will inspire you or your students and help them achieve subtraction success!

My ‘usual’ scope for teaching addition and subtraction goes something like this: I begin teaching addition when we come back from Winter Break. We explore every possible strategy that might help the students understand addition. And I found that with continued practice, my students seem to get addition pretty quickly and soon love it! But then it’s time for subtraction and that really throws the students for a loop! Take away? Minus? Subtract? The first week of subtraction always makes me question myself…am I teaching this effectively? What can I do better? How can I teach this to reach every student? So this year I decided to to take a different approach to teaching subtraction and after 2 full weeks, I am happy to report that my kids are subtracting superstars!! I know you are asking, what I did differently this year, so here goes a post packed FULL of games and ideas!

First, I spent a few days going through my favorite teaching blogs, looking through Instagram, and of course searching Pinterest. I found so many amazing subtraction games and ideas and all of them for FREE!! Boom. I love that I have so many talented teaching friends and just because I have my own TPT store now and can create products, does not mean that I can’t or shouldn’t use other teachers products! Support your teacher friends and share the passion!

My first step in teaching subtraction is to introduce the word and what it means. I find the best way to do this, is with a good ‘ole anchor chart.

Subtraction Anchor Chart - kindergartenchaos.com

I show what subtraction looks like and I use manipulatives, like stuffed animals to show it the first time. (The above anchor chart shows 2 different strategies to use to subtract. We add a strategy every day to the chart, until we have discovered all of them.) Next, I turn to technology. My two favorite songs for subtraction comes from HeidiSongs Musical Math Vol. 2 DVD (Keywords for Subtraction) and Harry Kindergarten’s When You Subtract with a Pirate. These are perfect to get your students up and moving and still learn!!

HeidiSongs - Subtraction
Subtract with a Pirate

After introducing subtraction through the anchor chart and doing a manipulative example, I have my students practice subtraction with playdough. There are multiple ways to introduce and play this game, but I love these subtraction cards from Primary Possibilities and this playdough smash mat from Recipe for Teaching!

Playdough Subtraction - kindergartenchaos.com

Here is another playdough idea from There’s Just One Mommy.


Need a recipe for No-Cook 10 minute playdough, that you can make at home for the classroom? Check out this easy recipe and more playdough ideas HERE!

Homemade Microwave Kool Aid Play Doh
French Fry Subtraction - kindergartenchaos

French Fry Subtraction game cards came from my friend, Mr. Greg at Kindergarten Smorgasboard. I love these cards, because the are simple and cover the standard Fluently Add and Subtract 0-5. I created a little response sheet to go along with his cards. I also went into McDonalds and asked them for their fry boxes/bags, just to add a little fun to this game.

This next game is from Confessions of a HomeSchooler. I think she calls it Subtract It, but since it has recycling bins, my students and I call it Subtraction Recycling. Print these free work mats and use any manipulative to practice subtraction.

Subtraction Recycling - kindergartenchaos.com

Next up, Counting Critters Subtraction Activity from Aloha to Second. I printed these cards and response sheet and let partners work together with the cards. But then I decided this activity would be served as a Write the Room game. Since then, I have put the cards up around the room and my students just walk around, match the bug up with the correct subtraction sentence and then write their answer.

Spring Bug Subtraction - kindergartenchaos.com

This next one is actually a strategy that I teach, but also doubles as a ‘game’, since my students LOVE using the sliders! I take plain ‘zipper’ style bags and use a sharpie to draw a simple 1-10 number line. I am sure you could fancy this up, but this easy way works from me. 🙂 After teaching my students how to use a number line to subtract and allowing them to practice with their own zipper number line bags, I put some subtraction flash cards out and they can find out the difference of each problem, by using their own zipper number line bag.

Subtraction Slide - Slider Bag Strategy - kindergartenchaos.com

You can also use this free number line subtraction printable from Ms. Jones’ Junction, to go along with their subtraction slider.

Subtraction Number Line slider

This next game is a favorite!! How about a little Mini Subtraction Bowling, with a miniature bowling set?! There are many subtraction bowling ideas out there in teaching land, but I love the fact that this mini set is, well…mini. It saves space, is easy to store, and the students are enthralled with anything miniature! I bought this mini bowling set on Amazon and used Recipe for Teaching’s free recording mats. I laminated the recording sheets and gave my students vis-a-vis markers to write their answers.

Mini Subtraction Bowling - kindergartenchaos.com

While looking for ideas to make subtraction more fun and possibly even meaningful, I came across a few more from a variety of blogs and/or Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Subtraction Beaded Rods with Free Printable Cards from Common Core Connection.

Subtraction Beaded Rods

How about some fun FREE Donut Shop Subtraction from Kerry Antilla on TPT.

Donut Shop Subtraction

Subtraction Work Mats with Recording Sheets from Spotlight on Kindergarten.

Subtraction Mats

Subtraction Lego Game from The Kindergarten Connection.


And if worksheets are your style, here is a FREE butterfly garden themed one, from Made by Teachers.

Butterfly Subtraction

Looking For More Math Activities?

I hope you have enjoyed today’s post on 15+ Fun and Free Ideas for Teaching Subtraction! Do you have a fun idea? I would love to add it to this post, so leave a comment below or find me on Instagram, FB, or Twitter!

5 Responses

  1. Those look like really fun activities to get students excited about learning how to subtract! I love that you use music to introduce your topic. Harry Kindergarten is a favorite of mine, too. Music makes things stick in the brain.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.