# 40 Subtraction Activities That Are Nothing Less Than Awesome

Your students will love these hands-on ideas.

Learning subtraction takes practice, just like any math skill. So it’s a good idea to have a whole collection of clever subtraction activities in your toolbox. These are some of our favorites for the classroom or to send home with students to practice at home.

Anchor charts give kids something to refer back to as they work on new concepts and skills. We like this subtraction anchor chart for all the details it provides.

Read-alouds are such a fun way to introduce new math concepts to kids. There are lots of great books to work into your subtraction activities, like our perennial favorite Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons.

## 3. Count Pete’s buttons

If your students love the book, try this idea that incorporates real buttons into subtraction practice. So fun!

## 4. Climb the monkey tree

Five Little Monkeys is another beloved book with math concepts worked right into the story. Build your own tree for monkeys to climb, or use a doll bed for jumping!

## 5. Try story problems

One of the best ways to make math meaningful for students is by teaching them how to solve story problems. When they see math in real-world scenarios, it helps numbers make sense in their minds.

## 6. Introduce different strategies

Give kids plenty of strategies for understanding subtraction. They can use these when working on subtraction activities and exercises.

## 7. Count with bears

Using manipulatives is a great first strategy to use. It is concrete and students can really see what it means to subtract and take away from something.

## 8. Smash some Play-Doh

For some reason, kids simply love to smash stuff! Roll balls of Play-Doh and let kids smoosh them as they subtract. (Find more ways to use Play-Doh for learning here.)

## 9. Whack-a-ball to subtract

Here’s another subtraction activity that lets kids burn off some energy. Make a 3D 10-frame by cutting holes in a shoebox. Rest Ping-Pong balls on the holes, then whack them with a toy hammer to subtract.

## 10. Feed a hungry penguin

This hungry penguin is here to help your students learn how to subtract! Feed him paper fishies and write out the equations.

## 11. Visualize the problem

Subtraction activities like story problems are easier when kids can visualize the action. Try drawing pictures or acting out the story to make the concept real.

## 12. Sort flash cards

Label a row of paper bags 1 to 10, then sort flash cards into the correct bags. Make it a timed exercise and have two teams race to see who’s the fastest (and most accurate)!

## 13. Bowl and subtract

This is one of the most popular subtraction activities out there. Kids bowl, knock down pins, and subtract them from the total. This is too much fun to be learning, right?

## 14. Roll and Race

Students roll a die and match the number to the column on their game board. Then they solve the first available problem, either coloring in or covering the space with a manipulative. The first player to the top of a column wins.

## 15. Have a LEGO subtraction race

Each person starts with a stack of LEGO bricks. Roll the die and take away the number shown, stating the equation out loud each time. First to zero wins!

## 16. Find the key to the lock

Invest in a set of locks that you can use for all kinds of things, including subtraction activities. These 8-packs from Amazon come in a variety of colors and should last for years.

## 17. Use LEGO bricks for double digits

Ready to talk about “borrowing” and double-digit math? Make the concept easier by using LEGO bricks.

## 18. Grab a Hula-Hoop

Start by tossing beanbags and seeing how many you can get into the hoop. Then, turn the results into subtraction equations.

## 19. Ask “How many am I hiding?”

Subtraction activities like this one are a fun way to introduce the idea to little learners. Start by laying a few small objects on a table. Next, cover some with your hand. Then, ask how many are left and how many you’re hiding. Simple but effective.

## 20. Stack cups

Kids get such a kick out of stacking cups. Work subtraction practice into the mix by labeling the cups with equations and solutions, then challenge students to stack the cups to show the right answers.

## 21. Use pool noodles and gophers

Your students will love this fun activity that builds math skills with puppets. Pop these darling gophers on a stick into the pool noodle, then take a few away to solve the problem.

## 22. Solve and play bingo

First, kids work out the correct answers to the two-digit subtraction problems on this free printable. Then, they cut them out and paste them onto their bingo board. Finally, play a game of bingo together!

## 23. Play gumball unscramble

Pull a subtraction card, then use the four digits in the gumball machine to create a number sentence that equals the solution at the bottom of the equation.

## 24. Toss some beanbags

Write a grid of randomized numbers on the sidewalk (or tape one off on your classroom floor). A student tosses two bean bags onto numbers, then makes a subtraction equation out of their results.

## 25. Use a zipper slider bag

A zipper bag number line? Genius! This clever idea is a useful tool for lots of subtraction activities. (Check out more number line ideas here.)

## 26. Slide beads on pipe cleaners

Make some handy math manipulatives with pipe cleaners and beads. Slide the beads to see subtraction equations in action!

## 27. Build a wrecking ball

One more chance to create a little mayhem! Similar to the bowling activity above, kids stack a number of blocks, then knock them down and see how many remain. Noisy, but fun!

## 28. Learn the subtraction rhymes

These rhymes will aid kids working on more advanced subtraction activities, helping them remember when they need to “borrow” from the next place value column—and when they don’t.

## 29. Play subtraction “around the world”

Have your class sit in a circle on the floor and invite a student to stand behind one of their classmates. Then provide a subtraction equation for these two students to solve (flash cards work great for this game). The first student to answer wins that round and then travels to the next student in the circle. The object of the game is to make it all the way around.

## 30. Play a Dr. Seuss math game

This interactive game is the perfect way to reinforce basic addition and subtraction facts for numbers 0 to 5 for your young students. Check out the free download!

## 31. Sing a subtraction song about pirates

What sillier way to learn subtraction than with pirates? This short, funny video introduces basic concepts, then walks through a few subtraction problems.

## 32. Teach fact families

Fact families are the foundation for both addition and subtraction skills (and later, multiplication and division as well). Learn more about ways to reinforce fact family concepts at the link below.

## 33. Try a round of French Fry Subtraction

Your students will love this “fast food” math activity. All you need to make this fun game is red construction paper for the french fry box and yellow construction paper for the french fries. You can then use flash cards or a worksheet for the subtraction problems.

## 34. Teach your students to use a rekenrek

According to the author of this blog, the rekenrek is one of the best math manipulatives around. Made up of rows of 10 plastic beads each, a rekenrek is designed to build an understanding of the 5-structure and 10-structure of numbers. Every row has five white beads and five red beads, providing a visual model of how numbers are composed. The rekenrek is a perfect hands-on way for students who struggle with the addition and subtraction of larger numbers.

## 35. Play Plus 1 Minus 1

Number fluency requires knowing your numbers forward and backward. Plus 1 Minus 1 is an easy math game that reinforces the concepts of adding 1 to a number and subtracting 1 from a number. All you need is a rule sheet and a deck of cards!

## 36. Tally up gains and losses

For this fun game, each player starts with 15 points. Player one flips a card (remove face cards or assign them point values first). If the card is black, they add it to their total. If it’s red, they subtract it. Highest point total when all the cards are gone wins! Get a free printable worksheet to use with this game at the link.

## 37. Play a game of Subtract It!

To begin, download the free Subtract It mat at the link below. Then, give each student a mat, a stack of subtraction flash cards, and manipulative items of your choice (like the rocks above). In the example above, students would put six rocks in the green box, then move four down to the blue, then transfer the remaining two to the yellow.

## 38. Count bugs!

To begin, download the adorable, free bug subtraction cards from the link below and laminate them. To practice, students will take a card, count the total spots on the critter, and write that number in the first box. Next, they will count only the spots that are crossed out and write that number in the second box. Finally, they will count the un-crossed numbers to get the answer!

## 39. Count lily pad frogs

Hop to it with this fun subtraction activity! The lily pads are made from green foam sheet and the plastic frogs come from a craft store. Each lily pad has a subtraction problem written on it. Students will place the same number of frogs as the first number in the problem on the lily pad. Then, they’ll take away the second number. Give each student a tracking sheet to write their subtraction problems on.