Subtraction Activities for First Grade

February 22, 2018

After addition, we dive right into subtraction and learn how the two are related. Today, I wanted to share some of my favorite subtraction activities for first grade and a little about how I teach subtraction in my classroom.


I teach five main strategies when they are learning how to subtract. I introduce each one with an anchor chart, then we practice applying that strategy whole group, before trying it independently. After a week or two of practice with all the strategies, students choose whichever one is easiest for them! Two of the strategies are shown above (using a number line and counting back).

The subtraction strategies include:

– Using manipulatives

– Visualizing

– Using a number line

– Counting back

– Flipping the fact



Practice, practice, practice:

Here students practice using manipulatives to build and remove. Using manipulatives is always the first strategy we use since I think it is the most concrete and students can really see what it means to subtract and take away from something.


I teach visualizing along with our story problems because I like my students to try and understand and picture what the story problem is actually asking. We talk a lot about what our drawings look like and why they look that way.




After we go through all the stratgies and make sure we practice how to use each one, I have my students use games, sorts, and write the room activities on a weekly basis throughout the rest of the year.

Subtract and Cover is a simple dice and spinner game! Partner games are some of my favorite to play because they are always so engaging. I give them to my students while I work in small strategy groups to help some of my struggling learners.


This sort is another activity I give to my students to complete with a partner. They take turns flipping a card, finding the sum and sorting under the correct header. The person not solving is the coach and re-teaches/corrects as needed!


I hope this post gave you some ideas and activities to help your students practice subtraction!

All the activities are found in my subtraction unit below:


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  • How can I get these subtraction activities? I would like to pass along these ideas to my students who are now home bound. Looking for addition/subtraction activities they can do at home with their parents. Also interested in other 1st grade concepts.

  • I need these for my students. These look like fun activities that would work great for my classroom.