read alouds

Subtraction Word Problems

In first grade, it's so easy for us teachers to assume students already know something. When a student can find the right answer to an addition or subtraction problem, we assume that they understand it. But, do they really understand it?

I always like to allow students to have a lot of dialogue surrounding the concepts that we are working on and subtraction is no different.

I wanted to share this activity with you because it really gave students the ability to practice subtraction in a more meaningful way. When subtraction is put into context of a word problem, students actually begin to understand that to subtract means to take something away. In this activity students get to practice this and deepen their understanding.

Before my students and I did this lesson we did two days of subtraction lessons which came after about two weeks of addition instruction. They have a basic understanding right now and this lesson was meant to deepen that.

For this lesson, I prepared this anchor chart ahead of time. When I prepared it though, I left the lines blank. My students and I read through the word problem without the subject, the place and the numbers. They determined right away that this was a subtraction word problem. I asked the students to help me fill in the blanks. If we weren't so tight on time I would have had them come up and write the numbers and words, but we were in a bit of a rush. After we filled in the blanks we discussed what the word problem was actually asking us to do. Then, we came up with our number sentence. The student I called on for the number sentence did a classic: raise your hand and then say I forgot. I actually love it when this happens because I can guide the student through the thinking process which is exactly what I did. It helped her understand how to develop a number sentence from a word problem and honestly, I think it helped it click for a few other students too.

Once we were done with the whole group lesson, then it was the students turn to come up with their own word problem. I had them write their own word problem and then solve it themselves. When they finished, they wrote a different word problem on the other side of the paper and gave it to a friend to solve. (this was great for motivation)

If you want to try something like this, you can grab the word problem paper for free here.

Have fun!!


  1. Really impressive article. I have ever read. Thanks for sharing keep writing these type of articles and help people to get more knowledge.. Blog Love Dream

  2. I love how you talked through the lesson, made the word problem sentence frame as an anchor chart, shared what happened when a student forgot their response, then followed it up with independent practice that matched the lesson. Solid. We just happen to be working on subtraction right now; I'm visualizing this as a way to link math and writing. Thank you for sharing!