Teaching Subtraction Word Problems

Teaching Subtraction Word Problems

Teaching subtraction word problems doesn’t have to be hard. But, it is a fundamental skill in early mathematics education. Teaching subtraction isn’t just about numbers; it’s about turning little thinkers into problem-solving wizards. We’re here to share some super cool and easy ways to help kids get the hang of subtraction in real-life situations. Forget the boring old drills – we’re talking about fun, practical tips that make learning subtraction a breeze for your students or your own kiddos. Whether you’re a teacher looking for some fresh ideas or a parent eager to help out with homework, this post is your go-to guide for making subtraction as easy as 1, 2, 3.

What are subtraction word problems?

Subtraction word problems are like little stories where your kids get to use their subtraction skills in fun, real-life scenarios. Think of a problem like, “Emily has 5 balloons, but 2 fly away. How many balloons does Emily have left?” This isn’t just about taking 5 away from 2; it’s about understanding a situation where subtraction is needed.

These problems are fantastic because they show your kids how subtraction is part of everyday life. It’s more than just doing math on paper; it’s about figuring out what the story is asking. They become little detectives, sifting through the story to find the numbers they need and then figuring out how many are left or how much difference there is. This turns math into an exciting adventure, not just rote learning. It’s a great way to build their problem-solving skills and help them feel confident and capable when they encounter subtraction in their daily lives.

What keywords will you see when teaching subtraction word problems?

  • Minus
  • Less
  • Subtract
  • Decrease
  • Fewer
  • Difference
  • Remain
  • Take away
  • Lower
  • Reduce
  • Left over
  • Fewer than
  • Without
  • Drop
  • Cut

Keyword Pitfalls

Wait! Before you go to teaching subtraction word problem keywords, remember that keywords should NOT be the only strategy you use when teaching subtraction word problems!


Read these problems:

Jase has 7 bananas and 4 apples. How many fruits does he have in all?

Jase has 8 bananas. He gives away 4 bananas. How many fruits does Jase have in all?

Jase has 3 bags. Each bag has 4 apples. How many apples does he have in all?

Jase has 18 apples. He puts 3 apples in each bag. How many bags does he have in all?

If you taught that “in all” ALWAYS means addition, your students would be wrong 75% of the time! Keywords should be taught as a tool, not as the ‘be all, end all’ when working with word problems!

Teaching subtraction word problems

Students should ask themselves three questions:

  • Does the problem say, “How many more?” If yes, stop asking questions – it’s subtraction!
  • Do you know the total amount?
  • Do you have equal groups?

If their answers are “yes, no” then they will be subtracting!

Making subtraction word problems easier

Want to make the above strategy even easier?

A visual chart is a great way to do that!

This free resource can be used with ANY word problem – just put it in a dry erase pouch so students can use it again and again!


Teaching subtraction word problems doesn’t have to be challenging. With a visual chart, students can see when they need to add, subtract, multiply, or divide. With practice and numberless word problems, students will be solving problems in no time!

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