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15 Easy Prep Activities to Teach Subtraction

October 6, 2021 by Madison Patten

Looking for fun and engaging easy prep activities to help your students master subtraction? What are some of the best ways to teach this fundamental math skill without putting them to sleep? Sure, you can spend hours searching the internet and reinventing the wheel…or you can check out our list of 15 easy prep subtraction activities.  My students are obsessed with number #9!

Subtraction Activities with Dice

1 – Roll & Subtract

Students enjoy playing with dice, and they can make any lesson more fun and engaging. Give each student one die and one copy of the Roll & Subtract recording sheet. Students will roll the dice to find out which subtraction problems they need to solve. For example, if they roll a 3, they should answer the first subtraction problem in column 3 before rolling their die again.

2 – Roll to Zero

This activity can be played with a partner. They will need a 100 chart, two different colored crayons, and a pair of dice. Partners will start at 100 on the chart, take turns rolling the dice, and subtracting their roll from the current number. For example, if the first roll is a 4, they will subtract 4 from 100 to give them 96. Each time they subtract, that player will color in the number tile they ended on, and the next player repeats this process from where their partner left off until they reach 0. You can even put this worksheet into a page protector with two different dry erase markers, and students can play during centers or as a finisher activity.

3 – Roll, Draw, & Subtract

Give each student a whiteboard, dry erase marker, and 2 dice. They will roll both dice to determine how many circles should be drawn on the whiteboard. Next, they will roll one die to determine how many circles should be subtracted from the model. The student will then demonstrate removing objects by crossing out the same number of circles as shown on the die. They will count to find the difference and write the answer on the whiteboard. This is a quick, no-prep activity that can be played as a fast finisher activity.

4 –  Roll & Subtract (Even or Odd)

This is a quick and easy easy-prep activity. Grab 2 dice and the recording sheet. They will roll two dice, recording the larger number first, followed by the smaller number. They will then subtract the smaller number from the larger number to find the difference and determine whether the difference is even or odd.

5 – Roll, Build, & Subtract

Toss out the old math fact worksheets and start to incorporate manipulatives to get students excited about learning! They will need 1 die, 12 individual counting cubes, and a Roll, Build, & Subtract recording sheet. They will roll the die and build a tower with the corresponding number of counting cubes. Repeat this process a second time and place both towers on the recording sheet with the taller tower in front. Then count and record the number of cubes in each tower and subtract to find the difference.

Easy Prep Subtraction Activities with Cubes

6 – Subtraction Bowling

For this no-prep activity, you will need 10 or more counting cubes, 1 die, a whiteboard, and a dry erase marker. They will set up the counting cubes in a pyramid formation (like when bowling) and write the number sentence 10 – __ = __ on their whiteboard. Next, they will carefully roll the die to knock away some of the counting cubes. They will then determine the number of cubes left standing and write that number in their number sentence. The student will subtract to determine how many counting cubes were knocked out of place. 

7 – Cube Word Problems

Instead of just handing out word problems, try incorporating manipulatives to increase student engagement. All they will need are counting cubes and a recording sheet. They will read the word problem and model with counting cubes in the space provided. Students will use their model to write the number sentence that matches and determine the difference. This is an activity that can be completed independently during math centers or as a fast finishers activity.

8 – How Many Are Missing?

Cubes are a great manipulative to use when teaching subtraction. Grab a whiteboard, dry erase marker, 10 counting cubes, and an empty cup. They will lay out the counting cubes on the table and write the number sentence 10 – __ = __ on their whiteboard. Next, they will pick up the cup, close their eyes, and cover some of the cubes. The student will then count the remaining cubes, write the corresponding number in their number sentence, and subtract to determine how many cubes are missing. This can easily be turned into a multi-player game by taking turns and having the partner take away cubes instead of using an empty cup.

Subtraction Activities with Bears

9 – Bear Word Problems

For this fun and simple, easy-prep activity, students will need teddy bear counters and a recording sheet. They will read the word problem and model with teddy bear counters or draw bears to match the story problem in the space provided. Students will use their model to fill in the number sentence and subtract to solve for the difference.

10 – Bears in a Cave

This easy prep subtraction activity can be played with a partner. One student will act as the “storyteller,” and the other will solve the problem. They will need teddy bear counters, a number bond work mat, and a dry erase marker. The students will count to determine how many bears there are and write that number in the correct space on the number bond. Next, the “storyteller” will announce how many bears walked into the cave and remove those bears from the table. The “problem solver” will use this information to complete the number bond and subtract to determine how many bears are left.

11 – Teddy Bear Tumble

Using 10 bear counters, a cup, a whiteboard, and a dry erase marker, students will tip over the cup until some of the bears tumble out. Next, they will use the whiteboard to write the number sentence that matches the model. For example, if they have 10 bears in the cup and 4 bears tumble out, their number sentence should show 10 – 4 = __. Then they will subtract to determine how many bears are still in the cup.

Other Activities

12 – What is the Equation?

Can your students solve the mystery? For this easy-prep activity, they will need a pencil, and the What is the Equation worksheet. The students are given the difference, but the equation is missing. They must work hard to come up with the missing equation that equals the difference. This is a fun and engaging activity to use for fast finishers as students can challenge themselves by thinking of more than one equation. 

13 – Color by Number

This is an easy-prep activity that students will be excited to complete independently. All they will need is a Color by Number subtraction worksheet and a box of crayons. Students will work to solve the subtraction problems and write their answers in the space provided. Then, they will use the key at the bottom of the page to color the worksheet and reveal the hidden pictures.

14 – Subtraction War

Here is a fun way to incorporate playing cards into math centers. The students will need a deck of playing cards (no face cards), a whiteboard, and a dry erase marker. Be sure that all face cards have been removed and the deck split into two even piles. Each student will write the number sentence 10 – __ = __ on their whiteboard to help them solve each equation. Next, they will turn over the top card on their deck, complete their number sentence, and solve for the difference. The student with the largest number will collect both cards, and the person with the most cards at the end wins.


15 – Subtraction True or False?

Do your students know their stuff? Test their subtraction skills with this fun and engaging activity. They will need 1 blue crayon, 1 green crayon, and the Subtraction True or False worksheet. Students will use mental math, pictures, or the math manipulatives of their choice to determine which number sentences are true and false. They will color the correct number sentences blue and the false number sentences green. This is the perfect resource for fast finishers as they can complete the activity independently.




There are countless ways to get your students excited about learning subtraction without spending hours on prep time or attempting to reinvent the wheel. By incorporating different math manipulatives and turning lessons into games, students will be begging to learn more. You can introduce any of these 15 easy prep activities into your lessons and math centers tomorrow. Just print out the worksheet and gather any required materials and you are all set. Do you know any easy or no-prep subtraction activities that didn’t make our list? Feel free to share them with us so we can grow this list to 15 activities!

Written by – Madison Patten

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