How to Teach Integer Addition and Subtraction Through Hands-On Exploration
To improve your students’ understanding, I have two major recommendations:
Teaching Zero Pairs with Manipulatives
To help students grasp the concept of zero pairs, I think manipulatives are essential. If you’re new to this method check out the videos below. Manipulatives can turn an abstract concept into something students can touch and see clearly.
You choose any manipulatives of your choice to represent positive and negative numbers, but I love using tile spacers! You can buy a bag of 100 from the hardware store for under $2.00. Cut half of them to be minus signs, and give each pair of students ten "positive" pieces and ten "negative" pieces.
If you want to use something readily available, try using manipulatives in two colors - any little counting teddy bears or even cut up paper squares will work
Watch the video below to see how to set your class up to discover the rules for integer addition and subtraction. Then, download the charts below for your students to use for the activity. (Working in pairs is best for this lesson!)
As you can see in the video, using manipulatives to represent integers and zero pairs help to break down a complicated concept. Once you set your students up this way, they’ll have the groundwork to explore and test different cases (see downloadable worksheets below).
When you use an inquiry-based approach in your classroom, students discover mathematical properties for themselves. They investigate and explore, instead of sitting and listening to you presenting a lecture. They can discover the concept themselves, helping them to internalize the new information.
Inquiry helps students develop independent problem-solving skills, deepen their understanding about a specific topic, gain new math confidence, and more! Click here to read more about the benefits of Inquiry Lessons and how to use them.
After I use manipulatives to teach the concept of using zero pairs to add and subtract integers, I have my students get to work on developing rules for this method. Tell your students that we would not want to use this strategy for numbers in the hundreds. Then, ask your students, “Why not?”
Explain that is going to be their job to write the rules for adding and subtracting integers; we need rules that ALWAYS work. I like to have my student write rules in "If ___, then ___" format.
Click here to download the free worksheets to guide your students through this task in pairs or in small groups.
Hopefully, my two favorite methods for teaching students to add and subtract integers resonate with your students and they learn this concept in a breeze! Do you have any tips on teaching adding and subtracting integers? Let us know in the comments below!
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More Inquiry-Based Explorations:
9/3/2018 10:56:45 pm
I love this method! Last year was my first year teaching middle school math, and I didn't do a great job explaining adding integers. I will be using this when teaching my new 7th graders this year. Thank you.
9/4/2018 06:54:22 pm
2/16/2022 12:53:27 pm
Where do I buy the positive/ negative manipulatives?
2/16/2022 08:30:58 pm
The ones she's using are tile spacers that you get at both Home Depot and Lowe's. I have orange ones that are the "plus" and then got the same size in white where I cut off the "wings" to make the negatives.
9/24/2018 03:55:55 pm
Do you have a video fro multiplying and dividing integers using this method?
9/25/2018 08:26:03 am
10/14/2018 04:29:41 pm
I just taught this and the students loved using the manipulatives.
10/15/2018 12:58:22 pm
3/2/2019 06:31:09 pm
Hi, thank you for this video. I have a question about the negative minus negative problems. Is there a reason you don't change it to a plus, negative so they can just add more negatives instead of adding a zero pair? Thank you.
3/3/2019 09:53:12 am
1/11/2020 03:39:36 pm
I've taught math a long time but just started with middle school this year. I've used Algebra Tiles but my packs don't have a lot of the individual "ones" in them plus they cost a bit more than heading over to Home Depot (actually we have quite a few around here, too). The one thing I'm going to take from the Algebra Tiles and use with this is to go buy some orange/red ones like you have and cut them up to be only the negative sign. What I like about the Algebra Tiles is that they use color for the positive/negative with red being for the negative. What I like about your method is that they are actual positive/negative signs. So, I can have the best of both worlds! Thanks for sharing this.
1/14/2020 08:18:24 am
3/15/2021 07:57:17 pm
I love your examples of problems with manipulatives and creating zero pairs. I use pennies, heads are positive and tails are negatives. My students can then draw the problems if manipulatives aren't available.
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