Why One Hands-On Tool Isn’t Enough When Teaching Addition and Subtraction With Regrouping

There is so much more to “hands-on” than any single math tool can offer when it comes to teaching addition and subtraction with regrouping.

When I taught these skills for the first time, I was the special education teacher in a 4th grade integrated co-taught classroom. And yet, even in 4th grade, I was going back to the very basics of addition and subtraction with regrouping.

Addition and Subtraction With Regrouping Tools Header

I knew the importance of staying hands-on as long as neccessary but didn’t understand the nuance that all hands-on is not created equally. I was convinced that base ten blocks were the be-all-end-all of place value manipulatives.



Why Is Variety Important?

  1. Manipulatives build in scaffolding! Using linking cubes vs. using base ten blocks vs. using place value disks are incredibly different experiences.
  2. Variety discourages procedure-like thinking. When your one and only math tool is base ten blocks, your students learn a procedure for how to do addition and subtraction with regrouping with base ten blocks. And for some students, that’s all they learn!
  3. Your students build connections! By expanding your toolkit, your students will make connections between a variety of models and will deepen their understanding of addition and subtraction with regrouping.


What Tools are Best for Teaching Addition and Subtraction with Regrouping?

Consider using at least 3 types of hands-on tools when teaching addition and subtration with regrouping:

  1. A groupable model such as linking cubes or bundles of straws.
  2. A proportional pre-grouped model such as base ten blocks.
  3. A non-proportional pre-grouped model such as place value disks.

These tools, when used in this order, build in scaffolding for your students!

In a groupable model, your students reinforce that ten ones are put together to create a ten and that a ten can be taken apart to create ten ones.

In a pre-grouped proportional model, your students can make trades between tens and ones and although they are not physically making the trades between place values, they can see the relationship between the values.

In a non-proportional, pregrouped model, your students can still physically make trades and feel the “action” of addition and subtraction with regrouping, but they are taking away the visual support of proportional materials.


Looking for math intervention units to teach these important skills?

Addition and Subtraction With Regrouping Unit on TPT

These comprehensive math units are ideal for small group math intervention. 


Each unit includes: 

– Pre and Post Assessment

– 5 Detailed Lessons

– 5 Independent Practice Activities

– Daily Exit Tickets


Units can be purchased individually or as an addition and subtraction bundle.

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