Storytelling to Teach Subtraction

IMG_2358I always advocate for storytelling in maths as a way to engage students and apply some context to the skills being learnt. Last time I posted about this a lot of people were interested as the concept was new to them, so I’m sharing another lesson I did.

The What and Why:

The skill being taught in this lesson was applying subtraction strategies to find the missing number/the difference – we had been learning how to count back, use a double and make to a 10 (the three mental strategies advocated by King George Booker in Teaching Primary Mathematics) and when it is most efficient to apply each strategy.

In Teaching Primary Mathematics it is explained that that to develop the subtraction concept, students first need verbal action stories, to model with materials and to record with symbols. They then need to apply the addition mental strategies (outlined above).

The Story:

Students beginning to use the count back strategy.

Students beginning to use the count back strategy.

One morning, as the sun was coming up over the mountain, the little village of <insert silly name> was just waking up. All the villagers said good morning to each other and talked about how lucky all (“let’s all count them by 2s”) 20 of them were to live together so happily. They went about their days doing all the things they liked to do.

After a busy day, the sun was setting and the villagers were all turning in for the night, when suddenly a figure swooped down from the night sky and roared his terrible roar <kids do roar sound>! It was the most fearsome dragon of all… Scrumplybum! The villagers screamed and ran for their lives but some were scooped up into the greedy dragon’s mouth and swallowed whole!

The next morning, as the sun came up, the villagers counted their numbers… (“Who was left? Let’s all count how many villagers are still there.”). There were only 13. They wondered “How many of our friends have been eaten?”. 

We then discuss the strategies we could use to work it out, and each student has a go at how they might apply a strategy they know. This is all noted on an anchor chart to record with symbols as we go. This also allows differentiation, as you can guide students towards a certain strategy where needed.

To check our answers: Unfortunately for the dragon Scrumplybum, he had been way too greedy that day and he was full! He made a massive belching sound and out popped the villagers, still alive but very stinky! 

We repeat the story to practise again a couple of times, and each time the students take over the story a little more. This is the gradual release of responsibility, with the students becoming more and more independent each time.

By the end of our whole class focus time, they are primed and ready to go with their own story. Sadly, the villager puppets get shafted for counters but students are more than happy to pick a villain from the puppet box and get going.

The Evil Lion even got his own den for this story.

The Evil Lion even got his own den for this story.

*These stories aren’t very pre-prepared. You could plan it out if you want, but I embellish as I go, and just make sure I have the important points planned so as to make the maths work how I need it to.
*I use materials to act out the story. If you’ve got puppets or soft toys, use them!! If you don’t, get to Ikea, stat!
*Make sure you keep it fun… I like to leave spaces for the kids to add to the story, such as adding in sound effects or music, and making up character names or situations. For this story the ‘Creepy Baby’ puppet was the hit. Vomit and farting sounds also do the trick.


How do you incorporate storytelling into your maths teaching? 

Any suggestions for me for the older years? 

4 thoughts on “Storytelling to Teach Subtraction

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