Motivational & Fun Addition & Subtraction Practice

After working on addition and subtraction with manipulatives, math talks & stories, I needed to find a fun way for students to practice fluency to meet the core standards.  As we all know, for them to become fluent means practice, practice, and more practice! So I didn’t want to just have one or two ways for them to work on their addition and subtraction to 5 and to 10 because I didn’t want it to become redundant or boring . I came up with a number of different ways for them to work on mastering their math facts while having fun.

Equation Boards for Addition & Subtraction to 5 and to 10

I love using these equation boards – they help students visualize addition and subtraction equations and the students have fun using them!

They are very simple to make – punch 2 holes in a piece of cardboard, poster board, or card stock, place 5 or 10 pony beads on a string, thread it through the holes and secure it on the back with tape.

Students slide the pony beads to make as many combinations to 5 and to 10 as they can or as many subtraction equations as they can.  For added fun, we pretend the beads are balls that we are throwing for the dog on the card.  After they slide the beads, students read the equation they created.  I made a recording sheet for them to then draw the equation and write it. After they write it they say it again.  You can also have students write/draw their equations on dry erase boards.

My students really enjoy using these and will oftentimes fill up the back of the paper with equations too!


I like to make sure my fluency activities are motivating, fun, and meaningful for my students.  Therefore, I really like to use games.  Not only are games fun (much more fun than practice pages!) but they are also motivational.  The students want to win so they are more motivated to want to get better at their math facts.  I also like to choose a theme that is of interest to my students.  Our classroom theme is dogs (which they love) so I went with that when designing the games.  Pretty much anything with animals intrigues young students, am I right?

I also like for the games to be easy to learn and easy to use so we can use them anywhere in the classroom at anytime.  I use them with my small groups, I put them in our math tubs, they are available for indoor recess (and yes the kids do play them!), they are a free choice option, I use them as math centers, and I also send them home in gallon ziploc bags with students for extra practice (they love teaching their parent and siblings how to play!).

Top Dog Addition and Subtraction Card Game

addition and subtraction to 10 card game

This game is played similar to War but I don’t like to use that name with young students so I changed the name of the game to Top Dog.  Now I know what you may be thinking, why not just use regular playing cards?  You certainly can! However, I made my own cards for several reasons:

  • To have a set of cards with only numbers 0-5 enabling students to easily practice addition to ten
  • To not have to break up a regular set of cards, plus students got confused with the Ace being 1 and there wasn’t a 0.   Our UNO cards didn’t have the number represented with objects.
  • To have cards sized slightly larger than playing cards to enable young students to clearly see the images / numbers and easily handle the cards.
  • To create interest in using the cards by using a cute dog theme making them more interesting and appealing for students than regular playing cards.

I made the cards with 4 “suits” (different dogs and colored paws) to resemble regular playing cards.

The game is played with 2 players.  Students sit facing each other and deal out all of the cards face down (each player will have a pile of cards that they keep in front of them face down).

Each player turns over a card at the same time.  The first player to correctly say the sum of the two cards wins the round and gets to keep both cards.  For example, if a 2 and a 3 are turned over the first player to say 5 wins the round.

In the case of a tie (both players say the sum at the same time), players determine the “top dog” by each flipping over another card. The first player to say the sum of the 2 new cards wins and gets all 4 cards.

The game ends when one player has won all the cards or if time ends, the winner is the player with the most cards.

Variation:  Subtraction can also be practiced by having students subtract the lower number from the higher number.

Hot on the Trail of Math Success Game

addition and subtraction board game

I created this game for 2 players.  Each player places their marker at the start, one on each trail.

The object of the game is to be the first player to get your dog to the end of your trail and reach the dog house.

You can use cards or dominoes. Cards are placed face down in a pile.  Players take turns drawing 2 cards, adding the 2 numbers, and moving their dog (marker) the correct number of spaces (the sum of the 2 numbers) on their trail.

The first player to reach the doghouse is the winner.

Game Variations:

Practice subtraction to 5 by having players subtract the lower number from the higher number.

If using dominoes in place of cards, scatter them face down beside the game board. Players take turns turning over a domino and adding the 2 sides together.

When making game markers that I need to stand upright, I have found 2 simple ways to create them. Fold a paper clip upright and tape the marker to it or place the marker in a binder clip. Simple!

“Paws”-itive Path for Math Game

addition fluency & subtraction fluency game

This game is played by 2 players with a 100 chart and either cards or 0-5 dice.

Cards are placed face down in a pile or scattered face down.

Players take turns drawing or turning over 2 cards (or rolling 2 dice), adding the 2 numbers together or subtracting the lower number from the higher number, and coloring in the correct number of paws on the page in their color.

Game continues until all the paws are colored in.  Each player counts the number of paws in their color.  The winner is the player with the most colored in paws.

Bury the Bones Addition / Subtraction

addition fluency game

This is a fun, fast-paced game that can be played with 2 players or with a small group of players.

The object of the game is to bury (or mark / color) all of your bones before your opponent(s).

2 Players Taking Turns:

Each student has their own page and the cards are placed in a pile or scattered face down.

Players take turns turning over 2 cards (or rolling 2 0-5 dice), adding or subtracting the numbers, and marking or coloring the correct bone on their page.  If they draw 2 cards and the answer is already covered, they lose their turn and play goes to the next player.  The winner is the first player to bury (cover or color) all of their bones.

2 Players or Small Groups Playing Head to Head:

Each player needs their own page and their own set of cards (or 2 dice).

On a signal, players turn over 2 cards (or roll their 2 dice), add or subtract the 2 numbers, and color or mark the correct bone on their page.  If they already have the number marked, they draw 2 new cards.  Play continues until someone buries all of their bones and is declared the winner.  (When playing head to head it is a good idea to monitor play to ensure the students are marking the correct bones).

Bury the Bones BUMP! Game

addition and subtraction BUMP game

This is played like the popular BUMP game (a student favorite!) except we use our dog cards (0-5 dice can also be used).

2 players take turns drawing 2 cards (or rolling 2 dice), adding or subtracting the numbers, and placing their marker on the correct bone.

If an opponent’s marker is already on the bone, the player can “bump” them off and put their marker on it.  If their own marker is already on the bone, they can lock that number by stacking another one of their markers on the first one (players can stack as many of their own markers on a number as needed, for example if they get a 4 and already have 2 markers on it they can add a third or fourth or fifth, etc.).  When a bone is locked it can not be bumped off; therefore, if your opponent already has your answer blocked with 2 or more markers you lose your turn.

The game is over when one player has played all of their markers and wins the game.

Fetch Four Addition or Subtraction

Connect 4 addition game

I just HAD to make a Connect 4 game! It is one of my personal favorites because it brings back such cherished memories from my childhood. My grandfather and I played this game together for hours on Saturday nights when I was young. Pretty sure he let me win most of the time (lol) and would always say, “OH Tina! How did you do that? I didn’t even see it!”.

The object of the game is to get 4 balls in a row of your color either across, up and down, or diagonal.

Cards are placed face down in a pile or scattered face down.

Players take turns drawing or turning over 2 cards, adding or subtracting the 2 numbers together, and coloring in the correct ball on the page in their color.  They can choose any ball as long as it is the correct number (the sum of the 2 numbers drawn).  Students think strategically to figure out what ball to choose in order to block their opponent.

Game continues until one player gets four balls in a row of their color either across, up and down, or diagonal.

Bone Up on Addition and Subtraction SCOOT and Center Activity

Last but certainly not least – SCOOT!! My students loooove hunting for things around the room and in the sensory bin!  I love how it gets them moving around and keeps them engaged (especially during the winter months when we can’t get out for recess!) and that it can be differentiated (addition to 5, addition to 10, subtraction to 5, subtraction to 10).

The object is to find each dog a bone by matching the doghouses and dogs from the printable page with a bone task card (each task card has a unique doghouse, dog name, and dog). When students find a bone, they solve the addition or subtraction equation on the bone and write their answer by the correct dog on their page.

Sometimes I hide the bone task cards around the room and students put their pages on clipboards and go hunting.  Other times I use it as a center activity and bury the bone task cards in our sand table sensory bin and have students dig them up.

If you would like to use these addition and subtraction games, equation boards, and cards in your classroom you can find them here.  You’ll also find a BONUS Howling to 100 Chart Page!

100 chart

Addition & Subtraction Math Games, Equation Boards, SCOOT Cards

You may also like:

100th Day of School Ideas & Treats

My collection of math games

How I motivate students to want to practice addition and subtraction


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