As students enter upper elementary, decimals become more and more prominent in math. Students will start to use decimals in many different applications. Learning to add and subtract decimals is usually introduced in lower grades, but 4th and 5th-grade math curriculums focus heavily on adding and subtracting decimals in many different types of problems. Do you want to support your students and help them master decimals? Then you’ll want to make sure you’re using these 3 tips for teaching adding and subtracting decimals in your classroom!
Provide Tools and Reinforcements
One of the easiest ways to help support your students when learning to add and subtract decimals is to provide them with plenty of tools and resources. Every student learns a little bit differently, so it’s important to have a variety of learning supports available. Here are two tools that are simple to implement but can have a great impact on student success.
Use Anchor Charts and Math Posters
You probably have some type of math posters in your classroom for basic operations. Consider adding some posters or learning aids that focus on decimals.
Here’s a simple anchor chart that I’ve created to provide my students with a checklist to follow when they’re adding and subtracting decimals. It reminds them of the important steps to follow to ensure they’re setting up their problem with decimals properly:
- Line the decimals up because place value matters!
- Bring the decimal point straight down.
- Fill in blank spaces with zeros.
- Add or subtract to get your answer.
While these may seem like very simple reminders, some students forget these basic steps when adding and subtracting decimals. Leaving this anchor chart in the classroom so they can easily work down through the reminders will help students build a routine to follow when starting a problem that includes decimals. After students have formed a habit of completing these 4 steps, they’ll find that they make fewer errors when finishing their problems.
You can also have your students recreate this anchor chart in their math notebooks or as a study aid to keep at their desks. Having this available while they are mastering decimals will help them build confidence in their work.
Supply Graph Paper
One of the most valuable resources I’ve found to help students when learning to add and subtract decimals is graph paper. Simple ¼” graph paper works great for 4th, 5th, and 6th-grade students. You can use larger size squares based on student needs.
If you’re unable to purchase graph paper for your students and your school doesn’t supply it, you can also download and print different types of graph paper. Print Graph Paper offers printable graph paper in many different sizes. You can also choose the color and paper size if you’d like.
Graph paper helps students keep their decimal addition and subtraction problems lined up properly. This is especially helpful for students who may not have the tidiest handwriting. They may find that they’re coming up with incorrect answers because they’re allowing their problem to fall out of alignment. Teaching decimal problems inside of the graph paper will help students keep their place values lined up and have less chance of returning an error.
Give Students Plenty of Opportunity to Practice
Just as with any math topic, giving your students tons of opportunities to practice is one of the best ways to help them master a skill. Practicing adding and subtracting decimals can become boring quickly. You’ll want to mix up your practice offerings with things like board games, matching games, math centers, and task cards.
I’ve created lots of decimal resources to use in the classroom and to send home for extra practice. Here are some of my students’ favorite activities.
Adding and Subtracting Matching Puzzles
These matching puzzles are great for individual practice or for partner work. Students work through addition and subtraction problems to find the answers that are on separate puzzle piece cards. Don’t forget to laminate these game pieces so you can use them year after year!
If you’re looking for another matching puzzle option to help students brush up on decimals, grab this free rounding decimals matching game. This is also a great activity for students who may not have fully grasped the concept of rounding decimals.
Adding and Subtracting Decimals Task Cards
Task cards are a great way to provide extra practice to students and differentiate for all students. You can assign task cards based on skill level or areas that students need to practice. These task cards are already set up for three different skill levels, so you can print, cut, and practice!
Adding and Subtracting Decimals Board Game
You can never go wrong with a board game. Students love the friendly competition and it helps them get in the extra practice in a fun way. This adding and subtraction decimals board game can easily be used for a partner or small group time.
You can also play games like this spin and answer game. These are low-prep activities that students love and they are a great way to reinforce the skills they’re working on without using boring worksheets.
Allow Them to Use Real World Applications
One of my student’s favorite ways to practice adding and subtracting decimals is using real-world applications. Decimals are used every day when purchasing an item with cash, when measuring something, and when we need a more precise number.
These fun holiday-themed decimal activities allow students the opportunity to see adding and subtracting decimals can be used in an everyday situation.
There are lots of other ways to support your students when they’re learning to add and subtract decimals, but these 3 tips are a sure way to provide immediate support. These are also great tools to use if you’re prepping for state testing!
If you’ve implemented one of these activities or tools in your class, I’d love to hear about it! Share how you teach adding and subtracting decimals in the comments!