Methods for Teaching Math Operations

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  • 0:03 Why Basic Operations Matter
  • 0:50 Addition
  • 2:07 Subtraction
  • 3:15 Multiplication
  • 4:30 Division
  • 5:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Learning how to do the four basic operations is a big part of elementary math education. This lesson gives you a few methods for teaching the operations to your students.

Why Basic Operations Matter

Milo is a math coach and professional development specialist at Healey Elementary School. This year, his focus is on helping teachers at Healey learn different methods for teaching the four basic operations, or ways that numbers and unknowns work in relation to one another: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Milo explains that conceptual and procedural mastery of these operations is one of the major underlying goals of elementary-level math instruction. He explains that it is important for students to learn a variety of approaches to basic operations, and he gives his teachers the following guidance surrounding successful teaching methods for each one.


Milo explains that addition is usually the first operation that students become comfortable with. Rather than simply teach students algorithms, or formulaic procedures to follow, he helps his teachers learn methods for teaching the concepts behind addition.

Put It Together

Put It Together is a method for teaching addition that uses snap cubes or other manipulative tools that can be put together. Teachers can give students two different numbers and ask students to put those two numbers of snap cubes together. For instance, if students put 3 snap cubes together with 4 snap cubes, they can make the number sentence 3 + 4 = 7.

Counting Up

Counting up is another method to use when teaching addition. Milo explains to his teachers that children will add more fluently if they count up from the higher number in a number sentence. For instance, teachers can show children that given the problem 6 + 3, they should start with 6 and count up 3 more to get to 9. Students can practice counting up by rolling two dice and counting up from the number displayed on the higher die.


After learning about addition, the next logical step is to teach subtraction. Milo teaches his teachers that the most important thing children should learn about subtraction is that it is the inverse operation to addition; in other words, subtraction undoes what addition does. Here are some methods that are great for teaching subtraction:

Take It Apart

Take It Apart is similar to the first addition strategy we talked about. Just as students put them together to do addition, they can take snap cubes apart to do subtraction. Teachers can give students 20 snap cubes and ask them to take 15 away, helping them represent and solve the problem 20 - 15 = 5.

Number Lines

Milo explains to his teachers that number lines can be a very helpful method for teaching subtraction. Students can start with a number line that shows integers from 0 to 20. Given the subtraction problem 16 - 4, they should put a mark at 16 and draw 4 jumps backwards, until they land on the number 12.


Milo suggests that students be introduced to multiplication in late second or early third grade, and he explains that the first way to think of multiplication is simply as repeated addition. If you add the same number multiple times, you are functionally multiplying.

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