EL Support Lesson

Fishy Subtraction Stories

Students will love incorporating stories and sea creatures as they practice creating their own subtraction equations. It can be used as a stand-alone or support lesson for the Animal Action Subtraction lesson plan.
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Animal Action Subtraction lesson plan.
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This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Animal Action Subtraction lesson plan.

Students will be able to subtract items from a group.


Students will be able to explain how to subtract items from a group using acting and objects to represent the problem.

(3 minutes)
  • Gather the class together for a read-aloud.
  • Display the cover of the book Ten Sly Piranhas and go on a brief picture walk to preview the story.
  • Use the vocabulary cards to define and/or introduce the words sly, piranha, dine, and frisky.
(10 minutes)
  • Read aloud the story to the class.
  • Pause as you read to notice that the number of piranhas is getting smaller on each page. Introduce the word subtract using the story as a guide.
  • Write up the equation (and pictures or visuals) 10 – 1 = 9 on the board and explain that this is how we write a subtraction number sentence. Model how to read it aloud: "Ten minus one equals nine."
  • Ask, "What happened to the fish on each page of the story?" Explain that on each page, one fish was eaten, so there were less fish. Another way to say this is that one fish was subtracted on each page because it was eaten.
  • Explain that addition is when we add two or more things together. Subtraction is when we take something away.
  • Model how to solve a subtraction problem using counting manipulatives by writing the problem on the board (4 – 1 = __ __ __ __ ) along with 4 circles. Solve the problem by showing four counters and removing one. Demonstrate how you cross out one circle. Count the circles you have left and show how you recount them twice to check your answer.
(10 minutes)
  • Re-read the story a second time, this time having the students read along with you as they are able (there are many pages with repetitive language).
  • Stop on each page to write a number sentences for each problem in the story (e.g., 10 – 1 = 9).
  • Pass out 10 of the pre-cut fish to each student and have them remove them one at a time as they solve each problem together.
(10 minutes)
  • Explain that students will now get to work with a partner to make up their own fish subtraction stories using their cut-out fish.
  • Model how to do this using a blank sheet of paper as your "pond" and the cut-out fish to tell a story.
  • Pair students together and pass out materials.


  • Provide students with subtraction work mats to set up their problems.
  • Work with students in a teacher-led group to practice using sentence frames to describe and explain how they solved their problems.


  • Pass out the Slippery Subtraction worksheet for students to complete.
  • Ask students to share with a peer their problem-solving process.
(5 minutes)
  • Circulate around the room and ask students guiding questions to assess their understanding (e.g., "How many are you subtracting?" "How many fish are left?" "How do you know?").
  • Listen to students as they work with their partners and take note of problem-solving strategies students are using.
(2 minutes)
  • Invite volunteers to share their subtraction story with the class. As a group, solve the problem.
  • Model using sentence frames and target vocabulary to highlight the different strategies students used.

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