EL Support Lesson

Subtracting Buttons

Students will love using this funny story as a guide to practice solving subtraction problems. It can be used as a stand-alone or support lesson for the Subtraction Fishing Action lesson plan.
This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Subtraction Fishing Action lesson plan.
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This lesson can be used as a pre-lesson for the Subtraction Fishing Action lesson plan.

Students will be able to represent subtraction problems by manipulating up to 5 objects. Students will be able to explain how to subtract items from a group using objects to represent the problem.

(3 minutes)
  • Gather the class together for a read-aloud.
  • Display the cover of the book Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons and preview the story using a short picture walk.
  • Use the vocabulary cards as needed to define and/or introduce the words buttons and groovy.
  • Say, "Give a thumbs up if you have a button on your clothes today."
(5 minutes)
  • Read the story aloud to the class.
  • Pause as you read to notice that the number of buttons is getting smaller on each page. Introduce the word subtraction as taking something away, using the story as a guide.
  • Ask, "What is happening to Pete's buttons?"
  • Listen to student ideas, and clarify as needed that one button was subtracted on each page because it came off his shirt.
  • Point to the equation on the second page and explain that this is how we write a subtraction number sentence. Model how to read it aloud: "Four minus one equals three."
(5 minutes)
  • Continue reading the story aloud, encouraging the students to chorally read (or sing) aloud Pete's button song.
  • Model how to solve a subtraction problem using real buttons and pretending to be the main character. Say, "I have five buttons on my shirt (use a blank sheet of paper) and one fell off. How many buttons do I have left?"
  • Ask students to think-pair-share how many buttons the main character will have left on his shirt. Then solve the problem by moving one of the buttons off of the shirt. Count the remaining buttons with the class.
(10 minutes)
  • Explain that students will now get to work with a partner to practice subtraction using real buttons and dice.
  • Model how to do this using a blank sheet of paper as your "shirt," starting with 6 buttons and then rolling the die. Remove the number of buttons the die shows and recount the number on your shirt. Repeat until all of the buttons are gone.
  • Provide a visual of instructions for students to refer to as needed.
  • Put students in groups, then pass out 6 buttons, one die, and a piece of paper to each pair.


  • Provide students with work mats (showing two distinct sides) to support them in solving their problems.
  • Place students in a small teacher-led group to provide guided support in setting up, solving, and explaining how to solve the problems.


  • Pass out the Hide and Seek Subtraction worksheet for students to complete.
  • Encourage the students to explain how to solve subtraction problems to their partner.
(5 minutes)
  • Ask students guiding questions to assess their understanding (e.g., "How many buttons did you start with?" "How many did you take away?" "How many are left?").
  • Take anecdotal notes of the different problem-solving strategies students used to solve their problems.
(2 minutes)
  • Gather the class back together.
  • Play another round of the game, this time modeling how to describe the problem using mathematical language (e.g., "Five minus one equals four") and encouraging students to repeat after you.

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