Lesson Plan

Stepping Through Addition and Subtraction Word Problems

Use this lesson to teach your students how to determine if they should use addition, subtraction, or both operations to solve a word problem by following four simple steps.
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Need extra help for EL students? Try the Thinking Deeply About Word Problems pre-lesson.
View aligned standards
Need extra help for EL students? Try the Thinking Deeply About Word Problems pre-lesson.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to apply word problem strategies to solve problems using addition, subtraction, or both operations.

The adjustment to the whole group lesson is a modification to differentiate for children who are English learners.
EL adjustments


(5 minutes)
Stepping Through Addition and Subtraction Word Problems PracticeStepping Through Addition and Subtraction
  • Invite students to sit at the carpet or other gathering place. Explain to them that you are going to describe an activity and you want to see if they can figure out what it is.
  • Describe to students the basic steps of an activity that would be familiar to them, such as baking a cake or making a sandwich (without naming the activity). Start by giving broad pieces of information that could be for a variety of activities. For example, I walked into my kitchen.
  • Let students make one or two guesses from your first few pieces of information. Then, tell students that you want to give them all of the information before they guess again, so that they can get the correct answer. Finish describing the activity with enough detail that they will definitely name the correct activity.
  • Ask students to name the activity and to share with a neighbor how they knew.
  • Call on a few students to share their neighbor’s thinking. (Students might share specific words that were clues, talk about the location the activity was happening in, or describe the picture they were able to make in their mind.)
  • Explain to students that there are steps they can follow to solve addition and subtraction word problems, just like they figured out what your activity was.


  • Pair students with a supportive peer or one with the same home language (L1), if possible.
  • Allow students to share ideas in their L1.


  • Provide sentence stems/frames to support student sharing of their ideas For example, "I think the activity is ________." and "I know the activity is ________ because________."
  • Encourage students to use bilingual reference materials to look up any unknown words from the description of the activity.