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In the fourth grade, children begin to do arithmetic with multi-digit numbers, including subtracting multi-digit whole numbers. Teachers do their best to engage a 4th grader’s attention while practicing multi-digit number subtraction but may notice that sometimes their mind wanders.

If you’re a teacher looking to create an engaging classroom to help children with multi-digit subtraction – look no further. This list of playful activities to practice multi-digit whole number subtraction will have children learn and have fun at the same time!

What Is Multi-digit Whole Number Subtraction?

Subtraction refers to an arithmetic operation that includes removing objects from a group. In simple terms, it means taking one number away from another.

So just like performing subtraction of single-digit numbers, when children enter grade 4, they learn how to subtract multi-digit numbers or numbers composed of several digits. For example, they learn how to calculate the answer to 45 837 – 38 092, or 3 029 – 1 873.

Activities to Practice Multi-Digit Whole Number Subtraction

Bell-Work Warm-Up Activity

To kick off your multi-digit number subtraction practice, introduce a brief warm-up activity that will help children hone their place value understanding. Having a solid understanding of the place value concept is crucial for both the addition and subtraction of multi-digit whole numbers.

Print out this bell-work sheet, it contains several math problems such as having to write each digit of a number in the hundreds or thousands place value or writing an expanded notation of a multi-digit number.

  1. Divide students into pairs of two.
  2. Hand out one worksheet, with each pair receiving one worksheet.
  3. Explain that they need to work together to solve the math problems in the worksheet.
  4. Create a small, symbolic prize (such as candy sticks) for the group that manages to finish first and get all answers correct.

activities to practice multi-digit whole number subtraction

Fun & Educational Videos

Technology is known to assist learning in children and given that the majority of children nowadays are naturally drawn to technology, they are guaranteed to enjoy watching fun, educational videos.

Moreover, numerous studies have indicated that videos are highly effective as an educational tool since they provide students with a more engaging sensory experience as opposed to relying solely on print-materials.

For instance, to help children practice subtraction of multi-digit numbers, consider this free video. It includes cute illustrations of one cafeteria week sales, such as cheese sandwich and vegetable sandwich sales. You can decide to stop the video at certain intervals to have children calculate what the difference between sales is. Continue playing the video to show them the answer.

Another example is this video that includes real-life subtraction stories to better understand regrouping or the process of ‘borrowing’ from another number to find the difference between two numbers.

For instance, there’s a cute story about a kid who counts the initial number of the candy pieces he got through trick or treat. After he ate some, he counted the number of candy pieces he was left with. Students can then visualize the process of finding out how many candy pieces the kid ate by using subtraction with regrouping.

Sunken Treasure Game

The Sunken Treasure Game is a fun game to reinforce kids’ math skills of multi-digit number subtraction. The aim of the game is for children to go on a quest for buried treasure, which they can only reach by completing subtraction problems.

To play the game in your classroom, you’ll need to prepare a game board. The game board consists of two vertical ‘roads’ of empty squares with a starting square and a final square. Include a treasure box drawing by the final squares. Create as many copies as needed.

In addition to a game board, create several subtraction cards with different math problems related to subtracting multi-digit whole numbers, such as 382 282 – 289 540. Make sure to also create an answer key sheet. Finally, bring a set of colored chips.

Then, start playing!

  1. Divide children into groups of three. Each group should have two players and one guide. The players play the game, whereas the guide holds the answer key sheet and checks their answers.
  2. Place the game board as well as the subtraction cards in the middle of each group. The subtraction cards should be face down.
  3. The guide shuffles the cards and leaves them face down again.
  4. Each player gets one chip in a different color, i.e. if player one has a red chip, player two will get a green chip. They place their chip on the starting square.
  5. The first player then draws a card and tries to solve the subtraction problem they got.
  6. The guide checks if the answer is correct on the answer sheet. If the answer is correct, player one can move ahead one square and thus get closer to the treasure box. If they answered incorrectly, their chip stays on the same square.
  7. The second player then repeats this process.
  8. Keep playing until someone reaches the sunken treasure box. The first player to do so wins the round.
  9. After someone has reached the treasure box, another round starts where the winner is the guide and the guide from the previous game becomes a player.
  10. Keep playing for as long as time allows. In the end, the player that has reached the treasure box the most times is declared a winner.


Subtraction Cards Game

Create a number of cards with different multi-digit whole number subtraction problems. You can use the math problems from this worksheet. Print out the worksheet and simply cut out the subtraction problems into small squares.

Make sure to bring enough copies according to the size of your class. Also, print out several answer key sheets. Start playing!

  1. Divide children into pairs of two. Each pair has one player and another ‘checker’.
  2. Place the subtraction cards in the middle of the table, with their face down.
  3. The player draws one card and tries to solve the subtraction problem.
  4. The checker then checks if their answer is correct. If they answer correctly, they score one point, and if they answer incorrectly, they lose one point.
  5. The player repeats this process for a few rounds (it can be 5 rounds, depending on the number of cards you’re using).
  6. After the agreed number of rounds is completed, the two students switch roles and the checker becomes a player, while the player becomes a checker.
  7. The new player now repeats the steps and tries to solve the math problems on the cards they draw.
  8. In the end, the person that managed to score the most points wins the game.


Before You Leave…

We hope you enjoyed our list of activities to practice multi-digit whole number subtraction in your classroom! Make sure to check out our worksheets and resources on this topic:

To get the Editable versions of these files, join us inside the Math Teacher Coach Community:

This article is based on:

Unit 2 – Multi-Digit Whole Number Addition and Subtraction

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