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The Best Way to Teach Students to Add Integers (Guaranteed!)

I don’t have to tell you how important it is that students master the skills of adding and subtracting integers.

These skills are so fundamental to all of algebra, and if they struggle here, they will likely get more and more frustrated in the coming months and years.

Fortunately, there’s a super-easy way to teach them to add and subtract integers. A method that will help them quickly master this vital skill & build their confidence that they really can do math.

the best way to teach students to add integers

The key? Don’t try to get them to memorize a bunch or rules. Instead, help them understand what’s really going on by having them draw a picture.

This method isn’t widely known, but I know from first-hand experience how well students understand this method and how strong their skills become as a result.

Take a minute and watch the first couple minutes of each of these videos. These are videos of me explaining how to add and “subtract” integers using this method:

How to Teach Students to Add Integers:

Key Points for Adding Integers:

*Teach students to think of the – symbol as a negative instead of thinking of it as subtraction.

*When students are first learning these skills, require them to draw pictures every time. The picture helps them really think through exactly what is happening, and before long they won’t need the picture anymore. But if they ever get stuck, they’ll have it to fall back on.

How to Teach Students to “Subtract” Integers:

Key Points for “Subtracting” Integers:

*Don’t even call it subtracting. Remember that we are going to think of the – symbol as a negative. Students shouldn’t think of these problems any differently than they do adding integer problems.

*Teach students to think of the numbers as positives and negatives and there is an understood + sign in between that they can write in if they’d like. Then, they should draw the picture as normal.

*Teach students that when two negatives are right next to each other (with nothing except maybe a parenthesis in between), they become a positive. –(-) = +

If you teach your students how to add integers using this method and keep going back to the picture whenever they get stuck, I guarantee you’re going to see lots of confident smiles as they master this skill in no time.

Update: I’m thrilled to bring you a completely FREE integers unit from MathLight, our sister website. This unit includes awesome explanation videos that use this method, along with everything else you need to teach integers.

Click here to find out more & get your FREE integers unit now.

free integers unit teaching adding integers, subtracting integers, multiplying integers and more. full curriculum with videos



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  • Linda Kardamis I want to thank you for your videos in teaching integers. I’m a student trying to get my GED.?
    Im 46 years old so Its been a long time since I have been in school . Studying intergers wasn’t clicking but once I seen your videos I am understanding how to do them. I have to keep practicing. I’ve watch quiet a few but they didn’t click . Thank you again .

  • Thank you! I teach GED to people getting out of jail. Your instructions on adding integers was phenomenal! Thank you! Going to use this tomorrow!

  • Linda, you made one of the toughest lessons of the year easy and fun. I feel like I just hit the jackpot! My students were commenting about how fun it is and trying to beat you to the answer by the end. It’s never been this easy! (I appreciate how it simplifies the process, but keeps the meaning in the forefront.) Thank you!

    • I typically stick with smaller numbers when we’re first learning this. But once students understand the concept, they don’t need to draw the pictures anymore, and it doesn’t matter how large the numbers are.

  • This is helpful. We teach integers to our students through diagrams most of the time. These concepts are best learnt that way. We also explains the reason for diagram and how useful it is. The students are doing good.
    I am a Hindu teacher and our school provides holistic and value based education. Sanatan Dharma teaches about universality. When I saw your Propaganda of “Christian Teacher” group, it clearly implies your actual intention of conversion and not on the subject of education. Shame on you.

  • I’m a 44 year old woman getting my High School Diploma and have such a hard time with math concepts. You really made it light and simple and I truly thank you for that. I took a week long class for this, and didn’t quite grasp. I was able to understand yours in 40 minutes. You are truly a blessing. I just have Algebra left and then I graduate and this really helps because I’m sooooo intimidated by math. I’m definitely going to check out your other sites. Thank you so much. This means a lot to people who can’t afford a tutor.

  • Dear Linda,
    Merry Christmas from Saudi Arabia!
    I never post anything regarding any article my daughter or myself read. this time, it’s worth to THANK YOU for the 2 videos about integers. thank God for you! you saved me from having to get a tutor for my daughter, you saved her hours of trying to memorize the rules of adding/subtracting integers, and saved me from going crazy. God bless you and your family. Mirna

  • Thank you so much. My daughter couldn’t get it, even with one on one help from her teacher. I didn’t quite understand how to help her and came across this. 30 minutes later and we both get it. This has been a blessing to us. Pictures help greatly.

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