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How to add and subtract integers: 15 Easy Minutes

Integers? Here’s an equation for you…

Dad: “Son, please read this book.”
Adolescent Me: “I don’t want to.”
Dad: “I’ll pay you $25”.
Adolescent Me: grabs the book and dives into inspired action



Have you had a similar experience? You know, when you were asked to do something and responded with a firm, “No,” then only to mutate that negative into an affirming, “Heck yes” when payment inserted itself into the equation?

For me, it was “The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey. I read it in less than twelve hours on the front porch of our southern suburban home, and finished with $25 in the positive! Integers on the horizon.

My motivation (riches) isn’t hard to decipher.
What about Dad’s intention? My financial health.

We all want healthy students and kids, right?

  • Full-functioning
  • Contributing
  • Living
  • Loving
  • Flourishing

You know, we’d prefer our descendants to grab the baton and drive in a positive direction! Pre-algebra has a contribution to make here.

Specifically, adding and subtracting integers.

Zero pairs. Subtraction. Addition. It’s implicit in all our money-making (Positive), money spending (Negative), and overspending (debiting).
“Balancing the checkbook” what is a checkbook?!? It is a core skill for our homes and businesses. Failing at this has consequences on a continuum, from mild discomfort to Debtors Anonymous’s 12-step group.


Can today’s pre-algebra lesson, adding and subtracting integers, have anything to do with our kid’s future financial stability? Maybe!

In generative CRA methodology, Amy Anderson, Math Specialist, begins with concrete visualizations of what happens when we add negatives to positives. She moves to representational models on a number line while sprinkling in real-life scenarios.

  • Spending
  • Saving
  • Debiting

Welcome to adding and subtracting integers!

My personal favorite part of the lesson is where Amy shows with blocks what it looks like to subtract a negative, which boggles students like…


Say what?!?

But when Amy explains it, our kids will say,
“I get this!”

More pressing than the futuristic appeal of this math lesson is its impact on our kids here and now. The very gentle, thoughtful, and kind approach Amy travels with our kids in this lesson. Adding and subtracting integers can be frustrating, debilitating, and deflating. Starting with friendly numbers, concrete models and representations encourage students to dabble and dip their toes into the integers pond. Just enough.

It’s just enough of a taste, and an experience of success, to build on. You will find the same true with today’s free printable—simple, scaffolded…but, with the potential to create momentum.

Flow is elusive for our adolescents when they are submerged beneath the torrents of speedy, vague, unreasonable mathematical demands. It makes them feel like a kitten trying to run up a slide.



We’re not saying that this lesson is your kid’s Total Money Makeover, guaranteeing future financial glory, or that you have to pay them $25 to watch this math lesson all about integers. What is clear and actionable is, we can give them a stable piece of ground to travel into the pre-algebra world, and it won’t take twelve hours.

Step 1: Download the Printable

Step 2: Watch the Video

MFM Authors

Matthew Lyda

Matthew Lyda

Multisensory Math Specialist

Matthew is a Blue Belt in Shotokan Karate, a happy husband, wilderness lover, drummer, and a voracious reader! He works with students one:one as well as in group classes. 

Amy Anderson

Amy Anderson

Multisensory Math Specialist; VP of Grades 7-12

Amy is a certified teacher with a Masters in Education and a Bachelor of Arts.  She enjoys photographing the Pacific Northwest landscapes, walking her dog, rock climbing, and searching for humpback whales. She works with students one:one as well in group classes.