How To Teach Subtracting of Integers for Seventh Grade Math

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

Do you want to know how to teach subtraction of integers with integer chips? You're totally in the right place.

Do you need to have a fast way to hand off intervention lessons to your para-educators?

Again, totally in the right place.

This article is Math intervention lesson on subtracting integers using integer chips, an excellent alternative for students who struggle with the understanding of adding opposite strategy or subtraction on a number line method. I will demonstrate a complete step-through lesson with integer chips and the power of zero pairs that you can implement in your classroom starting today.

Hi, my name is Bran Hicks, and I'm the founder of Teach Tastic Publishing and Teach Tastic IEPs, a place where teachers get differentiated training and materials for use in everyday classrooms just like yours.


Review academic vocabulary

As the teacher, you can begin this lesson with a review of the academic vocabulary:

  • integer

  • positive

  • negative

  • zero pairs


To ignite the previous knowledge with the lesson introduction example or a question. Give each student a set of 10 integer counters and a 10 frame. Tell the students that the red side is negative and the yellow side is positive. Display one negative counter in the top box of the 10 frame. Display one positive counter in the bottom of the 10 frame. This is a zero pair. It is one positive number added to a negative number to equal zero.

When adding zero pairs to an equation, they do not change the equation because they cancel each other out. It's like adding a zero.

Repeat with multiple number combinations to illustrate that it will always equal zero when even amounts of positive and negative numbers are added to each other.

Guiding Question

"How do zero pairs help visualize integer addition or subtraction?"

Let the students talk and share ideas based on their previous knowledge of addition, subtraction, and how numbers minus its opposite is equal to zero.

Teacher Modeling

Say: I'm going to model a subtraction sentence with integers -4 - 2=?

Show: Place four integer counters red side up in a row.

Say: I now have four negative counters. Do I have two positive counters to subtract? If yes, we subtract them and get our solution. If no, we need to use zero pairs to help us find our solution.

Listen: Students' responses should be a "no" response.

Repeat: Do I have two positive counters to subtract? How do I get two positive counters, but not change the original negative four? First, we must use zero pairs to give us the needed two positive counters. I'll show you how that works.

Show: Place two zero pairs next to the four red counters.

Say: Now, do I have two positive counters that I can subtract? The students' responses hopefully are a "yes."

Show: Remove the positive counters from the 10 frame.

Ask: How many counters are left, and what kind are they? The students response, six counters are left and they are negative.

Say: The solution to -4 - 2 = what? What does the counter model tell us?

Listen: The solution to -4 - 2 = -6. You're going to need to repeat this several times with multiple different options.

With this new teaching tool in your toolkit, what is one way that you'll use this in your classroom? Let me know in the comments below.

Independent Practice

Give the students a set of integer chips and the practice worksheet. First, read the worksheet instructions and remind the students that the highlighted words are the instruction words. Then ask them to read the highlighted words with you and define their word meanings.

Next, the students will complete the differentiated worksheet with or without the manipulative assistance based on their current level of understanding. If you've already purchased this lesson plan, there are four practice worksheets to choose from. This will leave you three more practice sessions for students to demonstrate mastery.


The assessment worksheet is differentiated so that it contains four skill-specific questions, oversized fonts, and graphics, highlighted text and a proficiency scale for fast feedback. As they're released from scaffolding of the manipulatives, students will not be given the integer chips on the assessment, but can doodle them on their page if needed.

Teaching Tip #1: Mark the counters with Positive and Negative Symbols

If your integer chips or counters don't have positive and negative symbols on them, use a permanent marker to add signs for further clarity to the students who may be confused by just the colors.

The Best IEP Goal for 7th Grade of Integers

Learning Standard 7.NS.A.1.D Apply properties of operations as strategies to add and subtract rational numbers.