Reading Disabilities Can Impact Math Too: Strategies for Adding and Subtracting Numbers

Many students that struggle with reading can also experience trouble with some mathematical concepts.  In particular, difficulty with directionality can impact both reading and math as it can manifest as confusion when discriminating left from right, East and West, as well as letter, word and number reversals.  There are numerous mathematical concepts which require directionality, and compensatory strategies can help these students navigate around this hurtle.  Because number lines tend to be displayed horizontally from left to right, adding and subtracting numbers can be difficult to understand and execute for some students.  So what can we do to help?

Screen shot 2013-05-16 at 10.39.58 AMCompensatory Strategies for Number Lines

Instead of teaching a number line that spans from left to right, I like to use a ladder that travels up and down. Students that have difficulty with directionality find this much easier to conceptualize.  Whenever you add, you go up the ladder.  Whenever you subtract, you go down the ladder.  What’s more, when introducing negative numbers, utilizing a ladder that travels both “above ground” and below ground,” as illustrated in the initial blog image, will continue to make adding and subtracting a breeze, as the same rule applies -adding results in traveling up the ladder and subtracting down the ladder.

Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 1.40.05 PMStair Hop: A Game for Adding and Subtracting Whole Numbers and Integers

If students need a concrete method for grasping and practicing adding and subtracting whole numbers and integers, I love to use a staircase.  Label each stair using a sequence of numbers with masking or duct tape.  Break the class into teams of two players.  For practicing adding and subtracting negative and positive integers, have one member of the team stay at the bottom of the staircase with you and the other member stand on the middle step of the staircase.  For this example, let’s say you have a staircase that has forty steps.  Players start on the middle stair.  The middle stair is labeled zero and all the steps above it are labeled with the counting numbers and the steps below are labeled with negative numbers.  One at a time the players at the bottom of the stairs flip a coin.  Heads means add, and tails means subtract.  They will also roll a die which will indicate the number of steps to navigate.  Say the first student flips a head and rolls a three.  They would instruct their team member to add three, and therefore climb 3 stairs.  Then the other players continue.  Play ends when one of the players reaches the top of the stairs or the bottom of the stairs.  If you would like to play with the counting numbers, label the stairs 1-40.  As in the prior example, have the players begin on the middle step, in this case, the 20th step.  You can also play this game in the classroom by creating a ladder like the image displayed at the top of this blog and giving each pair of students a coin, a die and two different colored paperclips.  They can play against each other by starting at zero with their selected paperclip and taking turns to see who can win by being the first to the top or bottom of the ladder.

I hope you found this strategy helpful.  I would love to hear your thoughts!  Also, if you play the game, I would love to see some images!!

4773b7352584839ce084d166f7c83a4b_772zDr. Erica Warren is a reading specialist, educational therapist and author of multisensory, and mindful educational materials.  She resides in New York, where she works one on one with students as a “personal trainer for the brain” and an educational consultant/teacher trainer. Dr. Warren offers her own materials at Good Sensory Learning and Teachers Pay Teachers. You can also get free advice and resources by following her blog here.

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2 thoughts on “Reading Disabilities Can Impact Math Too: Strategies for Adding and Subtracting Numbers

  1. Great idea for helping visual learners understand the difference between positive and negative integers. I can definitely see this being a beneficial study tool for students when manipulating the addition and subtraction of positive and negative integers.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Jennifer Smith-Sloane

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