2-3 Digit Subtraction Strategies

Teaching 2-3 digit subtraction strategies is one of the most difficult skills to teach! Seriously, it can be SO tricky, but today I want to share with you a few 2-3 digit subtraction strategies that will help your students develop a deeper understanding of subtraction.

These strategies do not focus on the standard algorithm.

2-3 digit subtraction strategies that don't use the standard algorithm

If you’re looking for 2-3 addition strategies, you can read all about them over on this post!

Before you teach 2-3 digit subtraction strategies

Just like with addition strategies, it’s important to help students discover these strategies. One of the best ways to do this is through number talks. As the teacher, I strategically choose the numbers in the subtraction problems I give them to solve.

2-3 Digit Subtraction Strategy #1: Hundreds Chart

As you’re beginning 2-3 digit subtraction strategies, start with a problem where students are only subtracting multiples of tens. For example, write 65 – 20 = __ on the board. Most students will quickly know it’s 45.

When you write down the different ways students might get the answer, pull out a big hundreds chart and ask if they can show you on it. Students quickly realize that they can “hop up” to subtract tens.

Then ask students, what if the problem was 65 – 23? How can you still use our hundreds chart? Students will see that they just take 3 more away. The hundreds chart is a great visual! Give students their own little charts to practice!

activity to use the hundreds chart to teach subtraction
This hundreds chart game is the perfect practice activity for this strategy!

Subtraction Strategy #2: Base Ten Blocks

Keep things concrete and show students the base ten blocks after using a hundreds chart. Because students should already have an understanding of place value, you might be able to draw the blocks or use actual blocks to practice.

2-3 digit subtraction strategies activity using base ten blocks
Add this activity to your wishlist!

One suggestion to consider: Start by showing students problems that do not require borrowing. Remember, you need to strategically choose the subtraction problems you pose. Once students are comfortable, then you can pose more challenging problems that will require students to borrow and break apart some tens.

Subtraction Strategy #3: Break Apart

Just like with addition strategies, there are multiple ways for students to show what they’re thinking. Make sure as you give students problems to solve that you listen very carefully to how they solve them.

For example, if we go back to our original problem: 65 – 23, a student might first solve 65 – 20 = 45 and then 45 – 3 = 42. Another student might subtract the tens (60 – 20 = 40) and the ones (5 – 3 = 2). Then, they put them back together to get 42.

As you can see, there are multiple ways students might break apart (decompose) the numbers! Here’s one activity you can use to practice breaking apart numbers to subtract!

2-3 digit subtraction strategies using decomposing numbers
This activity gives students the chance to practice decomposing numbers to subtract!

Subtraction Strategy #4: Number Line

Sometimes using a number line can be one of the trickier strategies. With this strategy, students count back hundreds, tens, and ones on the number line. This strategy is especially helpful if students struggle with borrowing.

subtraction on an open number line
This dry-erase activity is perfect for practicing subtraction on a number line!

Resources for Subtraction With Regrouping

Finding resources for teaching 2-3 digit subtraction strategies beyond the standard algorithm is difficult. These strategy friends help students remember there are multiple ways to solve subtraction problems!

posters for teaching 2-3 digit subtraction strategies

Plus, each strategy friend comes with practice activities and worksheets so your lesson planning is a breeze! If you’re not teaching this yet, add this to your wishlist so you don’t forget!

Free Subtraction Strategies Reference Charts

Don’t forget to grab these FREE charts for 2-3 digit subtraction strategies below! They are the perfect reference sheets for your students to keep handy. You can also use this to help you create your own anchor chart(s) with your students during mini-lessons!

free subtraction strategies reference charts

PS – You can read all about the addition strategies over on this post!

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