In working with students who have fallen significantly behind in math, a common challenge is adding and subtracting. This can manifest in word problems or simple add and subtract problems. When this is the case, the first thing I check is whether the student understands conceptually what addition and subtraction are. Here is a Google Slides file that shows the approach I use. (You can make a copy and then edit.) I copy and paste slides for subsequent days so the Google Slides file services as a repository of the trials – data collection.

Each slide as the same format.

The operation in bold font.

The primary pile with the objects to work with.

The secondary pile with objects used for addition prompts.

The garbage can for objects discarded in subtraction prompts.

I like to use pennies as objects but will use Google Images of topics the student likes if I need something extra to keep their interest and attention. The student is tasked with performing an action with the objects and to distinguish between tasks to show discernment of what action to perform, relative to the prompt. There are 3 operations types: addition, subtraction, and sorting. The sorting is used simply as a distractor. Each image shows the original slide and a slide of the final product. The slides can be copied to for additional prompts. This first round focuses on common language that speaks to addition and subtraction.

In the next round, the sorting is removed and the language is focused on the terms add and subtract as a step in shaping understanding of the eventual symbols.

Finally, the actual symbols are used. If the student gets confused the previous language can be used as a prompt.