Solving Multi-Step Addition and Subtraction Word Problems

Solving Multi-Step Addition and Subtraction Word Problems

Solving multi-step addition and subtraction word problems can help students see the relationship between operations, as well as practice their calculations.  When I teach subtraction, I also like to show how students can use addition to check their work!  Students often think that they are done when they arrive at the answer, but it is my mission to show them that they can do just one more step to check and make sure their work is correct.  Addition and subtraction work together to help each other out.

The Art of Check Writing

Although the art of writing a check and balancing a checkbook is going away, those processes still have great value for practicing addition and subtraction.  I like to present math problems with money, budgets and purchasing items, but these days students tell me just to “charge it to a card”.  I have been tempted to find my old carbon copy paper receipts and bring them into class.  Just the other week, we had our lawnmower repaired.  The man ran a small, old business and he wrote out all of the receipts and transactions by hand, using the box with carbon copy receipts.  He wrote down the price of the parts, added the taxes and charges, and summed it up – BY HAND!  The only thing missing for a good math problem was writing the word form onto a check.

Set up Shop in Your Classroom

So I thought, why not create a shop in my classroom!  Students can be the shopkeepers and the customers, but no charge cards allowed!  Shopkeepers would have to write the receipt, and the customers would have to write a check for the exact amount.  The students would have to read scenarios and decide what to buy.  I could even give them a budget or a sales goal and they would have to periodically check the difference by subtracting.  It would be a lesson embedded in real life addition and subtraction word problems.

Solving Multi-Step Addition and Subtraction Word Problems


Set up for Solving Multi-Step Addition and Subtraction Word Problems

  1. Print or create price tags from page 6 of the worksheet for the list of items located pages 7-10.
  2. Set up “items” and pictures around the room. There are pictures provided on pages 7-10 on the worksheet, but you can always supplement or creatively add items of your own.
  3. Set up 5 shopkeeper stations with blank copies of “Receipts.” (See worksheet page 3)
  4. Set up each shop with a Sales Record to keep track of sales and income. Each shop has a distinct sales goal, such as $99, $250, $400, $505, $888.
  5. Label each shop by Number/color or name them:
    • $99 – Bargain Basement
    • $250 – Quarter Millie’s Party Store
    • $400 – Four Double Zero
    • $505 – 505 Faves
    • $888 – Great Eights
  6. Provide each student with 6 blank checks and 1 balance sheet. (See worksheet pages 4-5.)
  7. Provide each student with a copy of the Addition and Subtraction Worksheet.
  8. If you have little bells or signs, you can set up the shopkeeper with things like an “Open/Closed” sign or “Ring bell for service”.

Solving Multi-Step Addition and Subtraction Word Problems


Launch the Solving Multi-Step Addition and Subtraction Word Problems

If you have time, set up some open/closed shop signs to create the feel of a store in the classroom.  You can even have students create a checkbook with their checks.


Introduce the activity by saying “Today we are going to go shopping!”  Explain that everyone will rotate through and get a chance to run a shop as well as go shopping for items on the worksheet.  The students will not actually pick up items and keep them, but you can have things on display or just have photos and a price list.


Explain the vocabulary and show an example of each: (All are found on the worksheet.)



this is used to write an exact amount of money.  It takes the money out of your bank account and gives it to the store or person it is written to when cashed at the bank.

Solving Multi-Step Addition and Subtraction Word Problems

Balance Sheet

This is a record of how much money you have and how much you spend.  The balance is the amount of money people have to spend.  Use the balance sheet to keep track of the money.  Tell the students that everyone starts with a balance of $445.00. The shoppers can write a brief description of what they buy in the white rows and then subtract the amount spent from the balance.  Explain that the students can do the subtraction vertically in the balance column.  The shaded rows show the running balance, and the white rows show how much is spent each time.  Subtract any money spent to get the new balance.Tell your students “When you reach zero – you are out of money!”

Solving Multi-Step Addition and Subtraction Word Problems

Sales Goal

This is a set amount of money made from selling goods that sales people try to reach.  If you have a sales goal, you can subtract any sales to see how much more money you need to reach the goal.



This lists the items being purchased and how much they each cost.  The receipt also gives the total cost of the purchase.  It is a record to show the sale.

Solving Multi-Step Addition and Subtraction Word Problems

Use this scenario to model the work students will do:

“You walk into the store Four Double Zero and  decide to buy headphones for $125 and a case for $34.  What is your purchase price?”


Together, work through the addition.  Remind the students that BOTH the customer and the shopkeeper must do the addition.  Then the shopkeeper tells the customer what to pay.  (There are no taxes or charges unless indicated in the problem on the worksheet).

Pass Out Student Checkbooks

Give every student their checks or checkbook.  Use the first blank check to write the demo check together.  Every check must have:

  • The name of the store or person you are writing the check to
  • The date
  • The purchase amount in word form
  • The purchase amount in standard form
  • The Memo line – items purchased
  • Signature


Then demonstrate the following:

  • After writing the check, record the total on the balance sheet then subtract it from the balance.
    • The customer must subtract: $455 – $159
  • Add up the items and record the total on the sales sheet, then subtract it from the sales goal
    • The Storekeeper must subtract it from the Sales Goal $400- $159


After the demo, space the students out among the stores.  Assign 1-2 students as shopkeepers at each shop and have the remaining students walk around and shop using the worksheet scenarios.


You can provide 5-10 minutes of shopping and then switch roles, or you can walk around and switch out shopkeepers as you see fit.

  • Each student has a Budget of $455 for their entire shopping trip.
  • The scenarios on the worksheet ask students to buy at least 2 items from each shop. Some of the word problems are set, others have a choice of items.
  • Customers indicate the items and say the prices. The shopkeeper writes the prices and adds them up.  The Customer also adds them up and they check.
  • Once the price is determined, the customer writes a check using standard and word form and the name of the store, then signs and dates it.
  • The customer then subtracts the purchase from his/her running balance.
  • The shopkeeper cashes the check, adds it to the sales list and subtracts it from the sales goal for that shop.
  • Customers must check their balance after each purchase. Customers will keep a running balance throughout their shopping experience.
  • Shopkeepers must check their Sales goals and how much more money they need after each customer. Shopkeepers can keep a running total while they are in charge of that shop.  However, when a new shopkeeper comes in, they must start with the original sales goal when subtracting.
  • Depending on the class size, start each shop with 1-2 shopkeepers. Then have the remaining students go around to the available shopkeepers and work through their transactions.  Switch roles when appropriate.


Reflection on Solving Multi-Step Addition and Subtraction Word Problems

Walk around and help the shopkeepers and the customers as they work through the purchasing process.


At the end, share what people decided to buy and talk about the processes of making a transaction.


Ask questions such as:

  • Which store did you like the best?
  • Did you ever add up the numbers and get a different sum than the shopkeeper/customer? How did you resolve the price issue?
  • Why do you need to subtract your purchases from the budget?
  • How did you keep track of your purchases?
  • Did any shopkeepers reach their sales goal before leaving their “shift”?
  • In the end, how could you check the total amount of purchases you made today? Did you stay under budget?
  • Did anyone go over their budget?



  • Have students create a price list of items and write 4 of their own word problems. Give them a sales goal and come up with 4 different ways to reach that goal.  Can they hit the goal exactly?
  • Research prices of items, but make sure the students find whole numbers.  (Many times ticket prices tend to be whole numbers).  Ask how much money the school would need to budget if the class went on a trip to that theater, sports game, or show.


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