5 Little Ducks - Introduction to Subtraction

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SWBAT use ducks on a pond math mat, using a familiar finger play, to show subtraction.

Big Idea

We use a classic finger play to exemplify the basic concepts of taking 1 away--subtraction!

Attention Grabber/Introduction

10 minutes

As we begin math, I tell my helper David that I need him to be a Daddy Duck, and he looks perplexed, but he walks to the front of the class. Next, I select 5 kiddos to be ducks, and the kids stand at the class, ready to act.

I quickly and quietly give each “duck” an ordinal number—first duck, second duck, third duck, and so on until all 5 ducks have been assigned. Grins are already sneaking out all over the classroom, as kiddos quietly guess what’s coming next.

[I use my “helper of the day,” as truly the classroom helper—all day. I know some classes have a variety of classroom jobs, but it’s been easier for me to put all the kids’ names on craft sticks, place the sticks in a decorative, seasonal can, and pull from the sticks to select a helper each day. My helper today is a little boy, so I alter the classic finger play song—ever so slightly.]

We sing a very spirited version of the classic early childhood song, “5 Little Ducks,” a song that we've been singing from time to time since July, when kindergarten started.

As we sing,“5 little ducks went out to play,” the “ducks” walk across the classroom, over to the door. We sing, “the daddy duck said,” instead of “mama duck” so that our helper of the day can say the infamous words, “Quack! Quack! Quack!” and all but the first duck waddle back to the front of the room. (Yes, that’s right, we all get quiet so that David can say “Quack! Quack! Quack!” while we clap our hands along with David’s quacks.)

We repeat this process until all of the ducks are “over the hills and far away,” and we practice David’s “all business" quack, by extending our arms in front of us and David saying loudly,” “Quack! Quack! Quack!” slower & louder than usual, and all the ducks come back to the front of the class with giggles and smiles.

Guided Practice

30 minutes

I tell the kiddos that I found fun, free mats and cute ducks (made by a very talented kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Ricca) that we can use to act out “5 Little Ducks” even if we don’t have a bunch of friends around for acting out. “Yay!” the kiddos exclaim, happily coloring in their ponds and ducks. They are really taking their time, so I don’t have to say much about taking time to be precise (MP.6) as we work on our math tools (MP.5), the mat and duck counters. A scrap can is placed on every table to keep things tidy and to save time from having a lot walks to trash cans.

After our ducks are cut and everyone has had a few minutes to color, we walk through the whole “5 Little Ducks” process together, with me asking how many ducks did we start off with, and students moving 5 ducks off of their ponds. At the “far away” reference, we move one duck—the first duck” just over and to the side, (hence, the “far away” part), and then moving the remaining 4 ducks back to the pond. I lead the kids into a sort of “number story” about what happened with the ducks.

“Could we say, ‘5 take away 1 is…’”

“4!” students exclaim, and I quickly circulate to see that everyone has 4 ducks on their mat.

We repeat this very structured procedure, modeling (MP.4) the subtraction with our paper ducks, and then breaking the equation down into a subtraction sentence, really stressing the numbers as we continue to reduce the quantity by 1.

I specifically don’t stress the terms “minus” or “equals” today, even though we have experience with “equals” from addition. (Sometimes “equals” sneaks in, but I want us to really see the process of subtraction, so we’re focusing more on the ducks on the mat and the numbers associated with the ducks.)

After we go through “1 take away 1 is… 0!” we talk about the process of taking 1 away each time. A student notes that the number we have left after the ducks go out over the hill is the same as the number we start with the next time we start talking about the ducks (MP.8).

To mix it up, I let the kids tell stories about ducks for us to act out. They come up with some funny stories! One little girl who loves the movie “Frozen” insists that 2 sister ducks go out to play, and the 1 sister gets mad and runs away to a frozen hill. Yes, we have fun and get creative, but we are really modeling (MP.4) basic subtraction.  


10 minutes

To wrap up our practice for the day, we talk a little bit about the process of taking 1 away.  One honest kiddo blurts out, “I never knew that song was about take away!” We practice paper clipping our 5 ducks to our mats so we can “teach” our families how to practice take away with 5 little ducks, also. Finally, I ask the students if the ducks should get in trouble, and the students explain why—or why not—stressing there is no wrong answer, but it’s fun to hear their arguments.