top of page

How To Effectively Teach Adding Integers for Seventh Grade Math

Do you have students that are struggling to add integers?

Today's article will show you a math intervention lesson on adding integers using integer chips that will take your students from beginning to mastery in no time flat.

This article is part one in a four-part series of helping struggling students through the addition of integers and the full scaffolded learning progression.

7.NS.A.1b Understand p + q as the number located a distance |q| from p, in the positive or negative direction depending on whether q is positive or negative. Show that a number and its opposite have a sum of 0 (are additive inverses). Interpret sums of rational numbers by describing real-world contexts.

  • Add integers using counters

  • Add integers using number lines

  • Integer addition rules

  • Add integers

In this first step, you will be learning how to teach your students how to add using integer chips.

This lesson contains six sections. We'll be walking through each one

  1. Introduction

  2. Guiding Question

  3. Teacher Modeling

  4. Independent Practice

  5. Assessment

  6. Teacher Tip


Review academic vocabulary

As the teacher, you can begin this lesson with a review of the academic vocabulary:

  • integer

  • positive

  • negative

  • sum


Then give each student a set of 10 integer counters. Explain to the students that the red side is negative and that the yellow side is positive. If there's any confusion with that, you can take a permanent marker, write plus/minus on each of them for the positives and negatives. It does help.

Display one negative counter in the top box of the ten frame, display four positive counters at the bottom of the ten frame, then explain how pairs of counters counteract or cancel one another out to form zero pairs.

Ask the students

  • If the zero pair is removed, what is the remaining counterbalance?

Integer Chip Ten Frame

Guiding Question

"How do zero pairs help visualize integer addition?"

Let the students talk and share ideas based on the previous knowledge of addition and subtraction and how a number minus its opposite equals zero.

Teacher Modeling

Say: "I'm going to model an addition sentence with integers, -4 + 2 =?

" I will represent each number with counters as I go. Show. Place four integer counters red slide up in a row. Place two yellow counters directly below them.

Say: "A pair made of one positive counter and one negative counter has a zero value.

Show: Because pairs of positive and negative counters have a value of zero, you can remove each pair from your model. Two negative counters should be left in your model.

Say: "The answer to this problem, -4 + 2 = -2."

Ask: What do you think or know about positive and negative integers after seeing this demonstration?

Listen: Students may respond with words like they cancel each other out or they make zero pairs.

Say: "I'm going to model another edition sentence with integers, 4 + -2 = ?" This time you will represent each number with counters as I go.

Listen and observe: Students should place four integer counters yellow side up in a row and place two red counters directly below them. Once their model has been established, they should indicate that canceling or creating zero pairs by removing them from the table. The remaining integer counters should be two positive counters.

Repeat with the following addition sentences:

-3 + 4 = 1

4 + -3 = 1

5 + -3 = 2

This model is going to require a little additional explanation as there's no canceling or zero pairs, so you'll want to make sure to put some clarity on that if some of your learners are struggling.

Independent Work Time

Give the students a set of integer chips and a practice worksheet. Read the worksheet instructions allowed reminding the students that the highlighted words are the instruction words, then ask the students to read the highlighted words with you and define their meaning. The students will complete the differentiated worksheet with or without the manipulative assistance based on their current level of understanding.

Adding Integers Mini-Lesson Printable Pack

Teaching Tip #1: Mark the Chip with Positive and Negative Symbols

If your integer chips or counters don't have positive and negative symbols on them, use a permanent marker to add symbols for further clarity to the students who may be confused by just the color.

Teaching Tip #2: Play Integer Games in the Classroom

My students go nuts every time I bring out integers games and the competition is fierce. They play for 30 minutes twice a week as part of a differentiated math intervention group on adding and subtracting integers. I have multiple sets so the groups are small for the fastest game play and the number of cards each student can process. The change in how they look and interact with integers has been amazing to watch.

Top student choice classroom integer math games for middle school

Things I wish I had invented are a long and growing list, but I wanted to make sure and share both of these classroom integer games with you for classwork with integers.


The assessment worksheet is differentiated so that it contains four skill-specific questions, oversized fonts, and graphics, highlighted text, proficiency scale for fast feedback. As a release from the scaffold of the manipulatives, students will not be given the integer chips on the assessment, but can doodle them on their page, if needed.

The proficiency scale is based on a four-tier model:

  1. Beginning

  2. Practicing

  3. Emerging

  4. Proficient

As we bring this lesson to a close, if you’re interested in learning more about my lesson planning or the printed materials – the worksheet, the assessment, anything that goes along with it – please click through the link below.

If you are interested in receiving the next video in this four-part series, head on over to YouTube and hit the subscribe button and ring that bell to get notified as soon as we post.

#BeTeachTastic - The Differentiated Classroom

51 views0 comments