Teaching The Concept Of Addition With Graphic Organizers

If students simply memorize addition facts without truly learning the concept of addition (how/why that is the answer), then it could negatively effect future life skills. For example, in order to add money, figuring out if they have enough money to purchase an item, setting the table, planning for a grocery shopping trip, etc. you need to have a deep understanding of how addition works.  So... it is super important that students have a strong understanding of the concept of addition. Here is a great way to get students started on that path.

Help students to build a strong understanding of the concept of addition by using graphic organizers and visuals. This will help students develop the foundation they need to learn future life skills.


When introducing addition to my kiddos, I always start with manipulatives and a graphic organizer. This is the graphic organizer that we start with. I have never had a student it hasn't worked with!! We have multiple versions of it, but I start with the organizer on plexiglass. If you are able to, I highly recommend making one with plexiglass. I have been using this one for over 20 years... they last forever!

Help students to build a strong understanding of the concept of addition by using graphic organizers and visuals. This will help students develop the foundation they need to learn future life skills.


I like to start with the plexiglass because you can put the numbers right under the hands. Once we make the sets in each hand, we scoop up the manipulatives with both hands to "mix" them together. Then, we drop all of them into the box. We talk about how we took two different groups and added them together. This is a great time to also explain other ways to say add... mix, combine, join, etc. This will help them later on when you do word problems.


From here, we move on to a solid hands mat with the equation on a card or worksheet....

Help students to build a strong understanding of the concept of addition by using graphic organizers and visuals. This will help students develop the foundation they need to learn future life skills.

From here we move on to a small hands mat at the top of a worksheet...

Help students to build a strong understanding of the concept of addition by using graphic organizers and visuals. This will help students develop the foundation they need to learn future life skills.


When students are ready, we move on to additional addition strategies. We use the visuals and hands on tasks in the addition unit to help students move towards mastery and use a variety of strategies to add.

We introduce and teach strategies one by one using anchor charts:



We use hands on tasks to practice and review. I add these to our math centers and task boxes. Here is a peak at some of the hands on tasks from our addition unit:



Since my kiddos respond so well to graphic organizers and visual supports, we continue it with our addition strategies worksheets.




If these instructional strategies have been helpful to your students, you can keep that support for higher level addition skills.




Help students to build a strong understanding of the concept of addition by using graphic organizers and visuals. This will help students develop the foundation they need to learn future life skills.



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