Dominoes Addition/Subtraction Number Bonds

Written by Donna Boucher

Donna has been a teacher, math instructional coach, interventionist, and curriculum coordinator. A frequent speaker at state and national conferences, she shares her love for math with a worldwide audience through her website, Math Coach’s Corner. Donna is also the co-author of Guided Math Workshop.

Do you wonder where fact families are found in the current standards? The fact is, current standards don’t actually mention fact families at all anymore. Instead, they refer to “the relationship between operations.” An understanding of this relationship is best developed through many hands-on experiences with the combinations of the numbers through ten. We use addition/subtraction number bonds to help students look at the operations through a part/whole lens.

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So why the change? Fact families were often taught procedurally through rote memorization, which led to very little real understanding. Students learned to use three numbers to create two addition and two subtraction equations. How do we know they didn’t understand? First, students who had “mastered” number bonds could not use the addition equations to solve a subtraction problem. When faced with 5 – _____ = 3, students didn’t realize they could use either 2 + 3 = 5 or 3 + 2 = 5 to find the missing number.

Next, it was often easy to tell students didn’t really understand fact families because they would misuse the three numbers when creating their equations! So when asked to create the fact family for the numbers 2, 5, and 3, for example, you’d get students writing 2 – 5 = 3.

With dominoes showing the two parts of the whole, this little activity combines a pictorial representation with a number bond diagram to provide meaning for the equations. It’s a great follow-up activity for students who have been working with concrete objects to compose and decompose numbers and can be used as a math workstation or at your small group table.

addition/subtraction number bonds

Grab your free download here.

Check out this post for a similar activity for multiplication and division.


  1. Michelle

    Could you relink this resource. It won’t open for me (dropbox).

    • Donna Boucher

      I was just able to open it in an incognito window, so I think the link is okay. Can you tell me what kind of message you got?



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