Year 3

FREE maths resources for all

Year 3 Menu

We can subtract numbers using the expanded column method

Year 3 Unit 12c

What we are learning:

  • A written method is generally needed for the subtraction of two-digit and three-digit numbers as there can be several parts to each calculation. This can be too much to hold in the memory.
  • The column method (where numbers are written in hundreds, tens and units columns) is referred to as a FORMAL written method.
  • We are now learning how to use our knowledge of partitioning numbers into tens and units to enable us to subtract larger numbers using the column method
  • Children will be introduced to the column method at the stage in their maths education when the teacher feels it is appropriate according to their ability to understand and use this method. Remember that progressing to a different method is not a race, and introducing your child to a concept that they are not ready for can knock confidence.
  • In this unit we are focusing on sums where no exchange is necessary.
  • This is an example of how to set out the expanded column method for subtraction:


Firstly we partition the 47 into 40 and 7 (4 tens and 7 units).
Then we partition the 23 into 20 and 3 (2 tens and 3 units). It is important to set the numbers beneath each other in the correct columns to prevent future mistakes and ensure our children understand the value of each digit.
We can then do the subtraction sum, always starting in the units column first. We then combine the 20 and 4 in the answer and write 24.
Although this might seem like a long way of doing this sum, if we ensure our children understand the process, then when we do the short method they will be less likely to make mistakes.
We can use exactly the same method for numbers with hundreds.


Activities you can do at home:

The Activity sheet has some subtractions that your child will need to set out in columns before completing

Good questions to ask

Which digits need to go underneath each other
Why is this the case?
What would happen if the numbers were in the wrong position?
Are there enough units to subtract in the top number?
If there are not, what will we need to do?
Have we changed the value of this number? How can you show me it is still the same?

If your child:

Sets out the calculation incorrectly (in the wrong columns)
Ask them to read each number and to say what each digit represents in it.
Do this for each number and ask them to compare to make sure the units are underneath each other, as are the tens etc. We are aiming to get them to see that the place value has to be consistent as we can only subtract units
from units and tens from tens.

Inverts the subtraction because there are not enough units, e.g. in the example above says 9 – 4 = 5 for the units column
Ask them to look at the subtraction carefully and ask them to confirm which number they are taking away from which.
If they are not sure, ask them to read both numbers to see which is the biggest – confirm that the biggest number has to be at the top of a subtraction. Look again and ask them to say the subtraction out loud for the units column – here they should say ‘four take away nine’.
They should now see that there are not enough units to subtract from, so they need to get some more from the tens column.
If they are still unsure use some straws or similar objects to help demonstrate the exchange of a ten for ten units.

Extension Activity

Please use this activity when you think your child understands the unit of work. It will deepen and extend your child’s understanding of this unit.


Extension activity (PDF)

Extension activity answers (PDF)