The best way to teach subtraction is to present it in terms of taking away. The take-away method shows a subtracted amount being taken away from a larger group. Students of all ages are able to understand the concept of items being taken away from a group. Once students grasp this concept, subtraction using only figures becomes much easier to understand.
The take-away approach often uses pictures or physical objects to illustrate subtraction. Seeing items being literally taken away from a larger group helps the students see how subtraction works. For example, if students are presented with a problem of 8 - 5, it may be difficult if the problem only involves numeric figures. On the other hand, if the students are shown eight apples and then five apples are taken away, it is easy to see that three are left. In this way, taking away allows students to visualize the process of subtraction.
When teaching subtraction using the take away method, substitute the phrase "take away" for "subtract" until the students understand the idea. Asking "If I have nine dogs and I take four away, how many dogs do I have left?" is a better way to present the problem than simply asking "I have nine dogs and subtract four. How many are left?"