Multiplication Table Tricks and Strategies

teaching multiplication tables strategies

Teaching Strategies / May 2, 2019

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone in the class could recall a multiplication fact up to 12 × 12 in less than 3 seconds? That’s my goal and I’ve nearly accomplished it for the third year in a row.

It has taken admirable dedication and hard work on the part of my pupils and they’re now feeling rightly victorious. So how did they go about it?

No Shortcuts
There are tonnes of ways to remember the times tables, just take a quick trawl through Google or YouTube. Amongst all the sound approaches, you’ll find shortcuts and tricks, like the old 9 times table finger one. These don’t do it for me at all. Full stop. They never lead to install recall of facts and they completely bypass any level of understanding of the times tables.

Over the last few years I’ve been trying methods that develop the pathways in the brain that lead to understanding and recall – building a foundation of the concepts with physical objects, making interconnections within and across times tables and short, regular practice.

This is what we’ve been up to…

Basics mfacts Using multilink cubes, Numicon tiles, tokens or something similar, I show pupils how times tables are made of groups, e.g. 1 group of 4, 2 groups of 4, 3 groups of 4, etc. They get as much time with the manipulatives as possible at this stage.

This is a valuable process regardless of their age. Whether they’re learning for the first time age 5 or learning all over again age 15, the physical grouping of the objects creates a foundation for the next stage, recognising the interconnections between the multiplication facts. To highlight this to the pupils I would show them how, for example, 2 groups of 4 can be doubled to give 4 groups of 4 and doubled again to give 8 groups of 4; or how 10 groups of 7 can be halved to give 5 groups of 7; or how 5 groups of 9 plus one more group gives 6 groups of 9. Number facts are very much connected and the good news is that if you know one of them you can work out most of the others if you understand how the connections work.

[Now I was probably close to losing you with all those words. The sentences all sounded very similar. Speaking too much while you’re demonstrating overloads the pupils’ capacity to take on and assimilate new information. Let the tiles do the talking.]

Associating number facts

I watched this video of Jill Mansergh at an ATM conference recently and it made so much sense to me. Jill has a wonderfully simple way of bring out the links within the (17) times table and it convinced me that I should include this approach with my pupils. Being able to navigate from one multiplication fact to another is a crucial element of mastering them.

My video on using known number facts to help work out other ones.

Once pupils start to familiarise themselves with how to associate number facts, I like use the following types of questions:

How does knowing 5 × 4 = 20 help you work out 6 × 4?

I know that 10 × 7 = 70, how can I use that to find 9 × 7?

If I know that 20 × 3 = 60, what else do I know?

1 × 16 = 16
2 × 16 = 32
3 × 16 = 48
4 × 16 = 64
5 × 16 = 80
6 × 16 = 96
7 × 16 = 112
8 × 16 = 128
9 × 16 = 144
10 × 16 = 160
What is 16 × 16?
What is 176 ÷ 16?

Routine practice in a fun way
It’s a fact that small amounts of regular practice of anything will strengthen the neural pathways. This means they will fire more quickly and reliably when you need them – all part of the install recall we’re aiming for. There are, no doubt, all sorts of nuances to these broad pseudo-scientific statements. Feel free to pick me up on them in the comments.

My pupils get two doses of practice lasting about 3 minutes each, every school day for 6 months – Rolling Numbers and Times Tables Rock Stars.

Hands up if you remember “learning” your times tables by chanting

1 times 3 is 3! 2 times 3 is 6! 3 times 3 is 9!….

No? OK, maybe you know someone who does. Let’s call this the Traditional Chant.

Have you ever heard pupils screaming

Yeah! 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 30 aaaaaaannnd 33, 36! Uh huh! This team’s got in goin’ on, goin’ on, oh yeah!

No? OK, never mind. Let’s call this Rolling Numbers anyhow.

There are three reasons why I’ve found Rolling Numbers to be more effective than the Traditional Chant.