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Beginning in about the second grade, children are expected to learn the times tables. For some it is routine and they can accomplish the task in a matter of a couple of months. But for many others, it is an extremely intimidating, seemingly inconquerable monster. They feel powerless and overwhelmed, even crippled by their inability to move forward without this foundational skill.

My work with children has included successfully empowering them through a variety of approaches to master multiplication. I’ll include a full explanation of some of the methods I use, but if you’re just interested in the materials and resource websites, you can scroll to the end of the page for a complete list of all the teaching help links I’ve included in this post.

When one of my students seems to be struggling, I stop, regroup, and come in on the subject from another angle (and another) until they have a working knowledge of the facts.  Most of the children I work with have been introduced to multiplication in the past, and have varying degrees of understanding.  But if they continue to struggle, we always go all the way back to the beginning.

The first step is to teach the concept of repeated addition.  There are many ways to do it.  My methods aren’t in any particular order, and most have come out of my own desperate attempts to clarify, calm, and encourage in a moment of frustration, with the materials I have at hand.  I usually have sort of a “feel” for where my students need reinforcement.

  • I demonstrate that it is time consuming to add the same number multiple times, creating in them a need for a better way.  (The problem!)
  •  I use physical objects to demonstrate rows and columns (arrays) I draw arrays on graph paper and let them discover that each row has the same number, and each column has the same number, and we count each little square.
  • I demonstrate counting by twos or threes. Students should be familiar with counting by twos, threes, fives and tens, before you move on.
  • Stories are a good way to teach.  If three friends each have two marbles in their pockets, you can find out how many marbles are there all together by counting by ones or by threes or twos.  Pictures or live models of the three friends along with each of their marbles help children to understand this.

Once we have hurdled the concept of multiplication, the challenge becomes committing the actual number facts to memory.  I begin by using a simple Multiplication Table Chart.

  • I familiarize them with the Times Table Chart and finding the product of two numbers where their rows and columns intersect.  I allow them to use it as a resource for a little while, but not as a crutch.
  • At this point, we begin to highlight the facts they already know.  Zeros are so easy they’re not even included on the chart.  Quickly teach them the rules for zeroes and ones, check for understanding, then highlight the ones row and column.  Tens may also fall into that category.  If you can provide an immediate visual representation of their success it will fuel their ambition to do the rest. (Success begets success.)
  • Next, I check to see if they understand the difference between even and odd numbers.  If they can identify evens, I have them count by twos and highlight the twos.  If not, spend a little time to clarify this concept.
  • Similarly, children often already have the skills of counting by fives.  If they do, we quickly highlight those rows and columns.  I make a big deal out of eliminating the facts they don’t need to study.
  • Sometimes, particularly if the student is an audio learner or I feel that they need a little more kinesthetic practice in “counting by,” I have them toss a stuffed toy or other soft object back and forth with a partner, alternately saying the next number in the sequence.  We usually only do this with twos, fives, tens, then threes.  Beyond that, it almost becomes cumbersome and they benefit more from other methods.
  • Nines are one of my favorite multiplication facts to teach.  My favorite method is using fingers.  The YouTube clip HERE is the best I’ve seen it described.
  • By this time, we have eliminated Zeros, Ones, Twos, Fives, Nines and Tens.  That only leaves Threes, Fours, Sixes, Sevens, and Eights.  Time to Celebrate Success! (I personally don’t have my students memorize elevens and twelves because they are calculable facts.)

Once a child has a grasp of the concept of multiplication and has learned to quickly recite the first few “easy” facts, repetition is really the most important factor (pun intended!)  This has traditionally been tackled with flashcards, timed drills and songs.

  • Click HERE for my absolute favorite resource for math worksheets.  You can print off pages of the facts 0 through 9, or any individual number you’re practicing.
  • Multiplication facts set to familiar tunes is a method that has been around awhile, too.  Music is a fantastic medium–just think of the last time you “got a song stuck in your head.”  The only real problem I’ve had with this method is remembering which tune to use.  I’ve seen many variations, but decided to assign my own melodies and add pictures as a visual reminder of the familiar tune.  You can download and print these Multiplication Songs.  (I added “bubble” spaces on each page to write in the numbers to be used as another visual reminder or as a quiz for your student.)

All of the previous methods are great ways for kids to successfully arrive at the product while they are working on committing the facts to memory.  But, obviously, the ultimate goal is for the student to have spontaneous automatic recall upon hearing or seeing the problem.

The best online game I’ve ever seen for math facts memorization is called TIMEZ ATTACK by BIGBRAINZ.   It really is as amazing as they say, and so engaging to students that we have them begging to play it.  In it, kids actually do face and conquer the “monsters.”  We’ve been using it in our school for a couple of years, now, with excellent results.

There really isn’t any magic, but over time, with patience and a variety of angles, the Multiplication Monster will shrink to a very conquerable foe.  Here’s to the freedom your kids will enjoy when they can throw away the crutches, having committed their times tables to memory!

Multiplication Table Chart.

Click HERE for the Nines Trick

Multiplication Songs

Click HERE for Math Worksheets

Timez Attack Math Facts Video Game

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