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Teaching multiplication tables is a struggle for many teachers, educators, and homeschooling parents. This should not come as a surprise, since multiplication is the first arithmetic operation where the sensory-motor experience of using your fingers for equations is no longer an option, and thus the first abstract arithmetic operation that children come across.
To help you out, we’ll discuss several strategies that you can use to help kids learn multiplication tables.
How to Explain Multiplication
When we think about multiplication, we often think about starting with the multiplication table. However, before you dive into those timed multiplication drills, you need to make sure your student understands the concept of multiplication itself.
After all, recalling facts is not the same as understanding them.
Many teachers make the mistake of simply relying on drills. While it’s true that drills are a way for kids to learn multiplication tables fast – they’re also a way for kids to forget multiplication tables fast.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use them, but make sure you use them only after you’ve explained the what and why – what is multiplication and why we need it.
Present Multiplication as Repeated Addition
It’s advisable to compare multiplication to math concepts that students have already mastered to make it more relatable. The simplest way to do this is to help them understand that multiplication is simply repeated addition.
In other words:
- 2×5 is the same as 5+5
- 5×3 is the same as 3+3+3+3+3
- 4×4 is the same as 4+4+4+4
You can also consider using worksheets with a multiplication array, that is, an arrangement of objects in rows and columns. Multiplication arrays are frequently used in math classrooms to help children visualize multiplication as repeated addition.
An example of this is a star array. If you want to present 3×3 in a star array, the array would have three rows of stars and three columns of stars. This would help the child understand that 3×3 means “three groups of three”, or 3+3+3.
Similarly, to present 3×2 in a star array, there would be three rows and two columns of stars. In other words, the child can visualize that 3×2 means “three groups of two”, or 2+2+2.
Relate Multiplication to Real Life
When you embark on your journey of teaching multiplication, make sure to draw analogies to real life. Keep in mind that children are often unable to think in abstract ways before hitting their “tween” years, which means that you should always make sure that the math concepts you teach are relatable.
So make sure you answer that burning question that’s often in the back of your students’ minds – when will I ever use this?
It’s surprising how many students graduate from high school with this lingering dilemma. The good news is that you can easily prevent this from happening.
Since basic math is used on a daily basis, it’s easy to find tons of examples from real life to which you could relate multiplication on a more concrete level. An example of this is the following:
The “Party in the Classroom” Scenario
Create a scenario where a student is throwing a party in your classroom. Tell the student that in order for them to make the necessary preparations for the party, they’ll need to calculate how many drinks and how many cookies they’ll need to provide for their guests.
Tell the student that they’ll have 20 guests and there should be 3 drinks for each guest. Then ask the student to calculate how many drinks they should buy.
Follow the same principle with the cookies. Tell the student they’ll have to bake the cookies themselves and ask them to keep in mind that each guest will eat around 6 cookies. Then ask the student to calculate how many cookies they should bake in total.
This is a useful method of helping kids understand the importance of multiplication in everyday life. Make sure you point out to the students that multiplication makes things easier – instead of adding the number 20 6 times (20 + 20 + 20 + 20 + 20 + 20), we’re saving time by simply multiplying the two (20 x 6).
Explain the Beauty of the Commutative Property
The numbers that are multiplied are known as factors, whereas the number that’s the result of multiplying factors is referred to as a product. The commutative property states that regardless of the order in which you arrange the factors, the product stays the same.
Again, this mathematical property is something that children can recall from previous lessons on addition, as addition is also commutative.
For example, multiplying 6×5 is the same as multiplying 5×6, as in both cases you get the same result, that is, 30.
You can again rely on star arrays to illustrate this visually. Present 2×5 on the array worksheet as 2 rows and 5 stars, or 10 stars in total. Now turn the array on its side and show students that even though you have 5 rows and 2 stars (5×2), the total number of stars still stays the same, that is, 10.
Make sure to point out to students that, by using the commutative property, they can double the number of multiplication facts they know. That is if they know that 5×4 = 20, they already know that 4×5 = 20 as well.
How to Memorize Multiplication Tables
Now that you’ve done the hard work of explaining the concept of multiplying, it’s time to leap into the next step – memorizing the multiplication tables. So how can you go about it?
Start With the Easier Facts
If you don’t want your students to try to run before they can walk, avoid overwhelming them with all of the multiplication tables. Instead, start with the easier tables. This way, you’re easing them into the process of multiplying.
For instance, consider starting with the 2s, which are often thought of as easy to calculate. This is because when multiplying a number by 2, you’re just doubling that number. The ten times tables are also pretty easy as a starting point, as you’re simply adding a zero when multiplying a number by 10 (5×10 = 50; 7×10 = 60).
Build on Easier Facts
After conquering the easier facts, the next natural step is to move on to the more difficult ones. Encourage the students to use the easier multiplication tables that they already know as a foundation to build on.
For example, if the child already knows that 2×9 =18, explain to them that 3×9 is the same as (18+9), that is, 27.
Or, if 8×10=80, one way to find the answer to 8×9 is to simply subtract a 9. That is, 8×9 = 80-9, i.e. 72.
Hang a Multiplication Tables Poster
This one is an oldie, but a goodie. By hanging a multiplication poster in your classroom or at home, if you’re a homeschooling parent, you’re providing your student with visual aid that will help them engrave multiplication facts engraved into their memory.
Just by being exposed to them a few times a day, they’ll be able to slowly memorize at least some of the multiplication facts. Make sure to make it colorful and visually stimulating.
There are tons of examples online that you could use as inspiration to create your own poster or you could also consider purchasing one.
Use Math Worksheets
This isn’t students’ most favorite activity, but they’re known to work. Include a variety of multiplication tables sheets, including:
- Multiplication facts with focus numbers
- Mixed multiplication facts
- Five-minute multiplying frenzies
- Multiple digits multiplication worksheets (for more advanced students)
- Multiplication with decimals worksheets (for more advanced students)
Keep practicing until the students reach the point of quick recall.
Timed Multiplication Drills
As a teacher or a parent, you might be ambivalent about using timed drills. After all, as professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford University Jo Boaler highlights, timed tests are known to cause math anxiety.
However, before you throw timed drills out the window, consider that there’s also research indicating their benefits. One study on teachers’ usage of time drilled practices in terms of multiplication facts revealed that:
“…the students who were administered daily timed practice drills performed statistically higher on the posttest [than the ones who weren’t administered practice drills]….Similarly, students in the weekly timed practice drill group had statistically significant higher gain scores…”.
Bearing this in mind, it is up to you to decide if this is something that you want to use or simply try out. If you see that timed multiplication drills put too much stress on your student, it’s, of course, wise to drop this strategy.
Games to Learn Multiplication Tables
Of course, no learning process is complete unless you add some fun to it! With a plethora of multiplication games on the internet, all you have to do is pick one and enjoy your class!
Below, we selected two such games that are bound to make multiplication less scary for your students:
Multiplication Scavenger Hunt
If you’re able to do this activity outside, kids will find it even more exciting. However, it’s okay to do it inside the classroom as well, as long as it’s a large area.
Start by writing a multiplication question on a card. Write the answer to the multiplication question on another card, and also include the next question. Don’t stop until you have approximately 25 cards. Place the cards strategically around the chosen area.
Divide students into small groups of 2 or 3 and have them hunt for the cards!
This is another game to learn multiplication tables, which is good for fostering a bit of competitiveness in the classroom, though keep in mind it can be a bit noisy.
Give instructions to the students that in this specific game, Ace = 1, J = 0, Q = 11, K = 12.
Make sure each student has pens and paper.
Proceed by dividing students into pairs of 2. After having shuffled their cards, the students then divide them into two piles and put a pile in front of every participant. Remember to keep the front of the pile downward.
In each pair, ask both players to flip the 2 top cards of their pile and multiply them. The first one to shout out the correct answer is the one that wins in that round. They put the cards in their winning pile. The student that ends up with the most cards in their winning pile is the winner.
There’s no quick fix to help your students learn multiplication tables.
But by staying dedicated and applying the above-mentioned strategies, you’ll make sure you’re making your students’ and also your life easier in the process.
If you’re interested in more math resources on multiplication, have a look at our blog, or head over to our site at MathTeacherCoach. We offer math curricula for kids of all ages which can help you out in planning your math lessons. Sign up for our free middle school math curriculum if you want a preview.
Make sure to also check out our fun and free multiplication games, to help kids learn multiplication tables in a fun way, such as this Monarch multiplication activity, as well as this Factor factory activity.