Teaching Times Tables or Multiplication?


More often than not, teachers encourage a child to focus on one particular times table at a time. The child will then be tested and advised to move on to the next times table. No offence to teachers (they are very busy people) but there is a fundamental problem with this kind of learning. Young minds are very busy and children have limited retention; meaningless numbers will quickly get pushed out and it is very likely that the last times table is gone forever. I believe that time in school will be better be spent on teaching our youth how to MULTIPLY.

Most children, however, usually do well at remembering 2s, 5s, 10s and 11s, where patterns are more obvious and can easily be followed. This is good because you can use it to help them better understand the idea of multiplication (see below). I believe that this is far more important than learning meaningless numbers by rote and repeating the process over and over again until it sticks especially since now there is more pressure to learn up to the 12 times tables is being applied – “All children in England will be expected to know up to their 12 times table...”: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-31079515.
Teach our kids to multiply, understand and apply multiplication regularly and the rest will follow with time. Children will eventually remember that 3 times 4 is 12 because it becomes less appealing to them to work it out again; much more effective than telling them that ‘three fours are twelve’ for the hundredth time. This will free up a lot of time to learn more interesting maths throughout Key Stage 2.

My personal preference for teaching multiplication to my StudyWell kids is with lollisticks. I tell them that “2 times 3” means “2 piles of 3” lollisticks and I let them build 2 piles of 3 lollisticks to see what it amounts to. It is important to always remind them that this is what multiplication is as the fundmental definitions are often lost; even if they do know that ‘three fours are twelve’, they may not know what they even means.

Once they grasp the fundamentals of multiplication, they may use their knowledge of counting in 2s, 5s or 10s to help them with more complicated multiplication such as 6 times 7. You might say something like: “If you know what 5 times 7 is 35 (and they will probably count in 5s on their fingers), then five sevens is 35 but we need another 7 so that we have six sevens in total. Add another 7 to your 35”. Sometimes they get confused and they may add another 6 (because seven sixes and six sevens may have been mixed up) but this is easily rectified with clear use of language, or perhaps by referring back to the piles.

It is often required of children to give snappy answers in times table quizzes and by the end of Key Stage 2 it will help greatly with their Mental Maths tests, and so you may want to help your child/children to lean them off by heart. I play Times Tables games with my StudyWell kids in order to aid this retention.

times tables Times Tables Game

timestables2Once again, it is very important that your child understands the idea of multiplication before they learn their times tables off by heart. I have a game that helps children to retain their times tables.

It takes about 10 minutes to make once you have the materials. All you need is some coloured card and a marker pen. Cut the card into 3in by 4in pieces and write on each piece a times table question such as “3 x 8”. Write the solution on another piece and be sure to mix up the colours so they can’t cheat. Depending on how good your child is at times tables will determine how many of these you will need for a particular game. Shuffle the cards and lay all the cards face up. Give your child as much time as they need to pair the questions with the correct answers. Help them if they are stuck with multiplication or talk about why they got an answer wrong but do not rush them. When they improve, you can time them; sometimes the added pressure makes it more exciting and it gets them more used to test conditions. It is very important that this process is treated more like a game than homework and even more important that the experience is positive. Children can quickly become afraid of maths, so don’t reveal your frustrations.

If your child is quite advanced, you may want to take out all the easy ones they already know and put in some harder ones like “13 x 4”. If need be, you can remind them that instead of starting from the beginning they can jump to 11 times 4, then 12 and 13 times 4 is easy from there. Make a note of how they do so that you can monitor their progress.

You may also want to join in by placing the cards face down and seeing who can get the most pairs. Just remember that it IS a learning exercise, for your child. Another alternative – you can remove the solutions and have the cards face down, both pick a card at random, whoever gets the highest answer trumps and wins those cards.

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