Teaching times tables is one of the most common topics we are asked about here at Starfish – and for good reason, they’re tricky! And how to teach them can be even trickier.
We all learn in different ways, what may work for one child may not work for another and vice versa. So we figured we’d share with you some of our top tips for teaching times tables and hope you’ll find at least one that cracks it.
Even in this modern world and the rise of mobile phones, calculators and ipads, we still believe that this is one of life’s important skills that shouldn’t be overlooked because of technology. It’s not that hard, but it does require learning (and teaching) the times tables in manageable and achievable steps. It also requires lots of persistence and follow up with practice so they’re not forgotten.
So here we go, here are our top tips for teaching times tables…
One of the methods that helped my 4 boys learn their times tables was Wishy’s Way.
- we’d say them forwards: 1 x 2 = _ 2 x 2 = _ 3 x 3 = _ 4 x 3 = _ all the way up to 12 x 2 = _
- we’d say them backwards: 12 x 2 = _ 11 x 2 = _ 10 x 2 = _ all the way down to 1 x 2 = _
- they’d answer 5 randoms: I’d choose 5 questions randomly e.g. 7 x 2, 4 x 2, 9 x 2, 12 x 2, 3 x 2
If they did the above successfully, then they’d get paid the equivalent amount in cold hard cash. So 2 x tables = $2, 3 x tables = $3, 4 x tables = $4, etc up to 12 x tables = $12.
We always had a times table chart for the boys to look at somewhere in the house (so they could practice when they felt inclined). Generally, the boys did their tables in the following order: 10s, 2s, 5s, 3s, 4s, 9s, 11s, 6s, 7s, and then 8s and 12s. I kept a notebook of who went for which tables.
To this day, in our tutoring centre, I pretty well still stick to this order. Sometimes we might slip the 11s in a bit earlier (as they’re fairly easy).
Helping children to understand exactly what times tables are (adding the same number repeatedly) starts with putting items into groups of the same quantity and adding in multiples – which leads to skip counting.
Start by grouping objects in 2s, and counting by 2s. Any objects will do.
You can also use an abacus to count by 10s, 2s, 5, then 3s and 4s.
Money is also a handy (and highly motivating) way to learn to count by 10s and 5s. I also have a jar of 1 and 2 cent pieces which is really handy for counting by 2s.
Another skip counting strategy is to use a hundreds chart to help children see patterns in their times tables….eg 5x tables always end in a 5 or a 0. Children can colour each numeral in e.g. every 3rd…..3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18 etc.
You can always make something similar by making (& printing then laminating) one from your home computer, or using all your arty skills and creating a chart together.
It’s pretty easy to make times tables snakes. You just need a groovy snake template with 12 ‘scales’. (I whipped these up on canvas in less than 10 minutes)
These two snakes are for the 3x, the first one is complete.
You could use a 12sided dice with this. Roll the dice and put a counter on the answer e.g. roll a 5, put a counter on 15, roll a 7 and put a counter on the 21, and keep going until your snake is full. If you roll a number already ‘done’ then you miss a go. A few people can have snakes and first to finish their snake wins!
You could just use the snake as a way to help kids see, learn and practice the number order of the 3x tables.
The second snake has missing numbers. Ask your child to fill in the missing numbers. This once again helps children remember the number order of the 3x tables. You could delete different numbers each time.
The snakes have the advantage of helping kids remember the numbers (answers) and their order, also if there is a repeating pattern.
We have a blank snake template for you to download and print from our website for FREE, just click here.
It’s also easy to whip up Times Tables Circles. You can have the numerals in order or randomised as I have done below.
This one is a template for helping to teach kids the 3x tables. Just have them write the answer for each in the blank spot.
You could add a 3 minute timer – and they have to try and complete their times table circle before the sand runs out. Or, you could time them and record their personal best.
As you can see, this one has been partially completed.
The circles have the advantage of once kids get really good at them, you can switch them around and randomise the order. Maths text books often use this strategy.
We have a blank Circles Template available for you to print out online for FREE by clicking here.
You can also easily cater to varying levels of times table competence with the snakes or circles, as children in the same group can be working on different levels/times tables but still doing the same task.
Its useful and adds deeper learning (and practice) to teach the times tables in reverse. Start with the answer and ask how many e.g. 72, how many 9s make 72? 56, how many 7s make 56?
Generally, I always advise that you stick to the times tables that your child is learning. So, if your child is learning the 3x tables, then do all the reversals for just the 3x tables i.e. 12, how many 3s make 12?
We have a handy game/resource called Multiplication Magic – that uses this principle perfectly.
It reinforces times tables, switching (3 x 4 is the same as 4 x) and reversals/division.
Times Tables Games
To be honest, its hard to find really good times tables games. I should know, I’ve been looking and trying them all for 30 years!
The best ones I’ve found so far are…
The Orchard Toys Times Tables Heroes helps children master their times times tables up to 12. There are two games in one, and two levels of difficulty.
There is a handy times table self-checker, to help those who are still learning their times tables. It also means that players at different skill levels can still all play together.
Drill, practice, randomise.
I can’t see how drill and practice can be avoided. You need to spend a few minutes each day, practicing the times tables with your child. I’d strongly recommend sticking to the order mentioned above. Keep the following in mind:
- Teach to mastery – do not move on to the next times tables until your child has absolutely mastered the one they’re on. Be patient. It’s an investment.
- Stick to one times table at a time. This avoids confusion.
- Every now and then, take the time to drop back and refresh one of the ‘known’ times tables. Kids forget times tables if they’re not used regularly. They need you to help them lock them into long term memory and they will best do that if you revise every now and then.
- Aim for your child to learn 5 in a row. e.g. 1 x 4 = 4, 2 x 4 = 8, 3 x 4 = 12, 4 x 4 = 16 and 5 x 4 = 20. Say those over and over with your child. Then when you think they’re ready, you say the ‘question’ and they say the answer…. 1 x 4 = __ 2 x 4 = __ The next day you repeat those then add another couple 6 x 4 is 24, 7 x 4 is 28. Once they’re mastered add on another to the sequence until they can do the whole lot.
Music and Singing
Using music, songs and/or rhythm can help your child learn and remember their times tables. There are actually a whole heap of them on youtube these days and a lot adapted to well know songs. Just be prepared to never want to listen to them ever again!
Even if you don’t happen to be practicing times tables with music or songs, try and say the times tables with a bit of bounce or rhythm all the time. It really helps reenforce them.
The key to finding the best CD’s/videos for singing-along seems to just be finding the one that is least annoying to you! This changes from person to person so I’ll leave the imagination up to you. But CD’s can be great for this and there are loads out there. If you can bare them…
There are a few tricks that you can use to help teach your child/children to learn their times tables.
9x table hand trick
- Hold both your hands up with palms facing you. Number the fingers from left to right as one to ten.
- Now hold down the finger of the number you want to multiply by 9.
- The fingers to the left as the tens and the fingers to the right are units.
Multiplying by 3
Did you realize that all of your fingers have three segments? Therefore, you can figure out anything from 3×1 to 3×10 by counting the segments on each finger. To start:
- Hold up the number of fingers you’re going to multiply by 3. For example, if the problem is 3×4 – hold up four fingers.
- Count each segment on each finger you’re holding up, and you should come up with 12 – which is the correct answer.
Learn using derived facts
Using the stuff you do know to figure out the ones you don’t is smart!
So, say your child knows 3 x 5s are 15 then your child can use that to work out that 3 x 6s are 18 (by counting on for example).
If your child knows their 5s and 10s then they can use those ones to build upon.
Check out Alex doing this exact thing in the footage below….
It is also helpful to help kids understand that you can flip times tables…
3 x 4 = 12 and 4 x 3 = 12 – so if you know one, you’ll know the other.
Resources you can use during day to day life are great. Whether it’s posters on a wall that kids will always be subconsciously looking at, or placemats they’ll be eating from. Resources that are teaching without you even realising are invaluable.
We’ve come up with a few times table resources that you can find on our website that are by far our most effective and best selling. We can’t recommend enough just giving one of these a go!
I love these as they’re so portable – perfect for homework, perfect for moving from the dining table to the lounge room floor. They have the added advantage of being vomit and spill proof!
You can always make something similar by making (and printing then laminating) one from your home computer, or using all your arty skills and creating a chart together.
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These are colour coded and quality card – saves making your own!
Find them here!
These are handy dice to make your own times tables games, and they’re a little larger than your typical dice.
Dice are perfect for times tables practice. There are endless ways you can use them to create your very own games for all abilities.
You can find these ones on our website by clicking here!
So, teach those tables!
You might have reached the end of this blog (and thanks for sticking with us, we know it’s a long one!) and still feel completely overwhelmed with facing such a daunting task of having to teach someone else times tables! We understand. Fear not.
This isn’t the end of all the countless ways, games, tricks and techniques that you can find to finally crack them, it’s just the beggining. And these are just our ones!
We would love to hear from you if you have any awesome tips of your own that we can share with our whole Starfish community! We can’t encourage you enough to get in touch, so please contact us with any little gems you may have.
As we said at the beginning, we all learn in different ways and at different speeds. So take your time, be patient and you crack those pesky tables. We promise.
Love team Starfish x