If you come from a generation where learning to multiply meant reciting your multiplication tables over and over, then you probably don’t have positive thoughts about teaching multiplication.
Maybe you were given timed tests or had your achievements (or lack of) displayed on the wall.
It may even be that, as an adult, you’re not still fluent with your multiplication facts. You might need to recite a multiplication rap in your head or use the nines finger trick to find the answer to a fact.
Achieving multiplication fact fluency can happen in three easy steps.
Developing Multiplication Fact Fluency
In the early grades, children are introduced to the multiplication concept through modeling and the use of arrays. Teachers then focus on having their students achieve mastery. Often they miss the step where students are taught mental math or thinking strategies. These strategies are important for helping students find the answer to unknown facts.
In their article, Three Steps to Mastering Multiplication Facts, Kling and Bay-Williams (2015) discuss the model Phases of basic fact mastery. It states that students develop fluency as they progress through three developmental phases.
- Phase 1: Modelling and/or counting to find the answer. This is achieved by using arrays, making or drawing 4 groups of 3 then skip counting each group (not counting in ones).
- Phase 2: Finding the answers to unknown facts by using known facts (a thinking strategy). For example, if a child knows the answer to 5 x 8, to find the answer to 6 x 8 they would add one more group of 8.
- Phase 3: Mastery of the facts. The child is given meaningful practice opportunities and now knows 6 x 8 = 48.
In phase 3 students have attained fluency. Fact fluency is not just the ability to answer facts quickly. It’s also the ability to use an appropriate strategy to find the answer to the multiplication fact.
Use thinking strategies to teach the multiplication facts
Students are more successful in mastering their multiplication facts when you introduce them in the best teaching order and provide them with thinking strategies.
This order focuses on teaching the foundation facts 2, 5 and 10x first, not teaching the facts in sequential order. This way students can use known facts to help them find the answer to an unknown fact which is an important thinking strategy.
Research shows that children who use thinking strategies to help them with unknown facts are more successful in mastering their multiplication facts.
Even when you successfully move through phase 1 and 2, multiplication worksheets with rows of number facts to answer won’t help motivate kids to retain their multiplication facts. It’s likely to have them hating them.
Provide meaningful practice through games
The most effective way to achieve multiplication fact fluency, and the most enjoyable, is through games.
Focus on the mastery of the 2, 5 and 10s multiplication facts first. Use games to practice each fact separately.
These foundation facts are important to master. Once known, students can build upon these to find the answer to unknown facts. An important thinking strategy for multiplication is to use what you know and add or subtract a group.
For example, when a student knows 5 x 6 = 30, to find the answer to 6 x 6 they add another group of 6. If they know 10 x 6 = 60 but not 6 x 9, they can subtract one group of 6 to make 54.
Use games in small groups of 3 or 4 or partner children up to help them practice the facts. Encourage students to quietly talk to each other about how they know the multiplication fact.
Talking about strategies helps to consolidate them. It’s an effective way to help their peers who may still need more time learning how to find the answer to an unknown fact.
If you’re looking for resources to use with your students, grab these fun, effective and easy to prepare multiplication games from my TPT store. They provide students with five ways to practice each fact from 0 and 1x combined to 12x.
Three black ink games allow students to work in pairs or independently. Because you’re saving on ink they’re perfect not only for partner work but to send home too.
Have students play in small groups with the two color games included.
Multiplication games will have your students reaching fact fluency with multiplication in no time.
Kling, Gina, and Jennifer M. Bay-Williams. 2015. Three steps to mastering multiplication facts. Teaching Children Mathematics 21 (9): 548-59.