Saturday, 28 December 2013

10 Tips for learning the times tables

Ten tips for learning the times tables are for use in the classroom or at home. They are simple and work.

If followed they will aid in the teaching and learning of that most difficult of topics in Mathematics ‘the times tables’.

I would sometimes print them off and hand them out to parents who asked either how they could help at home or what could they do specifically to teach their child multiplication tables.

You can adapt them and follow the same process, I can assure you it will go down well with any anxious parent who is keen to help their child.

1. Patience. ‘The trouble with instant gratification is it is not soon enough’. The quick fix is demanded, almost expected, but it is just not possible with learning the times tables. The old phrase patience is a virtue is not true for multiplication tables, it is essential.
2. Reward. Every small advance or success should be rewarded, it doesn’t matter what it is, verbal, tangible or whatever seems appropriate, praise is such a powerful tool for us human beings that almost never fails to motivate.

3. Small chunks. Never try to teach/learn a whole multiplication table at once it just will not work. Remember the question how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

It is the same with times tables, maximum is 3 at a go. Read any book on memory techniques and they advise groups of 3 as the optimum chunks in which to tackle any list.

4. Multisensory. Use as many senses as you can to aid learning. Many parents, friends, acquaintances that I speak to have a strong memory of having being taught and learnt, their multiplication tables by rote. 

Chanting along with the teacher in the classroom until they had perfect recall, they have probably forgotten the many other ways in which they absorbed and memorised the knowledge.

Use as many ways as possible to remind your child/children of the multiplication facts. 

Let’s assume you are trying to memorise 7 x 8 = 56, have it written on a post-it above the mirror in the bathroom when they wash/clean their teeth in the morning. Simple, painless and effective

Ask them later in the day to write down the simple sum they have seen, if they can’t remember it doesn’t matter. Ask them what was written on the post-it at another time in the day, again don’t expect success.

However repeat this process over several days, but without any pressure on the youngster, using the same sum and in  short time success will be yours. 

If you are a teacher in the classroom display the sum above the board in large, bold writing, it will sink in.

Use a cd/download of the times tables in the car on the way to school, painful I know being a parent myself but useful. As a teacher you can have the recording playing as the pupils enter/leave the room, every little bit helps. 

There are a number of commercial recordings you can use, even rap times tables!

For those of you who want some musical accompaniment to learning the times tables try, just click below

How about a times tables app for the mobile phone, they do exist.
5. No distractions. If you are a parent at home try not to have any distractions when working with your child; no TV, music, washing machine whirling away, cat walking across the table, younger sibling demanding attention. 

Focus on the tables for a short but intense amount of time and try to make it fun.

6. Memorise not count on. The ultimate goal is to have instant recall of the tables not count on, this is not easy. Confidence can be gained by the using the tactic of going to  point they know and counting on.

For example say they want to learn our 7x8 = 56, encourage them to go to the nearest multiplication they know, which could be 7x5=35 then ask them to count on in 7s until they reach 7x8. 

Eventually many kids will memorise the final sum, if not they will have a faster way to reach the result.

7. 10 x 10 grid. This is a great idea taken from Steve Chinn’s book What to Do When You Can't Do the Times Tables It is a way of making the learning of times tables far less daunting, even achievable! 

Before any learning begins construct a 10 x 10 grid with the multiplication tables inside, easy to do if you have a modicum of skills in EXCEL or any other spreadsheet software, such as the one below.

Once the 2 times table is mastered shade the appropriate row as you can see in picture 2.

Now comes the welcome part on the child’s part, point out that they may know 2x3, 2x4, 2x5, etc. but they also know 3x2, 4x2, 5x2, etc. and shade those squared in.

Learning the 4 times table is now a lot easier because they only have to memorise 8 number facts not 9! Carry on in this fashion with the 4 times table and learning the times tables will not be as formidable. Below are the results after learning the 4 times tables.

 This then results in all of these tables being known and memorised.
8. Tricks 0, 5, x9 fingers. Pattern spotting is at the heart of all Mathematics. Point out that the 10 times table always ends in a zero, once this has been grasped answering questions such as what divides into 120 becomes so much easier for the child.

Similarly use the pattern for the 5 times table where every answer ends in a 5 or 0. These may seem obvious to us but to the young learner it a surprising fact they may not have spotted before.

Using the fingers to derive the answers to the 9 times table is great fun and will soon have the fear of this table conquered. If anyone does not know how to do this leave a comment and I will write a post on it.

9. Order. The order in which you teach the tables is very important,, always start with 2’s, seems obvious doesn’t it, but many people then progress to 3, 4 etc. this is making life harder than is necessary for everyone.

Remember the objective is to build confidence and instant recall so a steady progression from easy to difficult is recommended.

A great resource that kids love is The Multiplication Tables Colouring Book: Solve the Puzzle Pictures While Learning Your Tables (Back to fundamentals) It has been a brilliant friend to me over the years. 

I highly recommend his for use at home and in the classroom as a great tool for reinforcing and consolidating knowledge.

It has pictures where the kids have to find the shape that has an answer to say the 2 times table. When all the relevant areas are shaded then a picture is revealed. They love doing this.

10. Cards. Make up some cards with multiplication questions on. These are easy to produce, they can be handwritten, produced on EXCEL or on some free software that is available, and do not take up too much storage space.

Use them as flash cards, showing the youngster the question and asking for the answer. This really does increase the speed of recall and can be great fun! 

I use them with kids and record the amount of time it takes to answer all 9 questions, they really love trying to beat their personal best.

You can also buy cards where you can play that old favourite snap. The cards can also be used as flash cards.

These are just a few tips there are many more. Try to make learning fun, there is a place for rote learning but not to the exclusion of all the other techniques.

A book that that some parents may find useful is Harry's Magic Tables: Teach Your Child Their Times Tables in as Little as a Week! One reviewer on Amazon said 

'If you are in any doubt... buy this book and try it! I bought it for my 7 year old son ...  He is clever but has trouble recalling things due to a processing issue so he was really struggling with his tables. I started this book with him today and he already knows 1/4 of the rhymes!'

Another posts which links to the learning of the times tables is

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