5 ways to learn the times tables

The expectation that all children must know their times tables up to 12×12 before the end of Key Stage 2 has hit the headlines recently. The thought behind it is that reciting all of your times tables inside out and backwards makes maths easier, it frees up brain space to problem solve and it saves time – but it doesn’t always happen easily.

Traditionally the main teaching strategy has been to learn your times tables off by heart; chanting them, playing repetitive computer games or by having questions fired at you. However for some this is not the most effective method, it just doesn’t stick because it doesn’t explain what we are asking a child to learn, it doesn’t provide a chance to talk about a child’s ideas and understanding. Chanting a times table, just like counting to 20, can fool us into thinking our child had got it when all they can do is repeat it back.

Rote learning the Times table  relies on our worst attribute – our memory. Humans do not find it easy to remember; that is why we write lists, tie knots in hankies and if we look back in time we can see that caveman drew wall paintings to remember.

The 5  ways to learn the times tables

  • Understand the concept. Procedural learning  (Parrot fashion) will only carry you so far, understanding the concept is crucial.

Start with concrete examples for the x2 tables that your child is interested in (mine love to line up their Star Wars characters) Then look at pictorial representations, (such as dots or squares) and finally move on to use abstract notations (numbers and symbols).If the first two stages are rushed the concept behind times tables will not be fully understood, so don’t be afraid to repeat the same activity with concrete examples many times. This is often the reason why children start to struggle with multiplication facts later on.

  • Provide opportunities for children to puzzle, problem solve and develop strategies to help them understand, even when it is a straight forward tables question. Download examples and tasks for all the times tables to 12.
  • Look for opportunities in everyday situations to reinforce understanding. For example food can be a great chance to practise – ‘please share out the beans, how many have you got altogether? How many are you going to give to each person?
  • Go back to concrete examples each time, making assumptions about how much a child remembers or has understood can slow down progress. Asking your child to provide their own concrete or pictorial example is a fantastic way to learn how much they really know about their times tables. By explaining their understanding children need to have the right maths vocabulary and knowledge or they won’t make any sense.
  • Set aside time to practise – little and often tends to work best. As each times table needs to be revisited on numerous occasions make up problems, sing songs, enjoy rhymes and talk about the multiplication facts your child already knows. This will to help children work out an answer in a reasonable amount of time.