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  • Writer's pictureAbigail

Top 5: Times Tables for Understanding

Some children can learn multiplication tables by heart, and this is great. However, others really struggle. Here I have developed some games which promote understanding of the multiplication tables (particularly inverse relationships) as well as fact recall. This should help the children to develop strategies allowing them to use their tables flexibly for multiplication and division.

I start off playing the games with the tables written out by the child using skip counting (counting in 3s, 4s, 6s etc… whichever table you are practising).

As the child gets more confident, you can remove this prop, or maybe just have them write down 2 or 3 facts that they find difficult. Some children might always need to jot down their skip counts before tackling a problem. If they practise, this won’t take long and is worthwhile in a test! They can also skip count using their fingers. This is a legitimate strategy, and some children are as fast at this as pure stimulus-response recall.

1. Tables Go Fish

Create a set of cards 24 cards, half with questions (1 x 3, 2 x 3, 3 x 3 etc) and the other half with answers (3, 6, 9…).

Deal 7 cards each, and put the rest into a draw pile.

First, see if you can make any pairs with the cards you already have.

Then, you can take turns to ask each other for cards. This works really well, because if you have a question card (3 x 4) you have to work it out and then ask for 12. If you have an answer (e.g. 18) you have to work out which 3 x table question would have the answer 18 and then ask for 6 x3. If your partner has the card, they must give it to you and you get another turn. If not, say ‘Go fish’ and pick up a card from the draw pile.

Making it easier:

Put the questions and answers onto different colours, so the child knows that each pair needs a blue and a yellow, for example.

Making it harder:

Include more than one multiplication table. This can get difficult as you can end up with two 24s, so requires good concentration. I’d recommend that you display the pairs already made, so for example you can see that 6x4 has already gone so you need to ask for 3 x 8 to match your 24.

2. Tarsia Puzzles.

I have made Tarsia Puzzles for each multiplication table. They print out in the wrong order, so if you are using them with a full class the children can cut them up themselves without giving away the solution.

Tarsia Puzzles are great, because you have to understand inverses to solve them. For example, in the photograph below I have the answers 5 and 32, so I need to think of a 4 x table multiplication or division question with the answer 5 or 32 to progress. It really enhances understanding!

If you want to make your own, download the Tarsia program from this website.

3. Multiplication Squares

I know of some children who find it quicker to complete a multiplication square at the start of a test than to work out tables as and when they arise!

You could:

  • Cut up a multiplication square and put back together like a jigsaw

  • Roll two 12-sided dice. Fill in the product in your colour. See how many you can fill in in a given amount of time. You can make up your own rules; e.g. if you roll 2 and 11 can you fill in both 2 x 11 and 11 x 2? If someone already filled in the answer do you override it or miss a turn?

  • Pick a number out of a hat and try to locate it on a blank multiplication square. Give a few numbers to start to make this easier.

  • Collect the factors: Pick a number out of a hat. Use the multiplication square to collect its factors. First person to collect the numbers 1-12 wins.

For all of these games, you can reduce the size of the multiplication square to differentiate, e.g. by doing a 5 x 12 one or sticking with 10 x 10.

4. Four in a Row Games

  • Create a grid with the numbers 1 – 12 repeated at random. Pick a division question out of a hat, and put your counter on the answer. First person to 4 in a row wins. You can download the grid and question cards here.

  • Fill in a grid with the answers to a given multiplication table. Get the children to do this for extra practice! Roll a 12-sided die, multiply it by the table you are working on and put a counter on the answer. You can download an Excel template here. Simply put in the table you are practising, and a randomly generated grid will come up. Copy and paste into word, and print out!

5. Matching Games

  • Snap: put down cards and find a match between the question and answer.

  • Pairs: Spread out cards in a grid pattern. Find a match between question and answer.

  • Share out the answer cards. Take turns turning over a question card and trying to match one of your answers. First person to match all of their answers wins.

  • To make it more challenging: Match questions to questions (e.g. 8 x 3 matches to 6 x 4). This is great for developing understanding of factors.


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