How I Would Teach Multiplication Times Tables

By John Bee

Multiplication times tables are too important to be left to chance. A clear, systematic approach is needed across school in order to support all children to recall times tables facts, both quickly and reliably.

Children need to be fluent with multiplication times tables in order to access much of the Maths curriculum. Without fluency and quick recall of multiplication times tables facts, maths becomes unconnected and confusing. Sounds of ‘I can’t do Maths’ may ring out around our classrooms.

Leaving times tables to chance will also limit access to the wider Maths curriculum. So how might we teach children multiplication facts so that they can remember them reliably and fluently and to recall them in order to access the curriculum? Enter: the counting stick.

Counting sticks are not new to classrooms, but reimagining their use can allow children to access and thrive.

The counting stick should be held in the middle to anchor the times tables facts (shown by an arrow in the image below).

  

Choose the times table to focus on and use some post-it notes or stickers to write down the times tables and present them on the counting stick. Skip count forwards and backwards.

Tell children they know we always start at 0 and they know we’re doing the (in this case) 7 times tables and we already know 7 x 10 = 70.

Keep removing the post-it notes or stickers each time you count through. This will allow children to remember the times tables.

The process continues until all children have recalled the times tables out loud without any numbers on the counting stick.

It may then be repeated later that day, the next day or the next week. You can focus on any timetables based on teacher judgement and assessment.

Using a counting stick allows for an explicit and systematic approach to teaching multiplication times tables. You may make links between the patterns and connections in the multiples. Introduce language such as factors, multiples, product, double, half and square numbers.

The removal of post-it notes allows children to commit tables to their long-term memory. Repetition is key, so practising for a short period at the start of lessons, the start of the day, straight after lunch or before home time can be really powerful. Combining this approach with songs, rhymes and looking for patterns can strengthen understanding.

Advantages of using a counting stick:

  1. Concrete representation: Counting sticks provide a concrete representation of the numbers being multiplied, allowing students to physically manipulate the sticks and see the relationship between the numbers. This can help students who struggle with abstract concepts to better understand multiplication.
  2. Visual aids: Counting sticks can be used as visual aids to demonstrate the concept of repeated addition, which is often used to teach multiplication. This can help students see the relationship between multiplication and repeated addition, and understand that multiplication is a way of finding the total number of objects in a group.
  3. Hands-on learning: Counting sticks are a hands-on tool that allows students to be actively engaged in the learning process. This can help to increase their interest and understanding of the concept.
  4. Multiplication facts memorisation: Using counting sticks to teach multiplication can be a great way to help students memorise their multiplication facts. For example, students can use a counting stick to practise and memorise the 2’s multiplication table by counting in 2s.
  5. Multiplication with larger numbers: Counting sticks can be used to represent large numbers and help students to visualise the process of multiplication with larger numbers.
  6. Reinforce the concept of place value: The use of counting sticks can help students to understand the concept of place value and how it relates to multiplication.

Things to consider:

While there are many advantages to using a counting stick to teach multiplication, there are also some potential disadvantages to consider:

  1. Limited to basic multiplication: Counting sticks may not be as effective for teaching more advanced concepts such as long multiplication or multiplication with decimals.
  2. Inability to demonstrate more complex problems: Counting sticks may not be able to demonstrate more complex problems that involve larger numbers or multiple digits.
  3. Requires physical resources: Counting sticks are a physical resource that may not be readily available in all classrooms. Teachers may need to spend time and resources creating their own counting sticks or purchasing them.
  4. Limited to one-digit multiplication: Counting sticks are limited to one-digit multiplication, which may not be enough for students who need to work with larger numbers.
  5. May not be suitable for younger students: counting sticks may be too advanced for younger students and may not be appropriate for students who are just learning their numbers.

In summary, teaching multiplication with counting sticks can lead to misconceptions such as multiplication is just repeated addition, multiplication and division are inverse operations, multiplication is only for whole numbers, counting sticks can only be used for basic multiplication and counting sticks are the only way to teach multiplication.

It’s important for educators to address these misconceptions and provide a variety of teaching strategies to help students understand the concept of multiplication.

When teaching multiplication and times tables, a variation theory approach can be helpful. This approach focuses on understanding the underlying patterns and relationships in multiplication, rather than just memorising facts.

By understanding the patterns and relationships, students can better understand the concept of multiplication and find it easier to remember the times tables. Additionally, it can also be beneficial to use a variety of teaching strategies and resources, such as visual aids, hands-on activities, and real-world examples, to help students understand the concept.

Author

Year 6 teacher. Key Stage 2 leader. Mathematics coordinator. @NCETM PD lead. Primary Mastery Specialist – cohort 4. Reading for a Masters Degree.

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