Memorizing the Times Tables

My grandson Isaac

My grandson Isaac


My 11-year-old boy is still trying to memorize his times tables. He’s finally gotten his 5’s and 9’s (and of course 0’s, 1’s and 2’s) but the rest seem to be hard for him. I’m wondering what we can do without spending much.


How frustrating for both of you! Math facts are part of that essential knowledge, just like reading, and the quicker they can be learned, the better off for everyone. So, the challenge is to make it both fun and do-able. Making it “do-able” means giving kids the tools to figure out the answer–and make sense of it–rather than just trying to teach rote facts.

1707a-150x150Rather than use flashcards (even Saxon flashcards), I use Math-it and I can’t imagine teaching math-facts without it! (This product is pricey, but very well worth it in my estimation, especially if you have more than one child you will be teaching, as it is non-consumable.) The reason why Math-it is so fabulous is that it actually teaches children how to understand and remember. For example, in teaching the x 9’s, Math-it teaches this method: to find the answer to any number times 9, just count back one and that is the first number of the answer. To find the second digit of the answer, just add the two digits to make the number “9”. That sounded complicated, but if I could show you with Math-it, you’d see how easy it is.

Here’s a chalkboard explanation:

To find the answer for x 9’s,

for any number (for example, “7”)

7 x 9

just count back one from that number

7–down one to–6

and that is the first digit of the answer (6)

So the answer is 6__.

To find out the second digit, just count up to 9.

Start at 6 (the first digit) and then count with your fingers –7–8–9 (that was 3 more fingers).

The number of fingers is the second digit in the answer: 3

So . . .7 x 9 = 63

It works for every number x 9.

Here’s another example:

4 x 9

Count back one from the number 4 and you have the first digit of the answer: 3__

Ask: what number added to the first digit would equal “9”. (3 + ___= 9)

The answer to “6”, which is the second digit.

So 4 x 9 = 36

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 9.52.49 PMMath-it teaches reasoning and how to figure out the math facts (addition, times, division, etc.). There are other products that I have used to practice the facts and make them instant recall, once they are learned—products that make practicing fun, such as Wrap-Ups, Making Friends with Numbers, and the Multiplication Songs, but teaching kids how to find the answer, how to reason it out, is the core issue here. Otherwise it is just a bunch of rote facts that slide out of the memory very easily! Once the children learn the “how-to” of figuring out the math facts, I see them using it consistently. And if they are stumped, I find myself saying such things as “remember, any number multiplied by 9: you just count back one and . . . .” Before Math-it, I had no way to help them.

image-1Times Tales is another product that teaches kids memory clues to help them retain those vital math facts.

Here are some money saving ideas to practice with:

1) You can easily make your own drilling flashcards out of index cards to flash and orally quiz your child. Start with just 5 cards to do daily, adding one every few days after he has mastered what he has.

2) Use index cards to make the game of “War” adapted to multiplication facts. Leave the back of the cards blank (or make a marker squiggle on them), and the front of the card would list a times problem to solve, for example:
3 x 7 =
4 x 2 =

Deal out the cards to two players until all the cards are gone. Then both players turn over the top card of their deck exposing the math problem. Both players do the problem in their heads and announce the answer, and who is higher. The highest answer takes both cards and puts them at the bottom of his deck. Play continues until one player has earned all the cards.

image3) Make your own multiplication songs tape by chanting or singing the times tables into a tape recorder (or better yet, have your child do it, from a script). Play this whenever you get in the car, or while he does chores. Repetition will make it stick! ( Multiplication Songs is already done for you.)

I once had a Calculus professor tell me that the reason his students didn’t do well on tests was not remembering difficult Calculus formulas! It was that they had not mastered their math facts to a point of instant recall and made stupid calculation errors as a result. That impressed me! I think learning math facts is like learning phonics. Once you get the building blocks down, you can apply them to challenging formulas (or words), but without mastery, you are always lagging.

To learn and drill multiplication facts: sing “Skip to My Lou,” putting in “6 X 6 is 36, 6 X 4 is 24, 6 X 3 is 18, Skip to my Lou My Darling.” You can point to numbers on a white board, (with the 6 in the middle and all the other numbers around the outside,) pointing to a different number for the other factor each phrase. They get the benefit of music and rhythm to help them learn and remember.


May I recommend:

Long Division Troubles?

Messed Up in Math

Multiplication Placemat

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