A previous post Learning Times Tables talked about how to set about helping your children learn times tables. This post gives some simple tips for how you can help your children practice learning times tables. These tips will be especially relevant when they are just starting out.

Learning Times Tables gave a link which allows you to download your free copy of the appendices from my report Starting Arithmetic which contain worksheets I used for my children.

If you don’t wish to leave your name and email I’ve copied the spreadsheets to Google Docs and linked to them here.

You can cut and paste into Excel or OpenOffice Calc and print them out.

And if you don’t want to do that either you can download pdf files with the templates in here.

I recommend you let your children use these to work out the times tables.

Then they have their own version of the tables which they have written out themselves.

When you first start you can ask them tables questions when they have their written sheets in front of them. Gradually they will begin to learn the answers and be able to answer without the sheets.

People tend to think that when you answer a times table question, the answer just pops into your mind. So you either know the answer or your don’t.

I believe this is completely wrong. For a start what do you do if the wrong answer pops into your mind? How do you know it’s the wrong answer? What do you do if nothing pops into your mind? Just wait?

I believe that one should learn a set of methods for working out the answer. So either

- You know the answer.
- You are working on a method to work out the answer and can explain what you are doing.

If an answer does just pop into your head, great. But use the methods to check its right before saying what it is.

The methods I am going to suggest here are extremely simple, so simple that you might think I’m joking, or that these are not really “methods” at all.

- Read the answer from written copy of the tables.
- Use a blank copy of the 0 to 149 table, or a ruler, to count forwards 1 at a time.
- Use a blank copy of the 0 to 149 table, or a ruler, to step forwards 3,5, 10 or whatever is the right number of steps for the table.
- Either count forward or step forward without using any table or ruler, once the numbers have been learned.

The first suggestion may seem like cheating, but if you were going to learn a poem or a speech you would start by looking at the words in the poem or speech.

Counting forward is more useful when beginning (or when stuck) and when answering questions from 3 or 7 times table which are harder to step through.

Stepping is more natural for 5x, 10x, 11x.

When multiplying any pair of numbers the answer is the same which ever way you multiply them. So

Or more generally, for any two numbers i and j

So firstly it makes sense to explain this.

Then ask questions both ways around and check you get the same answer each time. In other words if you ask what is

It is a good idea to ask the same question more than once just to check that you get the same answer each time.

You can use this rule to switch the question to which ever way around seems easiest to answer. So if

It will take some time to learn all the tables, but some children leave primary school after 6 or 7 years of teaching not knowing all their tables. With you help I would be surprised if your children were not fully confident within 2 or 3 years, maybe less.

Remember it doesn’t take long just 5 minutes or so a few days a week. If the sessions are regular they can be short, which is great as it leaves more time to play.

When I was at primary school there were 30+ children each year and one teacher taught 2 years at the same time (i.e. a single teacher was teaching 60+ children). Everyday was started with 5 minutes of tables drill when he (and the teachers were largely he in those days). Would point to different people and fire off questions such as

Even if a question was answered every 10 seconds that was only 6 a minute, 30 in 5 minutes. So not every one answered a question every day. Yet those that didn’t answer, were in the room and heard the questions and answers so something sunk in.

I told this story recently to a current primary school teacher and she replied

Yes I know, it’s child abuse isn’t it

Oh dear.

So my question to you is are you prepared to spend 5 minutes a day, a few days a week helping your children learn tables?

Children learn to speak from hearing their parents and others around them talk. Suppose you never spoke to your child. How well do you think they would learn to speak?

I’m just suggesting you talk tables for a few minutes some days each week.