Traditionally, instruction in multiplication has focused on learning the multiplication facts using flash cards, dittos, workbook pages, and timed tests. However, it is becoming apparent to many that these methods are woefully ineffective, and children continue to struggle to memorize their multiplication tables.
So what can parents and teachers do to help their children/students learn these multiplication facts? The following are some very effective math games and activities that not only work, but are lots of fun! When was the last time you or your children said that about multiplication?!
1. Numbers and equations are far more interesting when they represent real-life specifics. For example, the problem “What is 3 x 4?” can be posed as “If there are 3 pods with 4 whales in each, how many whales are there altogether?” As kids begin to visualize whales swimming through the ocean, the math becomes much more specific, rich, and understandable.
When my granddaughter was in the 3rd grade, we would use travel time in the car to practice our multiplication facts. First, I would make up a problem (7 tricycles, how many wheels?), and she would have to give me the complete equation (7×3=21). And then I would ask, “Why isn’t this a 3×7 problem?” Too many times all we say is 7×3 is the same as 3×7. That can be very confusing.
Then it would be her turn to make up a question (5 cars, how many rear-view mirrors?), and I would have to come up with the entire equation, plus justify why it wasn’t a 3×5 question.
Sometimes we would discuss what might make a good 4×7 question, or a 9×6 question, etc.
The following are just a few of the situations we used:
• 3 weeks – how many days?
• 9 cans – how many round bottoms?
• 12 noses, how many people?
• 5 cows, how many legs?
• 8 sleeves, how many shirts?
2. Play “What Am I?” Say to children “Seven is one of my factors. The sum of my digits is 6. What am I?” (42). Repeat this activity with other numbers.
3. Use a blank multiplication chart. Ask the children to enter the multiplication facts that they are sure of. Then have pairs of students exchange charts and quiz each other on the facts that are on the chart. If a child misses a fact, ask the partner to make a small mark by the fact to indicate that they need to practice it further. Marking missed problems with a highlighter is a strategy that may benefit some students. Keep these multiplication charts around and continue to add to them and test each other.
4. Most children struggle with multiplying by 6, 7, 8, and 9. These are the ones that need the most practice. The following is a way to work on these factors:
Provide students with paper and crayons and ask them to draw six blue vertical lines on the paper. Now ask them to draw four red horizontal lines intersecting the vertical lines. Ask them to circle in purple each place there is an intersection and count the number of intersections. Challenge them to identify what multiplication fact they have just demonstrated. Tell them that in this model, the number of rows is given first. [4 ×6 = 24.] Ask them to turn their papers a quarter turn and name the multiplication fact now modeled. [6 ×4 = 24.]
Encourage them to generate other facts where one factor is 6, including 6 × 0 and 6 × 1.
Repeat with 7 as a factor.
It may be helpful for students to visualize the vertical lines as city streets, the horizontal lines as roads, and the intersections as marking where a stoplight is needed.
5. Distribute index cards to each pair and ask each student to make a set of 10 cards numbered 0 to 9, one to a card. When they have finished, ask them to shuffle the two decks together and stack them face down. Tell them to take turns turning over the top card, multiplying the number drawn by 6 and then saying the product. As each card is used, it should be returned to the bottom of the deck. Give students time to play, and then ask the class to skip count in unison by 6. Encourage them to do so without looking at the game board.
Repeat for 7 as a factor.
6. Number Drawings – great for helping to memorize skip counting!
What you need:
paper, pencil, and crayons
Give each child a blank piece of white paper. Tell the children that today they are going to be skip counting by 4’s to 40 and each of them would be making their own unique drawing.
Tell them they are going to start by putting the number 4 anywhere on their paper and putting a little dot beside it. The object is to scatter the numbers all over the page. Now what number comes next if we are skipcounting by 4’s? Keep going until you reach 40.
Now connect the dots starting at 4, going to 8, and so on. When you reach 40, connect it back to 4.
Now color the inside of your drawing.
Make a Number drawing for 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, 5’s, 6’s, 7’s, 8’s, 9’s, 10’s, 11’s, 12’s and so on.
7. Play a game.
What you need:
12×12 grid or graph paper for each player
pencils and crayons
During a series of rounds, players toss the two dice that determine the length and width of rectangles that are constructed on 12×12 grid or graph paper. Points are scored by finding the areas of the rectangles.
Players take turns. During a turn, a player tosses the dice and constructs a rectangle by making its length on a horizontal line on the graph paper according to the number thrown on one die, and marking its height according to the number thrown on the other die. The player then outlines the entire rectangle, writes the equation within the rectangle, lightly colors it in, and calculates his score by determining the number of squares within the rectangle.
The rules for placing rectangles are as follows:
• All rectangles must be placed entirely within the graph.
• The edges of rectangles may touch (but do not have to).
• Rectangles may not overlap each other.
• No rectangle may be placed within another rectangle.
Players drop out of the game and calculate their cumulative score when their throw of the dice gives them a rectangle that will not fit on their graph. The game ends when all players have dropped out. The player with the highest score wins.