Multiplication facts are like sight words; kids need to know them so that their efforts are focused on larger mathematical concepts. If their brain energy is spent on working out 8 x 7 every day, their grasp on the bigger ideas will be weak.
There are, of course, exceptions. Working in a cotaught classroom, I see plenty of kids who are not at the point where memorizing multiplication facts is a realistic or fair expectation yet. In general, though, multiplication facts need to be automatic for your typical fourth grader.
Multiplication facts and long-term memory
To become automatic, multiplication facts must be solidly and comfortably nestled in one’s long-term memory. But with the ever-expanding curricular expectations and assessments barreling towards us each year, how do we find the time and materials to help our students reach this goal?
The key is consistent and thoughtful practice. A little bit of study every day is not only more valuable than binge-studying, but also easier and more time-efficient. And teaching students to solely focus on the facts they haven’t mastered yet will impressively increase their learning curve.
And, if you really want those multiplication facts to stay put in your kids’ long-term memory, fun must be sprinkled throughout!
Consistency with Multiplication Facts
Like anything, scheduling kids’ multiplication facts practice in school insures that it gets done. Put it in your daily schedule. For example, Monday morning work could be study-your-flashcards-time. Tuesday morning work = Multiplication Bump games. Wednesday = online math games. Thursday = online flashcards. And Friday, review your flashcards for your weekly Multiplication Facts Challenge.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be morning work. You can carve five minutes from your schedule in a way that works for you. Maybe you have five minutes of working snack. Or a few minutes before lunch or recess. It should be something very short and doable that you can put right into your schedule every day. If you don’t put it in there, or it will not get done. Without consistency, kids don’t commit their multiplication facts to long-term memory as quickly or at all.
Practicing the RIGHT multiplication facts
If we hand our students a set of multiplication facts flashcards, they’ll typically do one of two things. Either they’ll test themselves by going through the entire deck every day (repeatedly missing the same ones) or they’ll unconsciously focus on the ones they already know, because that feels more rewarding.
But if we take time to teach this skill, they will learn their multiplication facts a heck of a lot quicker and will be so proud of their success. I teach my fourth-graders my three-pocket method. They put all the multiplication facts cards they know in one pocket. The ones they don’t know go in the second. And the ones they sorta-kinda know go in a third. Then when it is time to study, their put the first pocket aside and focus their study on the second or third pocket.
I go into way more detail in this post and share free downloadables so you can get this system started in your own classroom using flashcards you already own. Or you can grab the set I use in my classroom: Multiplication Facts Flashcards Kits for Growth Mindset. (My kids adore their kits and so many students have told me it completely changed the way the study everything in our curriculum, including their United States states and capitals.)
Students should focus on two to three facts per study sessions and gradually add new ones, rather than attacking all the cards in a pocket at once. Again, you can see examples of how I do this in my classroom here.
When our students learn how to study, it changes everything.
The more ways kids can practice, the more solid their retention, and online games are a terrific way to further cement the multiplication facts into their long-term memory. (It’s a bit like varying a workout routine to strengthen one’s muscles.) Some great (and free) places to practice are the following:
- Sheppherd Software
- Multiplication Playground (you’ll need Flash Player)
- Education.com Math Games
- Brainpop Multiplication Blocks ** (much of their content is paid, but this game, along with some other games and videos, is free)
**my kids LOVE this one
Again, the more ways your kiddos can practice, the better. There are many great online flashcards they can use! (And hundreds of great apps.)
Not only are all the games fun, but the kids practice the same facts repeatedly, thereby learning them with very little effort.
Assessing multiplication facts with growth mindset
It’s essential that students can see that consistent effort equals progress. I created these Multiplication Tests for Growth Mindset so that my students could witness, on their personal bar graphs, how they were progressing. These graphs make for terrific discussions. For example, after the first few weeks of using their Multiplication Flashcard Kits, scores go up substantially, which is exciting and enlightening for the kids.
Equally important, though, is the growth that takes place when their scores drop after, say, December break when they haven’t been studying. Almost every student’s total plummets come early January and, after they’ve scored their tests, we’ll have a quick five-minute class discussion on why their performance dropped. Not in a judgmental way. But in a curious how-do-our-brains-work way. It’s like a science experiment on themselves, and they get a charge out of seeing how their long-term memory works.
When your students study their multiplication facts in an organized way and combine that study with fun online and physical games and with weekly assessments, you are going to see a remarkable difference in their retention of their multiplication facts.
When you schedule a few minutes each day for them to master this material, you will notice their overall understanding of math concepts increase as well, because they will no longer be fussing with their basic multiplication facts. Their whole brains will be ready for the higher tiers of learning.
Now it’s time to hear from you! In the comments, tell us where you schedule time for your students to study their multiplication facts. (Or where you plan to schedule daily time this year.) As always, if you found this content helpful or if you know someone who will find it helpful, please share on social media using the share buttons below!
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