10 Ways to Encourage Multiplication Fact Fluency

Memorizing basic multiplication facts has gotten a bad rep.  "Drill and kill." Teachers feel so much pressure to believe that teaching Common Core Standards means only teaching word problems and higher order thinking.  

We have to be careful to make sure our students have the basic knowledge they need to tackle those tough math challenges.  

Fact fluency is an essential building block.  Students trying to multiply decimals, find equivalent fractions, or solve algebraic equations will need to know their basic multiplication facts.

Memorizing multiplication facts is a 3rd grade Common Core standard.

Multiply and divide within 100.

Fluently multiply and divide within 100, using strategies such as the relationship between multiplication and division (e.g., knowing that 8 × 5 = 40, one knows 40 ÷ 5 = 8) or properties of operations. By the end of Grade 3, know from memory all products of two one-digit numbers.

If you teach grades beyond 3rd you may have felt frustration when students didn't have the facts memorized.  You already have your hands full teaching your own grade level standards, but your students will be more successful if you encourage them to memorize their facts.

As an intervention teacher, I've worked with 3rd through 6th graders to encourage multiplication fact fluency.  Today, I'd like to share some steps I've taken that have motivated my students.  Hopefully you'll find a tidbit that can inspire you and your students.

First, students need to know what it means to have something memorized.

Some teachers set a specific amount of time.  "Answer within 3 snaps."

I usually ask basic addition facts or basic multiplication facts.   What is 2 + 2?  What is 3 x 0?  They answer immediately.  Then I'll ask more challenging facts.  What is 6 x 7?  What is 7 x 8?

I tell them that I want them to be able to answer all questions as quickly as they answered 2 + 2.

Next, students need a small set of facts to focus on.

"You need to memorize your facts."  "Spend 5 minutes a day practicing multiplication." These goals aren't specific enough.

I use timed tests to set a starting point.  I have them take their zeros, ones, and twos and they feel like it is an eternity before they can turn them in.  I tell them I want them to know all their facts so well that they can finish any timed test early.  Students work their way through the 3s, 4s, and beyond until they can't do it in the set time.  This is now their goal.

I was at a training recently where the presenter said that people surveyed about why they hated math in school said it was due to timed tests.  All I could think was, "Those teachers were doing it wrong."

If you think timed tests are motivation enough for kids to memorize their facts, kids are going to see them as a source of stress.  If you use timed test as a tool to teach kids how to set an obtainable goal and reach it, they start begging to take tests.  Seriously, I've had it happen.

I keep a clipboard where I record their timed test results.  My most recent group of 3rd graders had 20 students.  With that many test results to communicate, I created a little PowerPoint where I displayed their names next to their next goal.  The quiet, "Yes!"was often heard when posted as they learned they passed a test.  I used the See Me section to choose groups that would work with me and get extra tutoring or to give a test to kids early if they landed on an easy goal like 5s.

You can download this simple PowerPoint for FREE here.

I use timed tests from my Super Surfer Multiplication Packet.

As teachers, we know why things are important.  It is easy to forget to take a moment and let the kids know why what they are learning is important.

Give them real life examples of when knowing how to multiply will help them.  Use examples involving things they love.  If they love football, use touch downs and field goals to show how knowing threes and sevens can come in handy.  If they have a favorite snack, show them how to figure out what a few bags would cost.

I find the most motivating example is telling them that you want to help them spend less time on homework.  I show them a fourth grade multiplication problem.  I write two on the board.  We time how long it takes us to multiply each number with their fingers.  Then we time how long it takes me to do the problem since I have the answer memorized.

This three minute conversation sets a tone and makes a difference.

Separate your multiplication supplies into categories.  Set up a location where students can find the supplies they need.

Last year, I used a milk crate with files. I had a file for each multiple that contained games, flash cards, and more.

This year, I set up cubbies that contain tests, flashcard printouts, and multiplication charts.

I also set up a drawer for each multiple.  Inside the drawers, I put games into ziplock bags with all the needed pieces to cut down on transition times.  I also have drawers where I keep number cards and flashcards.

I make the students responsible for getting their own supplies, tests, and games.  They also are responsible for keeping it clean and organized.

I'm lucky enough as an intervention teacher to focus on one skill at a time.  Homeroom teachers don't have that luxury.

Can you set aside 5 minutes once or twice a week for a timed test?

When I was a homeroom teacher, my fact fluency practice was an early finisher activity.  If a student finished math early, they had to choose an activity that matched their goal.  If the whole class finished something early, we had time for math games.

Teaching the students how to choose an activity that matches their goal makes 'math game time' meaningful and effective.

While this blog post is very long, now that I have this system in place, it is very little work for me.  I just grade tests that are finished and record who passed.  They get their tests. They choose their games.  They find a partner.  The routine makes my life easier.

Study your facts.  What does that mean?

Students need to be explicitly taught how to study.

Here is a simple procedure:
1. Students know their goal.  Let's say it is 7s.
2. Students write the multiples of seven out on a white board using strategies like repeated addition.
3.  Students try to remember the first three answer.  They repeated the numbers over and over.  Then they erase and see if they can write them without counting.
4. Students play a game like Speed trying to answer those three facts faster than their partner.  When ready, they add another multiple.

Let students find a study plan that works for them.
Two students combine white board practice with my multiples cards to quiz themselves.

Practicing facts can be boring if they have to practice the same way every time.  Try to teach and gather options that make it feel like they aren't doing the same thing over and over.


White board practice, bump games, puzzles, computer games, board games, dice games, card games

We've all heard that the best way to learn something is to teach it.  More than once, I've watched a child say what I swear is the exact same thing I've said to a student 50 times only to hear the student respond, "Oh.  I get it now."  They speak each others language and they listen to each other.

If you create a routine that involves working with partners that have the same goal, you create an environment for invaluable peer teaching.

Someone may walk into your room and see kids playing math games and think nothing exciting is happening.  You'll see a child teach another the nines finger trick while they play a game together and swell with pride.

I had a 6th grader last year that finally found a strategy that worked for him to learn his multiplication facts.  I took every opportunity I could to have him play teacher to others in that intervention group.  He began to see himself as successful and smart as his classmates valued his help.  Encouraging him to collaborate and teach his classmates helped to change his self image and made him more willing to take risks when I had him in other groups later that year.

My first year of teaching, I learned that I set the tone of the class.  My first full time position was in first.  I could get mad when the floor was a mess and grumpily demand that they clean it up or I could tell them we were going to have a contest to see who could find the most garbage.

Drill and kill.  I hate when I hear that.  It brings me back to 3rd grade at my Catholic elementary where 40 of us sat there in our neat little rows chanting "3 times 1 is 3.  3 times 2 is 6....."

Here are a few products I've used to make multiplication fun.

My Super Surfer Multiplication has games, timed tests, and a motivational system.  You can read more about it in this blog post.

I love playing Multiplication Cover Up with kids.  
I encourage them to think about strategy as they place their pieces.

I purchased a set of Bump Games from Games 4 Learning that the students LOVE to play.

I teach my students several multiplication card games.  I also encourage them to play these at home.  I created my Simple Math Games: Multiplication and Division to share with families.

These multiplication puzzles sat in a drawer unused for years.  Now that I've organized my games and put them in the multiples drawers, they are one of the most popular games for tactile learners.

Students love writing multiples and sorting multiples using my Multiples Posters and Activities.  
You can read a blog post about using multiples to memorize facts here.

A student found number books and got a multiplication chart and  practiced her goal by making the answers.

I love creating new ways to learn.  So do my students.  
I let them create their own games when they are inspired as long as they can tell me 
how it will help them reach their goal.  

Time using technology can be invaluable when monitored and observed.  Students will try and ask, "Can I play..."  I just remind them that they need to work on their specific goal.

One of my favorite sites is Multiplication.com.  I have to teach the students how to use it to reach their goals and not just to play a game because it is fun.  I created a class website using Weebly.

I've link directly to the part of the site that has them pick a fact to practice.

I've also taught them how to use the playlist drop down on the embedded YouTube videos.  They are only allowed to watch the video that matches their goal.  Some students really are musical and are motivated to pass the test partially so they can watch the next video.

There are so many ways to celebrate.  Setting obtainable goals means they will reach multiple goals. 

 Congratulate them.  Tell them you are proud of them.  Give them a pat on the back.  Teach them to congratulate each other.  Clap for them.  Say things like, "I knew you could do it."  

I use my Super Surfer Multiplication reward system and give students a surf board to hang up when they meet one of their goals. 

"Do I get to keep these?!?" Something as simple as a paper Surf Board on a metal ring brings such joy to even my 6th graders.  

That feeling of being successful is addicting.  Kids pass a couple of tests, next thing I know, kids are literally begging me to take tests.  

"Well, I was wasn't planning on it, but..."  

"Can I take one too?!"

"Go ahead and get a test."

"Woo hoo!"

Those are the moments that make me love teaching.

Dividing Decimals and Free Your Time with Fifth Grade Freebies Blog Hop

When I was a fifth grade math teacher, dividing decimals was a challenge for my students.  I taught the lesson that went with our curriculum and they were lost.  So, I made a PowerPoint to help them practice the two main strategies for dividing decimals.

Line up the Decimal

The first strategy for dividing decimals works when the decimal is in the dividend.

The Decimal Dance

The next strategy for dividing decimals is for when there is a decimal in the divisor.

When I introduce the decimal dance, I find two volunteers that I know love to put on a show.  I have them stand side by side and do a simple dance where they step to the right at the same time.  It makes me smile and it helps them to remember the strategy.

Now that I'm an intervention teacher, I don't have a curriculum with problems or work sheets.  So, I added a dozens of slides to the PowerPoint.  Some of the slides are a contest to beat the computer.  It was funny seeing how excited my 6th graders were to be able to divide decimals quickly when they came into intervention saying this skill was too hard.

If you already purchased my Divide Decimals PowerPoint, be sure to download the lastest update!

Free Dividing Decimal Worksheets

I created some worksheets to go with the PowerPoint that I am sharing with you for free in honor of our Fifth Grade Freebie Blog Hop.

The freebie contains one page of Line Up the Decimal practice, one page of Decimal Dance Practice, two mixed practice pages, and an assessment.  Click here to download the FREEBIE.

If you are here because of the blog hop, let me take a moment to thank you for stopping by!  I started the blog Fifth Grade Freebies because I love places that help make finding great freebies easy.  I hope you are enjoying it as much as I am!

Next Stop on the Blog Hop is at First Grade a la Carte with Kathy.  (It will be a 5th grade freebie. :)


Hop on over for more exciting freebies!

   or Facebook

Friends of Ten

As I've attended trainings focusing on Common Core Math it has become evident that kids are expected to know sums that equal ten.  As kids are expected to explain their thinking, examples continually show kids saying things like, "To add 64 plus 8, I added six more to 64 to make 70 and then knew I had two so the answer is 72."

Sitting in trainings with upper grade teachers watching videos like that there is a bit of a laugh coming from teachers.  It is easy for trainers to forget that these upper grade students weren't exposed to the lower grade Common Core Standards.

If you look at how the Common Core Standards are set up, you see "Numbers and Operations in Base Ten" emphasizing the concept of ten.  Then in 1st grade you see this standard:

Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10. Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8 + 6 = 8 + 2 + 4 = 10 + 4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13 - 4 = 13 - 3 - 1 = 10 - 1 = 9); using the relationship between addition and subtraction (e.g., knowing that 8 + 4 = 12, one knows 12 - 8 = 4); and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6 + 7 by creating the known equivalent 6 + 6 + 1 = 12 + 1 = 13).

It is easy to look at it as add and subtract within 20, but the emphasis on "Making Ten" is a building block for what students are expected to do.

I have a group of Far Below Basic 2nd grade math students that I work with for about one week out of every 6 weeks.  Ultimately, I want them to be able to add and subtract with regrouping, but right now I'm building the background skills they will need.  

When we move to adding larger numbers, I want them to be able to think in a way that allows mental math.  Being able to use multiples of tens as anchor numbers, can help students with mental math.  

If we add 26 + 7, the traditional regrouping method has kids thing that 6 + 7 is 13 and then regroup the ten and then think of 1 + 2 (which is really 10 plus 20). 

Really, though, is that the simplest way to think?  If the kids know the 'Friends of Ten' they can do a much simpler math problem in their head.  26 + 7.  I need four more to get to the next ten (30)  7- 4 is 3.  So I have 30 and 3 more.

As we expect students to do more and more mental math, they need some background skills.  Even upper grade students that missed this concept could show a boost in mental math once they have the skill.

Yesterday, I combined a cute idea I saw on Pinterest from Relief Teaching Ideas with a fun freebie page by Brooke Beynon.

We also played a little modified Go Fish.  The students could put down and ask for any "Friend of Ten". 

It is amazing how much can be accomplished in 40 minutes of intervention when I have a small group.  (This group has 10 kids.)  After cutting out hands, doing a worksheet, and playing Go Fish, we still had a little time left.  

The extra few minutes can be where the funnest ideas come from.  I have a Plinko style board from Oriental Trading Company and kids got to have a turn and then tell me the number they could add to it to make ten.

Here is a little Instagram video.  (I think you have to actually come to my site to see it but that is a great thing because I just had a fun blog redesign done that I'd love for you to check out.  :)

Do you have any fun ways to practice this concept?  I'd love more ideas.

3 Strategies for Multiplying Multi-Digit Numbers

Most of us learned a short cut in school to help us multiply multi digit numbers known as the standard algorithm or traditional algorithm.  One thing we as teachers need to be careful of is not teaching short cuts first.  Short cuts are so much more meaningful when you discover it on your own.

Traditional Algorithm / Standard Algorithm

If students have a great understanding of place value and are quick with addition and multiplication, this method is easy for them.

As an intervention teacher, I don't get to choose what students learn first.  A lot of them come to me trying to remember how to do this standard algorithm.  Students that don't have their multiplication fact memorized sometimes forgetter where they are or what they are doing because they have to pause so much between each step.  They also tend to forget to add in the number they carried.

Partial Products Algorithm

The Partial Products algorithm is the first strategy I would teach in a homeroom.  This allows students to go through one simple step at a time.  They do all their multiplication and then add.  This method also allows you to reinforce place value.  It is important to emphasize at first the they are multiplying 6 time 80 rather than the short cut of 6 times 8.  After a few problems you can have them look for a pattern.  They will notice that there is always a zero there and they can feel like they discovered their own short cut.

Sometimes my intervention students know they are supposed to put a zero somewhere but they don't know why or where.  I tell them to forget about that for a little bit and I walk them through multiplying using place value.

Once the students have an understand of the place value of multiplying multi-digit numbers, expanding the number of digits is easy for them.  The intervention students I get, often know the short cut but have no idea how it applies when there are more digits.  They make mistakes like putting one zero when they are multiplying a number in the hundreds or thousands place.

Box Method

The box method is great for students that get overwhelmed and lack confidence in math.  I teach them to say the number slowly to put it in the top box. When you say 83 as "eighty.... three" you can hear how to separate the numbers.  Some of these students are ones that use multiplication charts often so the box method is comforting to them because it feels familiar.  The beauty is that they can multiply in any order.  It doesn't matter whether they multiply 80 x  6 first or 6 times 3 first.

Which Should I Teach?

Personally, I like to teach Partial Products first.  Then I teach the box method side by side.  I make the students do a few problems with me for the strategy I teach, then I have them pick one strategy to stick with for the day.   When students tell me they learned another way, I say, "Great!  There are so many ways to find the same answer.  Let's try this strategy today."

When I do problems all together, I'll ask for one volunteer per strategy.  They'll come up and do it on the board.  Students see that the similarities and reinforce the mathematical concepts happening in the problem.  Eventually volunteers ask if they can show another strategy.  When they do, I make sure to compare the traditional to the partial products and it becomes clear that they are the same thing written a different way and done in a slightly different order.

Looking for Resources?

Last month I had a group of 4th grade students that needed help multiplying multi-digit numbers.  I created this PowerPoint for them. 
2 Digit times 1 Digit: Introducing 3 Strategies for Multi-digit Multiplication Featuring Beat the Clock

It went through and explained each of the three strategies step by step for them and gave them the chance to do a few practice problems for each strategy.  I set it up so that they were trying to finish the problems before the penguin in the PowerPoint did.  They were fascinated by the fact that the computer seemed to know how to do the problems step by step.  

They asked, "Can we do this again tomorrow?" In my head I was thinking, "Do you know how long it took me to make that!?" But when several students begged, I thought, "I guess it's time for the kids to give the teacher homework!"  They were very specific that the next day it had to be a monkey.

3 Digit Times 1 Digit Introducing 3 Strategies for MultiDigit Multiplication Featuring a Beat the Clock Challenge

I also have a set of Task Cards for Two Digit times Two Digit Multiplication.

You can find all of my multiplication products here.

Study Skills: Taking Notes and Making Flashcards

When your teacher tells you to go home and study for the test, what exactly does that mean?

This was the question I asked a group of 5th graders two weeks ago.

As an intervention teacher, I get referrals for a variety of topics.  Recently, our 5th grade team sent a group of 5th graders to me that were just shy of proficient on their science quizzes.  They asked me to help them organize their notes and teach them how to create and use flashcards to study.

Their STEM teacher shared their Edmodo group with me.  Whenever he introduces new vocabulary words, he has them take three column notes.   The first column has the key word.  The second column has the definition.  The last column is for a picture.  After doing the notes in class, he posts them to Edmodo so the kids can see them.

The first thing I had the students do was open their binders and compare their notes to the notes on the screen.  Students that came unprepared (without their binder of notes) had to copy the notes all over again.  Surprise, Surprise, the next day they all had their binder.

We focused in on the idea of taking accurate notes.  They needed to copy the definition exactly so they could have the specific academic language but I encouraged them to add synonyms or words they were more familiar with to help them understand.

Then, we worked on layering our notes.  We worked together to highlight key words in the definition.  I learned quickly to limit them to one word.  They were prone to over highlight and really needed guidance in deciding the key words in the definition.

As the week went on, I taught them to create index cards with the key words on front and the definition and picture on the back.  I created this handout for them to keep in their binder.

After they created their flashcards, I taught them the procedure their teacher, Mr. Clark, had created for studying with a partner.  We also learned how to study alone.

I wanted to take this opportunity to help the students learn what method of studying worked best for them.  So, I checked out some chrome books, and had he students take this online quiz.  This helped them learn whether they were an auditory learner, a visual learner, or a tactile learner.  I asked them to record three tips they read that could help them study.  Then I had them share their findings with kids that had the same learning style.

It became clear that many were tactile learners.  I showed the tactile learners an alternative to flashcards.  They could cut the cards in half and put a word on one half and the definition on the other half and use the cards to play concentration.  Those that decided to use the cards the traditional way would stand with a partner or walk around while studying.

I asked their teacher to send kids who passed the quiz to me for a prize.  I was happy to see a steady stream of successful students today who were excited to share their scores with me.

On the last day of class, I gave the kids the same question:  When your teacher tells you to go home and study for a test, what exactly does that mean?

I was very pleased when I compared the answers.  We went from explanations like "Study for 20 minutes." to detailed descriptions of creating and using flashcards.   I love that I had a chance to teach them a skill that can continue to help them.

Mr. Clark was kind enough to let me share his ideas with you that I typed up.  You can click here to download all of this FREEBIE from Dropbox.


Cough Like a Vampire FREEBIE

After 16 years of teaching, you'd think I'd be immune to the kiddo cooties.  Sigh.  I wish.

I made this little visual reminder for my kiddos.

You can download a PDF version for free here.

I used my Halloween Colorful Clipart to make it.



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