> Math >How
to Practice Times Tables
Learning the Times Tables:
Guidelines and ideas for practice
Susan Jones, M. Ed. 08/99
1. Practice makes permanent - Practice the right
answers. Looking the answer up (on a calculator or a times
table grid) is better than guessing. Did somebody tell you
practice made perfect? That's only if you're practicing it
right. Each time you guess an answer wrong, you're practicing
the wrong answer. So, if you're not sure what the answer is,
find out, *then* practice. Learn ways to figure out the answer
until you can remember the answer quickly. Eventually, you
want to have these answers at the tip of your tongue, the
end of your fingertips, automatically and easily.
2. Don't be satisfied with being able to figure them out.
Times tables are one of the things you will use for the rest
of your life, in school and life. You'll need to know the
times table as part of figuring something out. The more you
have to think about the times table, the more time it will
take and the more chances you'll have to make a mistake. Don't
think that you "know" your times tables if you usually
get it right and it takes a while. You want to have these
answers at the tip of your tongue, the end of your fingertips,
automatically and easily.
3. Learn a few at a time. You want these to go into
your long-term memory. If it takes you a year to learn
them well, you'll have the rest of your life to know them.
You could look at all of them every day for five years and
not learn them, or learn two each week and know them all in
less than a year, and know them for the rest of your life.
4. Learn them in a sensible order. You can learn them
in numerical order (the zeroes, ones, two, threes, fours...)
or you can learn them from "easiest to hardest,"
but make a plan, and take the time to master them as
5. Review the ones you know. If you already know some
of the tables, practice them before you start tackling the
ones you don't know yet. It's a good confidence booster and
besides, practice makes permanent! If you have to go back
and practice them more to get fast again, do it.
6. Think about the math while you're learning these.
There's more to learning the times tables than passing a test.
Know what the times tables mean, what they would look like
if they were rows of desks in a classroom or packages with
the same price tag or dollars per hour.
Different Ways to Practice the Times Tables
1. Flashcards - plain and fancy
Flashcards are the "old standard" way to learn
the times tables, and may work for you, especially if you
follow the guidelines and tackle a few at a time. You can
also make flaschards with hints on one side of the back and
fold that part over if you need help to remember an answer.
After you do that, put it back in the deck, and practice it
until you don't need the hint any more.
|It's great to be completely
|8 x 3=24
Your hint can be one of the memory tricks described below,
or any other hint that will work for you.
Start with a small deck and only add a few cards at a time.
As the deck gets bigger, you'll want to sort them into three
piles as you go over them: one stack for the ones you missed
(hopefully a *small* stack ). The next stack is for the ones
you got -- but it took a little while, and one stack for the
ones you knew right away. When you're doing other work, you
can grab the deck you know and practice it in less than a
minute; or practice the 'slow' deck once or twice to get it
2. Number lines
Start with a number line long enough to handle the times
tables you're learning.
Take a small card with each "times table" without
the answer on it and place it over the answer on the number
line. The card needs to be small enough so it doesn't cover
up too much of the number line.
The first time, you might need to count to get the cards in
the right place; practice until you can do it quickly. Make
sure you've got the right answer by checking the times tables
practice chart. Say
the times table and the answer, even trace it with your fingers,
as you quickly put the card in its place. See if you notice
any patterns as you do this.
Next, take half of the cards shuffle them, and do the same
thing. Do this until you don't have to check your answers.
Finally, take away the number line and do the same thing.
You might want to do them in order first.
Remember, if you learn just five of these in two weeks, but
learn them well, you'll have learned them all by the end of
the year. So, take your time!
When you're done with the first half, add the next one or
two biggest tables and go through the same process.
Quality is more important than quantity here. It's a good
idea to get a small number of tables so that you know them
fast and easy and take a break to do something different.
Then, go back and see if they are still fast and easy. If
they're not, practice the hard ones with the number line,
and consider learning smaller groups of them.
3. Number charts
You can also use a chart of the numbers 1-100, instead of
a number line. It will take up less space - but your card
with the times table on it will have to be smaller.
4. Visual Memory Tricks
Draw a picture to go with a times table that gives you trouble.
You can draw a real example of the times table -- a dozen
eggs for 6 x 2=12, a checkerboard for 8 x 8=64. You could
draw two football players wearing jersey number 7 for the
49ers to show that 7 x 7 is 49. There are books that have
examples of these for every times table if you run out of
Have one version of this drawing that has the times table
and the answer on it, and trace it and say it as you look
at the picture. Then just look at the picture and try to remember
the times table that goes with it. And finally, look at just
the times table, and remember the picture and the answer that
goes with it. Your 'hint' for your flashcard can be the picture
without the answer.
5. Auditory memory tricks
some of the times tables rhyme -- "6 x 8 is 48."
Or, you can make up your own -- "It's great to
be completely sure, 8 x 3 is 24." Great
and 8, be and 3, and sure and four all rhyme. Your hint for
your 'flashcard with hint' can be the first part of the rhyme.
6. Story Mnemonics
Make up a sentence with the times table numbers in it, and
a picture to go with it. For instance, "Dinner for 6
at 7 on 42nd Street." You can act out calling this reservation
in to the restaurant, try it in different voices, draw different
pictures (what does 42nd street look like, anyway?) -- have
fun with it!
7. Fill-in-the-chart game
Cover each space on the times tables practice chart with
a bingo chip or piece of paper or cardboard. Use either 10-sided
(or 12-sided if you're learning the tables to 12) dice, or
shuffle your flashcard decks. If you use your flashcard decks,
you can focus on certain times tables and leave the rest uncovered.
Roll the dice or draw a card, and see how quickly you can
call out the right answer to the times table that goes with
it. Check under the cover to make sure you're right.
Don't play this game until you know the tables pretty well,
since you don't want to be making wrong guesses. Or, you can
give yourself 20 points for getting the answer right in 3
seconds or less, 5 points if you could figure it out in some
other time period, and 3 points if you looked and then said
the times table and the answer three times, and returned that
card to the deck.
8. Repeat yourself, compete with yourself
Make quizzes with just a few of the times tables that you
know, but not quickly. Put 25 questions on the quiz -- but
repeat the same 4 or 5 times tables throughout the quiz. Don't
look back unless you have to and you'll find yourself getting
faster and faster. You might even have a grid handy, which
you'll want to look at the first time to make sure your answer
If there are a few times tables that give you trouble, put
those on a quiz over and over again, even if the other tables
only show up once. Or make lots of flashcards with the same
times table) . Put the answer on the first one, and only look
back if you have to... but do look back if you have to. If
you had to look back, cover up the answer and trace the problem
and say the table with the answer.
Compete with yourself for accuracy and speed. You've mastered
them when it's only your writing or speaking speed that slows