Multiplication Fact Fluency

If you teach third grade like I do, I bet that you are working on multiplication fact fluency with your students.  Do you have a system that works? When I first started teaching third grade, I used to move through the multiplication tables, starting with the ones and gradually progressing through the twos, threes, fours, and so on. This system worked well for some children, but many lost focus and became frustrated as the facts became harder. Also, I noticed that many children could memorize each level of the times table for a test, but did not truly retain the facts for long term application.

Then, I tried a different method that was less conventional, yet highly effective! I have now used it in my classroom for more than ten years with an extremely high success rate. The idea behind my system is that facts are presented in very small doses, with some of the harder facts first so that learning the facts feels less like an uphill climb and more like a downhill slide.

There are three things that contribute to the success rate for how I teach multiplication fact fluency.

The first (and most important in my opinion) factor in teaching multiplication fact fluency is the classroom environment that is established before starting the process. I let my students know that I believe in them. I tell them that they will succeed. I make it very clear from the start that my focus is on progress, not scores. I help them understand that failure is a part of the process and that I actually expect some degree of failure along the way. I tell them that they will all move through the stages at their own pace and that it is not a competition. I assure them that I will never be upset about a score as long as they tried their best. I encourage them to support each other along the way.

The second important factor that leads to success with multiplication fact fluency is front-loaded organization. Lots of effort and preparation at the beginning pays off immensely throughout the rest of the process. I make a file box that has color-coded storage pockets and flash cards for each level. It also contains many copies of the timed multiplication test for each level. This file box is conveniently placed on a shelf at the entrance to my classroom, where students can easily access the materials they need.

The third and final key to success is to make sure that the system practically operates without you! Set up and practice the rules of operation. If you are very clear with your expectations at the beginning, you can then let go of the control and basically allow the students to manage themselves.

Here is the way it works in my classroom. At the very beginning, I give all of my students a file folder and the first pocket with flash cards for level one. I model how to cut and fold the pocket. I show them how to write the answers in pencil on the back of the six flashcards for this first level. Then I give them a few days to practice those flashcards before taking the first timed test (timer).

Eventually, the student file folders will look like this. I show them a sample so they know what they are working toward. The students usually get excited about adding the assorted colors.

On the day of the first timer, I have each student get a level one assessment from the file box and turn it upside down on his or her desk. I have them write their name on the back of the paper, so they don’t waste time with this once the timer starts. I always give a few helpful hints and reminders to help them relax on this first day. We do a quick breathing exercise. I suggest that they skip and move on if they come to a problem they forget. They can always return to those problems if there is time at the end.

The timers look like this. There are 25 facts on each. The facts are mixed up and repeated. In my class, the requirement to move on to the next level is to get at least 24 of the 25 correct in 1 minute and 15 seconds.

After that first timer, I hold true to my word. I give them all high fives and draw big smiley faces on every paper, even the ones with only 2 or 3 correct. This one single gesture makes them all want to work really hard for the next timer. About half of the class will usually pass that first timer. I tell them that if they see a star on their paper, they should go right to the file box and get their next pocket and set of flashcards. From this point on, students add pockets and cut flashcards as a part of their homework. That way it does not take away from class time.

Here is a picture of some scored timers. Checking them actually takes very little time. Sometimes I am even able to hand back the timers on the very same day, which the kids really appreciate. A quick return rate will give them more time to study their new set of flashcards.

Ideally, I hold timed tests on Tuesdays and Fridays. It literally takes less than five minutes at the beginning of class. Sometimes I will allow time for buddy practice with flashcards during class, but it is also a part of their nightly homework. The students keep track of their own levels and get what they need out of the file box when it is time. They really can handle this independently. Take it off your plate. Of course, I oversee the process, but I very rarely need to step in. Again, it is all about the environment of trust and positivity that you have established.

Here is just a brief word about those students in your class who are especially anxious. Regardless of your methods for teaching fact fluency, you will always have those students who battle anxiety when it comes to timed tests. My best advice is to be patient and supportive. I have found that most of these kids gain confidence and feel success after they pass the first level. In some cases, I have made special accommodations for students to take the timers alone in a quiet place. I have also been flexible with the requirements for moving to the next level. Of course, as teachers we do what is best for our individual students.

After my students pass through the eight levels, I do give them a 50 fact mixed multiplication timer. They have 2 minutes and 30 seconds to complete this timer with at least 90% accuracy, which is a school district requirement. This is when all the hard work pays off. My students are almost always able to complete this requirement with ease after going through the process. We celebrate these accomplishments in class with certificates and rounds of applause. :-)

If you are ready to try something new for multiplication fact fluency in your own classroom, click here to check out the Multiplication Lapbook in my TPT store. It contains all of the printable pages that I have mentioned in this post, plus a parent explanation sheet, and a layered book that teaches basic multiplication concepts and strategies.

Having the right tools for a project always makes a challenging task seem much easier. Whichever method you use to teach fact mastery, I wish you and your students much success!

If you want to know how I use arrays to teach the concept of multiplication for understanding, check out this post. You can also download a free array workmat below. :-)


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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous
    January 19, 2016 / 5:36 pm

    Your post is so timely, Chrissie. I am working with a small group of sixth graders for the next few weeks, one period a week. These kids struggle in Math, and on the first day, we talked about why that was. Multiplication fluency came up over and over again, spoken by kids with tears in their eyes. I assured them that when we were finished, they would know their facts. After a week, I wish I could have videotaped the giggling in the room, the friendly pushing each other out of the way to get to the front of the line to be quizzed by me! Multiplication fluency is key to math success and when kids know they don't have it, it affects not only their view of math, but more importantly, their view of themselves. Kudos to you for pushing for success for all of your students!Marion

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