If you don’t teach times tables early and well in Key Stage 2, you’re just storing up problems for the Year 6 teacher trying to prepare pupils for KS2 SATs.

A recurring theme across Mathematics teaching in primary schools is the lack of instant recall of times tables and multiplication. This needs to be embedded by Year 4 really in order to develop the instant recall that pupils can then start practising for the next 2 years.

And as the new Times Tables Tests look set to come in, the need to find better and potentially more engaging ways to teach your KS2 pupils their times tables becomes ever more pressing.

Increase in multiplication and division word problems in KS2 SATs

And all this at a time when many of the end of Year 6 Key Stage 2 SATs test questions seem to necessitate the use of multiplication facts and related division facts by the children in order for them to simplify complex questions.

This post guides you through strategies and structures you can put in place across your school to help teach times tables effectively for KS1 and KS2 and achieve the goal of instant recall across all multiplication tables.

We’ve also included a free Times Tables Termly Planner to help you plan your times tables strategy for each year group.

Developing pupils’ reasoning and understanding for instant recall

If we can develop children’s working memory with greater reasoning and understanding, there will be an increased transition to their long term memory and times tables can become an instantly recallable fact.

All children need to go through these cognitive steps in order to achieve this. Some will only need a light touch whilst some will need significantly longer on particular points. If you are back tracking with upper KS2 children, this is where you need to go back to:

Teach times tables facts first

1. Repeated addition

4 x 5 is the same as 5 + 5 + 5 + 5. 

Children need experience of using concrete manipulatives such as counters or multilink cubes and pictorial representations of objects, forming arrays.

2. Multiplication is commutative

4 x 5 is the same as 5 x 4.

Children build on their existing understanding using arrays, turning the arrays around to show that you now have 5 groups of 4 and they will still total 20. This can then be linked to recalling multiplication facts, i.e. if they know their 5 times table as facts but not their 4 times table, they can use 4 x 5 to work out 5 x 4. This link needs to be made explicit.

3Multiplication is the inverse of division

20 ÷ 5 = 4 can be worked out because 5 x 4 = 20.

Again, the use of arrays is key. Children need experience of pulling arrays apart into groups or sharing. After basic experience has been gained, the children should start to ‘see’ an array structure as 5 groups of 4 equal 20 and 20 can be split into 5 groups of 4.

4. Number families

4 x 5 = 20, 5 x 4 = 20, 20 ÷ 5 = 4, 20 ÷ 4 = 5

Due to their commutative understanding, by now children should also be able to see whole number families. For many children this will need to be pointed out and discussed. Most children will be able to explore this in its abstract form but if in doubt, go back to arrays.

From here it is only a short jump to understanding that any missing number can be worked out through knowledge of number families, e.g. 4 x [ ] = 20 or [ ] ÷ 4 = 5. There are other methods children can use to work out missing numbers but our goal is to increase working memory in order to increase instant recall from long term memory. Being able to bounce around a number family will achieve that.

CPD AND SCHOOL STRATEGY free

KS1 & 2 Times Tables Termly Planner

Term by term breakdown of the national curriculum expectations for times tables at KS1 and KS2 and strategies for teaching each year

1,2,3… Counting is key

Counting will start before beginning to develop understanding and reasoning but will continue long after, until all times tables can be counted through sequentially at speed.

Ensure counting in 2s begins with concrete manipulatives such as shoes, socks, hands etc before moving on to using counters or other manipulatives. Whenever starting children counting in a new amount, such as counting in 8s, children should be given the opportunity to see visually what that looks like to reinforce 4 x 8 looks quite big compared to 4 x 6. They can then look for patterns such as 4 x 8 is the same as 4 x 4, doubled.

Drilling the times tables

Some drilling is inevitable when developing counting, initially alongside concrete and pictorial manipulatives but quickly moving to chanting ‘3 times 7 is 21, 4 times 7 is 28’ etc. Children should by now be used to representing numbers in different ways, for example a counter could represent 1, 2, 5, or 10. Once children are secure with this, fingers can be used to count quickly in any multiplication table.

What about the  11 x and 12 x? Get children make two fists and begin at 11 x with one finger up, two fingers up for 12 x, supported by their place value understanding.

Times tables around your school

Counting sequences should be highly visible everywhere!

  • If you have steps, commission a student artist to paint ‘6, 12, 18…’ on each step in a mural style
  • Have some appropriate sequences visible in your hall and rather than entering and exiting assemblies in silence, replace with chanting
  • Set up year group counting sequences linked to the times table expectations in each classroom
  • It’s a good idea to include counting sequences linked to the national curriculum for counting – this is different from recall of multiplication facts expectations, for example Year 2 are expected to count in 3s.  Don’t forget to keep the previous year’s sequences up too to support those that need more time to consolidate counting sequences?
  • Keep it engaging – Bruno Reddy’s Rolling Numbers activity is a must watch video for this

Deeper understanding of multiplication facts and times tables

For children with small working memories, frequently children with special educational needs, being able to count quickly and accurately will give them an appropriate alternative to instant recall, as long as it is underpinned with reasoning and understanding. However these children can often then struggle to convert the ability to count rapidly into being able to instantly recall facts. By working on children’s deeper understanding of what multiplication is, how it is related to division and number families you should be able to address this.

Step-by-step how to teach instant recall across all times tables

Not all children will need the suggested structure below, however it will help those who struggle to convert quick counting into instantly recallable facts.

The example is for the 6 times table but the principle can be applied to any.

  1. Fire just 1 x 6, 2 x 6, 5 x 6, 10 x 6 at them first. This will build up on their most secure existing table facts
  2. Add in 3 x 6, 4 x 6 when step 1 is frequently recalled correctly and instantly
  3. Build up with 6 x 6, 7 x 6, 8 x 6
  4. When looking at 9 x 6, 11 x 6 and 12 x 6, children should:
  5. Look at finding 10 x 6 and adjust
  6. Be guided to remember what the last 2 numbers were in the sequence they learnt (66, 72)
  7. Add in related division facts. For some children, this step can be integrated from step 1 onwards. For others, they will need time to develop recall of multiplication facts first before adding this in.

When giving children quick fire questions to recall, particularly in the early stages of each multiplication table, ensure they are given the opportunity to see the calculation rather than just hear it orally.

Children should be encouraged to quickly count using their fingers to assist them with prompt questions such as ‘6 x 7, we did that a minute ago, can you remember what it was?

Recommended technology for quick fire recall

Quick fire recall is the perfect opportunity to involve technology as there is little more value a teaching assistant or teacher can give other than asking the above style ‘nudging’ question. Traditionally, these packages support those who are quick to pick up tables pick them up even quicker whilst having limited impact on those who struggle.

However, this pattern is changing and there are innovative packages out there that will support all learners. When picking which your school should use, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What added value will this give compared to randomly firing out questions?
  • Will the package support children who are not yet secure at counting?
  • Will the package allow me to adapt what is set to match each child’s needs?
  • Is the package accessible at home and from all types of devices?

Two of the most popular options out there, both inexpensive, are Times Tables Rockstars and Hit the Button. For more options and recommended resources, download the free KS1 / KS2 Times Tables Planner.

Achieving the goal of instant times tables recall

Putting the above steps in place and creating a focus on recall throughout your school will minimise the number of children entering upper Key Stage 2 without a secure grounding of recall times tables facts. There are 2 additional structural steps that will take this to the next level which I’ve detailed below.

Homework

Get counting and developing recall facts for multiplication tables in as an essential ‘little and often’ part of homework along the same lines all schools expect with Reading. Research says at primary age, it is this kind of homework that has the potential to make the most difference. Engage parents and inform them of the steps you’re using.

Catch up support for those who struggle with recall

Even with all the above in place, a (much smaller) percentage of children will still struggle to recall times table facts. For those with special education needs inhibiting working and long term memory, counting at speed is a realistic point at which to switch focus to other areas of need within Mathematics.

For other struggling learners, try giving them additional time outside English and Maths lessons to secure counting at speed and to push an increasing number of quick fire questions and answers towards long term memory.

In many cases this can be achieved as a frequent morning activity or during assemblies. A Teaching Assistant can support, or if the right technology package is chosen, simply giving them more time to access could be all that is required.

Finally, for children who are really having difficulty, nothing beats sitting down and going through them 1-to-1.

Read this: 20 maths strategies that we use in our teaching to guarantee progress for any KS2 pupil

Looking for more support to teach times tables at KS2?

Third Space Learning’s Maths specialists will work one-to-one with whichever of your pupils need it. Catch-up one-to-one interventions can help to quickly diagnose and address learning gaps.

Pete Richardson , Deputy Headteacher , Walton Le Dale Primary School

Pete is a passionate convert to a mastery approach, blending the best of Singapore, Shanghai & home grown pedagogy. He blogs for Third Space on Mastery, & more!