times tables without trauma
October 9, 2009 11:53 AM   Subscribe

What are some fun, quick, quirky, or otherwise compelling ways to memorize the times tables?
posted by serazin to Education (24 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
How old is the person doing the memorising?
posted by Xany at 11:56 AM on October 9, 2009

My grandpa taught me this about the "9s":
The two digits of any "9 times" answer will always add up to nine.
To get the answer, subtract one from the multiplier (not nine, the other one), that's the first number of the answer. The second number is whatever is needed to add to the first to get nine.
So, 9 times 6 equals:
6 minus 1 = 5
5 +4 =9
Answer: 54
It takes way less time to do this in your head than it does to explain. I was lousy at times tables, so this really helped!
posted by dbmcd at 11:57 AM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hold out your hands in front of you, back of the hands up, with your fingers in the air.

Put your left pinky down and keep the other fingers up. 1 x 9 = 9 --or, the number of fingers left.

Hold all ten fingers out again. This time, put down your left ring finger (or, your second finger). 2 x 9 = 18, or left pinky for the 1 and the remaining fingers for the 8.

Left middle finger (3) leaves you two fingers to the left and seven to the right -- 3 x 9 = 27.

And so on.
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:04 PM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I also was lousy at my multiplication tables, but the one I will never forget (which is very odd*) is that 7x7 = 49, just like the SF 49ers.

*odd, because at the time I wasn't a football fan at all. This rule also helped me to remember where the 49ers play.
posted by pkphy39 at 12:13 PM on October 9, 2009

When I was learning the times tables, my mom bought me Audio Memory cassette tapes. Looks like they're available on CD now but the music hasn't changed (it's still terribly, terribly cheesy). The point is for kids to put on some headphones and loop a song while they're doing something else. They'll get the tune stuck in their head, and the numbers will stick too. It's kind of subversive, but effective and maybe a little bit more fun than workbooks and such.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:20 PM on October 9, 2009

This is a job for Schoolhouse Rock.
posted by adipocere at 12:29 PM on October 9, 2009 [10 favorites]

Nthing Multiplication Rock. Music works. And although I hate using them, MANY kids do really well if you do flashcards. Not fun, but truly effective. Have them say them over and over; it's amazing how well it sticks.

And everybody loves using a whiteboard for some reason.
posted by dzaz at 12:43 PM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

There is no secret to actually memorizing the times tables. Someone wil either invest the time and patience in this or they won't. I'm assuming this doesn't need to be done overnight and you or your child has a quarter to do this in...

Flashcards, workbooks, usage and drilling are the methods. Osmosis, and musical distraction - as much as we'd like it to - is not going to actually help memorization and relation of information. If you want it as a break, music is fine - but flashcards, workbooks, usage and drilling - that's what's needed.

15 minutes at a time, three nights a week studying outloud with a parent would be helpful for any child segmenting this stuff out over a quarter. Each week, start a times table, then review the prior week.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:49 PM on October 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Fun is great and all, but most of it comes down to good old fashioned skill and drill with flashcards. You can also make games out of it. Or you could do bingo cards with numbers in a grid (I call it MATHO), and instead of calling "B-45", you'd call "4 x 9". Or you could make up riddles, and have numbers under each blank letter of the answer, with multiplication questions below. You get the idea. It's all about practise, practise, practise.
posted by Go Banana at 12:55 PM on October 9, 2009

I wish I'd known MonkeyToes's 9s trick when I was in elementary school. I always lot of trouble with my 9 times tables, and didn't learn that trick until well into college.

Schoolhouse Rock helped me learn the times tables when I was younger but they're useless to me now. But I do still know that 3 is a magic number.
posted by lilac girl at 1:23 PM on October 9, 2009

The math curriculum my kids are using (we homeschool) starts with teaching kids to skip count, by 2s to 20, 3s to 30, etc. Theoretically (my oldest hasn't gotten to multiplication yet), then once they learn the concept of multiplication, they've already got all the answers and the overall pattern available to them. The curriculum includes a DVD of skip-count songs but we haven't used it much yet.
posted by not that girl at 1:34 PM on October 9, 2009

In second grade elementary school I devised a method of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing by looking at the monthly calendar hanging on the wall at the front of the school room. Using my minds eye, I would extend the row of seven day boxes by three into a row of ten. Then, by further using my imagination I would extend the virtual rows of ten into as many as needed below the remaining rows in the month to make calculations. This worked for integers of ten or below visually... for instance I could horizontally count eight across in the grid which I visualized and then count nine down, then count all the boxes I visualized to come up with 72. Greater integers I would use the grid consecutive times to come up with the answer. Fractions and other calculations such as division I dealt with differently...I don't remember how as when my teacher caught wind of what I was doing I was quickly discouraged from doing so. If I needed to I could probably recreate my methods as it all seemed so simple at the time. A great example of how math, which is typically regarded as boring and routine, actually thrives on imagination and creativity.
posted by Oireachtac at 1:48 PM on October 9, 2009

Not a technique, but an incentive to memorize: when I was a kid, my teacher made construction paper ice cream cones and pasted them up around the classroom. Each child had their own cone. Similarly make construction paper "scoops" of ice cream for each number (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) and when a child is able to orally dictate the 1 times table, they get a "1" scoop on their cone. If they make it all the way up to whatever highest number you are trying to teach, they get ice cream with their lunch the next day. Can be adapted to any kind of treat. It worked well because what kid doesn't love a) being rewarded with a treat, and b) having the tallest cone of the class.
posted by Gonestarfishing at 1:48 PM on October 9, 2009

Square One had a song about the 9s trick which is now in my head (though it never really left in the first place).
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:50 PM on October 9, 2009

I don't think this particularly helped me to memorize them in the first place (rote memorization, flash cards, etc should take care of that), but the game "Buzz" is a great way to reinforce it. Basically you go around in a circle (or back and forth, depending on how many people are playing) and count upwards from one. The catch is that when you reach a number that is a multiple of x (x being a number that is announced at the beginning -- for some reason I remember mostly playing with 3), or that contains x as a digit, you must say "Buzz" instead of the number itself. So for three the game would be:

1, 2, buzz, 4, 5, buzz, 7, 8, buzz, 10, 11, buzz, buzz, 14, etc.

If you fail to say buzz, you're out (or accrue a strike, or whatever). Just be aware of the number of people playing the game... x=4 can be boring for some when playing with an even number of people, for example.
posted by telegraph at 1:54 PM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Stating the obvious but:

12 took a long time to settle in for me, it's great up to 48, because the second number is just double whatever the first number is. And 60 is easy because it's just half of 12x10. But after that it's just rote memorisation, which I'm not a big fan of.

11 was so much fun: it's just the number twice! Awesome! (I know, I know, only up to 99.)

10 is the easiest, you just add a zero. But, I must confess that as a kid I didn't realise this. I can still remember the conversation (I must have been 5 or 6) with my dad, he bursted out in frustration "What do you mean you don't know, this is the easiest one of all, you just add a zero at the end." He was frustrated because I was doing fine with all the other ones and then he said that I remember thinking "what does he mean you just... oh my god, he's right."

9's have been well covered although my method was to just multiply y by 10 and then take y away. (Also, the whole 'adds up to 9 thing doesn't really work past 10 - it does kind of, but not really.)

8's were always hard for me, never had a system so I just had to rely on having a few that I knew really well and I'd work from there: 8x6=8x5 (I know this one) + 8.

7's were easy up to 28 because it reminded me of days of the week (ie I had another motivation/reference for remembering them), then 7x5 was easy because it was just half of 70, 7x7, like all squares was just one that I memorised (everyone should memorise their squares), and so on.

6's were just multiplying y by 5 and adding y.

5's were great: multiply by 10 and then divide by 2 (or the other way around of course).

4's were systemless, but basicall boiled down to doubling the number and then doubling it again.

3's I actually know by my system for the other number, rather than having a system for all of the 3's. So, it's just triple whatever the number is.

And 2's are just double the number (just like the 3's are triple).

Good luck.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 2:26 PM on October 9, 2009

Multiplication wrap ups and the wrap up rap.
posted by Jahaza at 4:56 PM on October 9, 2009

"8x8 fell on the floor, picked it up and it was 64"

I thought this rhyme was idiotic back in the third grade and dammit, it has been with me ever since.

Ahem. Yeah, Schoolhouse Rock will get the job done right quick.
posted by Flannery Culp at 5:25 PM on October 9, 2009

WOAH. 23skidoo, why weren't you there when I was learning times tables?

This is good, also, start at the top and work down, it is exciting to learn something new, but by the time you get to the 8s it's boring.
posted by titanium_geek at 7:52 PM on October 9, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks guys! Excellent suggestions!

I'm actually trying to learn them with my kid. I know most of them, but never learned them all, and my kid goes to a super alternative (hippy) school where the math curriculum is unlikely to include any rote memorization. I love the school and I think she's learning math in a fun, wholistic way, but having lived 35 years without having memorized these, I am positive that there's a benefit to her to just know them by heart, so I want to work on them at home.

I noticed from these comments that people seem to learn them at different ages. Does anyone think 7 is too young to start?
posted by serazin at 8:56 AM on October 10, 2009

Response by poster: Or even, "holistic". Clearly I never learned to spell either.
posted by serazin at 8:57 AM on October 10, 2009

7 isn't too young to start -- kids are lucky in having those malleable brains where memorizing is so. much. easier.

Nthing the power of Schoolhouse Rock. Try to find the movie too for the visual reinforcement.
posted by fantine at 7:13 PM on October 10, 2009

7 isn't too young to start. Get through them and its a good first step. Don't expect them to be memorized in a year. Re-use and reapplication is important and its a good idea to refresh them to complete memorization in middle school.

And yes, memorizing your timestables will even help a hippie in school somewhere down the line. Critical thinking + an analytical understanding of mathematics makes for someone who can backup their convictions with facts as well as actions.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:45 AM on October 12, 2009

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