Change Up the Way You Teach the Times Tables

Times Tables Make Sense

Times Tables like you’ve never seen before! I’ve written a graphic novel series with a new system for teaching the times tables.

The new system would be a good one for adult students–it teaches for understanding, the exercises match the method, and it allows for the fact that our students often are not good at rote memory work and timed tests.

A kids’ book for adult students?

So how could you use this method with adult students, even though the book is written for 7-9 year olds?

Download Book 1 FREE from December 1 to December 5, 2022. Check it out here.

The ideal situation might be to work with a group of parents and guardians, and offer a mini course in helping their kids with the times tables, and carry on as I suggest below. Most instructors, however, won’t have that ideal situation. Still, many adult students have children in their lives who might be learning the times tables, or struggling with other math because they aren’t fluent or confident in their ability to remember the tables. Adults might be willing to learn a new method to help those kids.

You will meet resistance

Nearly every student, whether they have kids in their lives or not, will resist a new way of learning that doesn’t look like the one they remember from their elementary school years. You will have to overcome that resitance or it will kill your chances of success. I wrote about overcoming resistance here, but here’s a brief outline.

  1. Acknowledge their resistance to trying something new. Get the resistance out in the room where you can deal with it.
  2. Generate a list with them of all the ways they’ve tried to learn the tables–flashcards, chanting, timed tests, diagrams, silly rhymes, and so on.
  3. Talk about each item on the list. Did it work? Which aspects were useful? not useful? How did they feel aobut each one?
  4. Evaluate the list. Was there a clear winner or loser? Does anyone know a sure-fire way of learning the times tables? (They will not know of a totally successful way, if they are taking remedial math with you…)
  5. Take this moment to offer a possible solution. Talk about the new method you are proposing, the advantages you see of this method over the others, what kind of work is involved, how you and they will be able to tell if it’s working, etc.
  6. Make them a proposal: They agree to try the new method for three weeks. At the end of that time, there will be an evaluation of the new method. Then they will decide whether or not to continue. You agree to go along with their decision, whatever it is.
  7. If they accept the proposal, you are good to go.

Getting Started

First ask everyone to download book 1 of the series. It’s Free from December 1 to December 5 inclusive. This may require time and individual help.

Set up the activities Spot does in the first few pages of the book–doubling a page of newspaper, doubling beans in a muffin tin or egg carton. Do the activities with the students.

Download and print the free exercises that accompany the book. (Show What You Know!) Give them to your students as Spot tells you to, or as you think they will work best.

Practice doubling. Every day, give students a number and ask them to double it and keep on doubling. (2, 4, 8, 16, 32…). Practice different numbers every day. (2, 4, 8, 5, 10, at first, then 3, 7, 9.) You can ask them to do it at the board to allow for easier consultation, or do it in pairs or individually at their desks. They can get the answers by mental math, or with a pencil (or chalk if they are at the board). Notice as they get faster and more automatic.

Read book 1 with the students. As you flip the pages, ask them to use base 10 blocks to show the ideas Spot is working on. The exercises in Show What You Know! repeat and expand these ideas.

Focus on evaluating the book. Do they think it would help kids learn? Have they tried reading it with any kids? How did it go? Are the jokes funny? How are they connected to the math Spot is teaching? Does Spot talk down to the kids? How does he show respect for the kids?


At the end of a week, have a little conversation about how it’s going so far. Anything they particularly like? Dislike? Use the answers to tweak your presentation.

At the end of the third week, do a thorough evaluation. Ask students what information they want the evaluation to give them, and generate some questions to get that information. Be sure to name what information you need, and geneerate some questions with them to get it. Assemble the questions into an evaluation form, and ask everyone to fill it out.

Share the answers with all the students, noting what works and what doesn’t work, and what works for some and not others. Discuss and let class decide if they will proceed with Spot’s method, or not.

Their decision is final

You must abide by their decision. If they say no, don’t cajole, don’t ask why, don’t whine. If you have finished Book 1 with them in the 3 weeks (depending on how often you see them) you will have broken the back of the tables, at least.

If they say yes, you are in the clear. Full speed ahead.

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