Do you have students in your 4th-6th grade class who just can’t seem to master their multiplication facts? No matter what you try (flashcards, incentives, computer based programs), they just can’t get past their 5s (and are shaky with their 3s and 4s)? I have always had several students in my classrooms over the years that really struggled memorizing and recalling their multiplication facts so I feel your pain if you are in this situation. It can be very frustrating, to say the least.
I knew I needed something other than my go-to flashcards, so I researched a few multiplication facts strategies and finally found one that I knew would help my students.
Using the Distributive Property of Multiplication to Master Multiplication Facts
I will tell you that it is not a “quick fix” strategy.
However, this is a “I have got to be able to figure out what 7 x 8 is to solve this multi-digit problem, and I don’t have time to draw a picture of 7 circles with 8 dots inside each circle.” Yes, I literally have students in 5th grade who resort to this each year. And I also have had students who just sit there for several minutes because they don’t know 7 x 8 and were not taught any strategies to help them figure it out.
I knew I had to change something the year I had half of my class not mastering their math facts in 5th grade.
This particular strategy that I tried (and used with success) has the students using the distributive property of multiplication, with a bit of additional scaffolding and support.When I first introduced this strategy to my struggling multiplication students, I immediately saw light bulbs go off. They were deepening their understanding of multiplication and feeling confident because they were able to solve the problem.
Basically, the students use what they know (their 1s, 2s, and 5s) to determine the answer, using the distributive property of multiplication. Here is an example:
The student in the above example knows that 5 x 8 = 40, and 2 x 8 = 16, so the two products added together give you 56, which is the answer to 7 x 8. Writing out their known facts (1s, 2s, 5s) provides extra support and scaffolding that many of my students needed.
When I first introduced this strategy to my students, I did a lot of conceptual talking about the numbers and even manipulatives to ensure they understood the concept. When talking about the equation, I would say 7 groups of 8 (versus 7 times 8). Then when I refer them to their “known facts: 1s, 2s, and 5s,” I would say something like: “You need 7 groups of 8. Which of your known facts will give you the largest amount of groups, without going over what you need?”
After the student picks 5 x 8 (or 5 groups of 8) we talk about how many more groups are needed to make 7 groups, etc. Then we talk about why adding the products works. I really try to get them to conceptually understand why this strategy works. It keeps them from making mistakes, and eventually leads to quicker thinking and using those benchmark fractions that students with strong number sense can do. (i.e. I know that 6 x 8 = 48, so I just need another group of 8 to find 7 x 8)
Here is an example of one of my student’s work when he used this strategy for 9 x 6. He marked out the 5 x 6 after he used it because he knew that he could not use it again. He then used the 2 x 6 twice. Eventually, the students will begin to make connections between the numbers and do 5 x 6 and 4 x 6, but this will take some time.
As I mentioned earlier, this does take a bit of time, but the students will gain fluency with it. They also will learn to do this without the need to write the list of known facts each time. This multiplication strategy also works well at building their number sense and conceptual understand of multiplication.
Click here to grab your copy of the poster shown in this post as well as a few printables that I use when teaching this strategy.
Need some multi-digit multiplication resources for your 5th graders? Click here to see my Multiplication Resource pack that includes teaching posters, self-checking printables, centers, task cards, and assessments for multi-digit multiplication.