How to Introduce Multiplication to Your Students

It’s one of the most exciting times in third grade. Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with sports, holidays, class competitions, or even a snow day. Insert 🎵It’s the most wonderful time of the year🎵 song here. No, it isn’t holiday related, remember? It’s something third graders get really excited about each year. And honestly, not just third graders. I’ve had kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders all get excited about this same topic. As a student, for some reason when you learn this concept, it takes you to a whole new level of “big kid.” I’m sure by reading this you already have an idea in your head of what this concept is (if ya know, ya know). It’s multiplication!

I can guarantee that everyone, or at least 99.9% of people, that have worked in a school setting with young children have heard things like “Guess what?! I know my times tables!” or have heard students arrogantly telling others things like “Guess what I know?! Two times two is four,” or “One times three is three.” Yes, even those kinder babies proudly puff their chest out if they’ve memorized one multiplication fact and can recite it. The truth is, kids think they know how to multiply way before they actually know how to multiply.

So how do you introduce and teach a concept to students that you probably didn’t conceptually learn for yourself?  Simply memorizing a bazillion facts and taking anxiety-driven timed tests are quickly becoming a way of the past. Sheesh, I’m telling my age, aren’t I? The good news is there are several conceptual ways (and snack-related ways) to introduce multiplication before diving into memorization and fact practice.

1. Create an Anchor Chart That Shows Conceptual Strategies

Create an anchor chart with conceptual strategies to display in your classroom. Strategies can include repeated addition, equal groups, arrays, and skip counting. This is a great way to introduce multiplication and it can be left up throughout the year for students to use as a resource.

Creating an anchor chart for your students is one of the many ways to introduce multiplication.

2. Review Repeated Addition

Students learn repeated addition concepts in second grade, which makes a great review and starting point for introducing multiplication in third grade. It also ties in perfectly to equal groups, which is another introductory strategy to teach multiplication.

3. Create Equal Groups

Ok, what was that about equal groups? This is where the fun and the food really begin! You could teach equal groups weeks in a row and students would never get bored because the food and snack options are endless! M&M’s, Cheez-Its, Skittles, gummy bears, marshmallows. Also, what about all of those real-life connections?! The possibilities are never-ending! Sorry, I got side-tracked. I love the food and fun – I mean multiplication – as much as the kids do! Ok, let’s get back on track.

When introducing equal groups, I like to teach students that the “x” symbol means “groups of.”  When they read an equation such as 2 x 7, I want them to replace the x with the words “groups of” at first, making the equation read as “2 groups of 7.” This makes it easier for students to form equal groups in their models and drawings.

When introducing multiplication, you can use snacks to teach that the "x" symbol means "groups of."

4. Introduce Multiplication by Skip Counting

This is a biggie for certain multiplication facts, and it ties in perfectly to equal groups and repeated addition. Students learn after labeling groups that they can just skip count to find the product. They do, however, also learn that skip counting is more efficient with facts like 5s and 10s and not so much 6s or 7s.

5. Arrays

There is an array of ways to teach arrays. Was that a little too teacher-corny or did it make you chuckle like it did me? In all seriousness, there are many activities you can do when teaching arrays. Array cities, using muffin pans, Q-tips, and dot paint. The main thing with teaching arrays is making students aware that it’s an equal amount of rows and columns and the definitions of each, since student easily confuse rows and columns. I always used the chant  “rows sit small but columns stand tall.” Use gestures if you use a chant. It helps the learning “stick.”

6. Using Proper Vocabulary

This one isn’t necessarily a strategy or meant to be isolated but instead tied in with all previous strategies.  Students need to know parts of the equations and the correct terminology from the very beginning. Give definitions for factors, products, and multiples (4th grade teachers will thank you) right from the get-go. Be intentional about using that vocabulary when teaching arrays, equal groups, skip counting, etc. and showing students where those numbers are in the models. Also, use language (yes, it’s my love language because I’m a math nerd) like number of groups, number of items in a group, and the total amount in a group. This helps students when leading into division concepts.

Ok, so I usually post resources that directly correlate with a specific strategy that I just discussed. But my Intro to Multiplication Strategies , Multiplication Task Cards , and Escape Rooms correlate with everything I’ve mentioned above! Talk about a one-stop shop! The prep work needed to introduce multiplication is already done for you. Am I speaking your love language yet? Yes, I thought so! Now the only thing left to do is choose your favorite manipulative or food item. Or two, or three, or four!

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