Number Sense Strategies & Activities for Multiplication Beginners

Last Updated on October 10, 2023 by Editorial Team

Fluency and flexibility with numbers is the simplest way to define number sense (Berch, 1998). Students need to grasp the numbers not only by their looks or sounds but in terms of what they imply.

To impart learning of the corresponding value of numbers, helping to find relationships between them, understanding number patterns, and moving on to teaching operations like addition, multiplication, subtraction, or division are some of the objectives of teaching number sense to children.

Those with learning difficulties need particular strategies to absorb and apply the concept of number sense in doing these operations. In this article, let’s focus on how to use number sense to learn about multiplication strategies.

Strategies to use number sense in enhancing multiplication skills

It is a common practice to use rote memorization and apply standard algorithms to solve a mathematical problem. This means children are asked to mug up multiplication tables – 3×1 =1, 3×2=6, and so on. However, this approach may prove not-so-friendly for a child whose brain is not wired to read and retain the multiplication concept this way. Therefore, to develop early number sense and comfort with multiplication, as a teacher, you need to consciously employ three strategies[1], which are:

1. Encouraging kids to find math in daily life situations and surroundings

In preschool days, you introduce tools like board games, manipulatives, or charts to tell the kids about numbers. Remember telling them about numbers using balls and tiles? This is nothing but teaching number sense to kids.

Moving further, you can now group these things to give an introduction to multiplication. You can make a group of balls in sets of threes and tell them about various ways to reach the answer to a multiplication problem, say 3 x 5.

2. Driving them to focus on the process rather than to jump on results

Let’s try to understand by using the examples of balls mentioned above. When you are making groups of balls in sets of three, you are actually telling the kids what 3 x 5 looks like in reality, and how they will get 15. This is what focusing on process means. Instead of using rote learning, you are telling the process. This is sure to stay with them for a long time.

3. Giving them math practice to find the proficiency level in applying strategies

Building number sense is incomplete without actually checking a student’s comfort level with it. Thus, you can make use of number sense charts and worksheets to give practice. Also available are a few number sense games that you can play with kids to test their strategy-making ability.

Activities to apply number sense strategies to teach multiplication

After having learned the strategies and their role in familiarizing students with multiplication, let’s take a look at some activities that you can do to carry further the teaching task.

1. Multiplication of the day

In a typical number sense class, Number of the Day is a common activity. This activity can be modified to Multiplication of the Day. This activity uses strategy no 2 – driving them to understand the process. For example, let’s say the multiplication of the day is = 5 x 6.

The students can make columns like Dodging Numbers, Adding, and Dividing as operations to reach the solution of 5×6. Thus, these are some of the processes they get to know to solve a simple one-digit multiplication. This activity is a better option than memorizing the table of 6 or 5.

2. Using think boards

In the think board activity, the teacher chooses a multiplication problem and makes it the center of the think board. This central part is surrounded by four zones. These zones depict strategies to solve the multiplication problem and various problems that can be conceived using the central multiplication problem.

For example, the teachers can name the zones as – Product of a x b, Addition of a ‘b’ times, Examples of a x b (they can even write word problems in examples), A common example of a x b from the surrounding. Thus, the teachers can employ strategy no 1 of taking references from surroundings to build number sense to groom the students into multiplication experts.

3. Multiplication Circles

The circle depicted below can be modified to give practice. The outermost border’s cells can be left blank. Children solve this circle by writing answers in the blank cells. This activity uses strategy no 3 – giving practice and testing the knowledge about the number sense achieved. Using number talks, teachers can also try to make students think, collaborate, and share their strategies

4. Fact Families

It is an interesting way to teach students about various multiplication properties. Children learn about ways to arrive at the solution. As a beginner in multiplication and division, the students can use this activity to learn how to create different equations using multiplication and division signs.

This activity uses number sense strategies no 2 and 3 (learn the process and practice learned concepts) mentioned above to give a fair introduction to the concept of multiplication to early learners.

To conclude,

Math skills are no less than life skills. Multiplication is a simple operation that everyone uses to speed up the addition of items, to find the area of any surface, or to find the amount of paint required to color that wall. Number sense and activities based on its teaching strategies boost fluency with numbers and turn an anxious learner into a confident one. So, employ them to make learning easier for the multiplication beginner.


  1. Yang, Der-Ching. (2005). Number sense strategies used by 6th‐grade students in Taiwan. Educational Studies. 31. 317-333. 10.1080/03055690500236845.

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