Tic Tac Toe..All Your Multiples in a Row - Math Coach's Corner

Tic Tac Toe..All Your Multiples in a Row

Written by Donna Boucher

Donna has been a teacher, math instructional coach, interventionist, and curriculum coordinator. A frequent speaker at state and national conferences, she shares her love for math with a worldwide audience through her website, Math Coach’s Corner. Donna is also the co-author of Guided Math Workshop.

We’ve all had them. Those kiddos who understand the process for multi-digit multiplication problems, but miss them anyway because they don’t know their facts and guess incorrectly. Because if I think 6 x 7 = 41, I’m going to miss 36 x 27 no matter how well I know the process. Here are a couple of suggestions.

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First, include strategy-based instruction and practice in your classroom. A great resource for that is Mastering the Basic Math Facts in Multiplication and Division: Strategies, Activities & Interventions to Move Students Beyond Memorization. This helps students understand, for example, how knowing 6 x 6 can help them efficiently determine 6 x 7 (6 x 7 is one more group of 6, or 36 + 6). Or that 6 x 7 (42) is just double 3 x 7 (21). Admittedly, this is a long-term solution and, at this point, won’t help much on the test next Tuesday.

So my second suggestion involves teaching students a strategy for listing out the multiples or facts for numbers they are unsure of. Two such strategies are illustrated below. The Tic Tac Toe strategy involves listing the multiples in a tic tac toe type format. I was introduced to this strategy by one of my amazing 4th-grade teachers. She explained that when they first showed the strategy to the kiddos, they had them number the boxes with a small 1 to 9 in the lower right-hand corner of each box. Now that the students are familiar with the process, they just write the multiples. Another great idea, courtesy of a fellow math coach, is to make a T Chart, as shown below.

Which brings me to another topic. This week I coined what I think is a new phrase: mathematical work ethic. For these strategies to be effective, students have to actually do them. In other words, they have to be self-reflective and determined enough to say, Hey, I don’t know my 7s, but I want to get this problem right. I’d better draw a tic tac toe box. I’ve heard lots of teachers say they can’t make students show work or use strategies. No, but you can teach them the importance of hard work and help develop their mathematical work ethic. I’ve been in many classrooms this year where I’ve heard teachers constantly refer to their students as mathematicians and remind students of how mathematicians attend to precision, communicate to others about their work, defend their solutions, and persevere in solving problems. Sound familiar? Yes, those are the Mathematical Practices. But the key is that these teachers talk about and emphasize them on a regular basis!

I’d love to hear your comments. How do you develop the mathematical work ethic of your students??

UPDATE:  Head over to this blog post for a tic-tac-toe multiplication freebie!



  1. SiouxGeonz

    I *love* the idea of facilitating that work ethic. If you approach it that way, you’re not saying “your punishment for not knowing your sevens is that you have to copy them…” but you’re saying “okay, you’re not there yet… but there are different ways of getting there.” So it’s more than talking — because if you’re hte kiddo who doesn’t know the 7’s, you’re thinking (( well, let my little invisible self stay invisible ’cause you ain’t talkin’ to me )) … but if you stick that tic tac toe stuff up on the wall and put smileys next to the students’ version of the tic tac toe or the T chart…

    • Donna Boucher

      ABSOLUTELY!! What a masterful way to explain how to turn something negative into a positive. Thank you so much for sharing your insight!

    • caster

      My students know that Ms. B is going to ask them, “What strategy did you use to solve that?” It has taken them a while to understand that the strategies aren’t tricks but sound mathematical thinking. The persistence and effort doesn’t come easily but they have crossed over to thinking of themselves as math thinkers instead of lucky math problem solvers.

  2. Pam Hamilton

    Well, this is awesome! I can’t wait to use it with my skip counting songs tomorrow!!!!


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