Tackling Tables with Tackling Tables

24 February 2018

Author: Martin Stephens, Fairfield Primary Academy

Martin Stephens is a year 6 teacher at Fairfield Primary Academy who came to teaching three years ago after nearly 20 years working in the media. As well as his class duties he also has responsibility for data gathering and analysis in school. In this blog, he shares with us his journey in exploring a new approach to teaching times tables, taking us through his own journey of implementing the evidence in his own school and how it’s moved his practice forward.


I remember my days at primary school reciting my times tables every week. When we were able to do all 12 fluently there was a special treat – to learn your 13s. I can still recall 7 x 13 and have offered the same treat to those children in my class who are secure in all their tables.

It was only when I came to teach maths that I fully realised the importance of the quick recall of times tables to so much of the curriculum. Almost every maths lesson I watched some children struggle, not with the maths we were learning, long multiplication for example, where they understood the concept – but with simple times tables such as 3 x 8. Children saying, “I don’t know my eights,” was common. Some of the children also seemed to ‘get’ multiplication facts but when faced with the inverse, for simplification of fractions etc, slowed right down.

As I was wandering the aisles of the Education Show at the NEC last year my eye was caught by a card sitting on a stand. It had a large number in the middle, 42, and then in the top left and bottom right corner the number 6 and 7 respectively. In 30 seconds of conversation with Dennis and Margi I understood the concept and potential of Tackling Tables.

What the couple have developed is a really simple but highly engaging ‘game’ that allows children to practise their tables. It also recognises the importance of both multiplication and division. Going back to that first card, if I cover the 42, I am then left with 6 and 7 showing – I multiply the two together to get my answer. Dennis and Margi suggest that children are given three seconds (elephants in my class) to give the answer. If they do, they get the card, and if not they are shown the answer and it goes to the back of the pack. If the same card is shown but the 7 is covered then the child has to do 42 divided by 6 with the same time restriction. The game can be played in pairs but children love to play it in a three with a question master and the other two competing to be the quickest to call out the answer. The questioner swaps roles so everyone gets a turn but even while asking the questions children are being exposed to the multiplication and division facts.

maths cards

The card I picked up had green numbers and a green back and I asked why some cards were blue, some green and some red. It was explained that blue cards were for the year 2 expectations of 1, 2, 5 and 10 times tables: in total 42 cards. Green cards were for year 3: the 3s, 4s and 8s but rather than the expected 36 cards there were only 22 because for example 1×3, 2×3, 5×3 and 10×3 were already known from the blue stage. The red cards meet the year 4 expectations of all times tables adding 6s, 7s, 9s, 11s and 12s but again, despite there being five tables to learn there are only 15 new cards as all other facts are already known from the blue and green stages.

maths cards 2

During the conversation at the show I asked how progress data was tracked within the programme and it was explained that there were really clear OFF tracking sheets that could be completed by teachers after each of the weekly tests. I asked if there was an electronic version of the tracking and from that question an opportunity for collaboration and research has grown.

I returned to Fairfield and showed the card from the show to Miss Stacey. Her reaction was very similar to mine and a few weeks later Dennis and Margi came to Fairfield and we agreed to roll Tackling Tables out across the school and to gather and share progress data on a tracking sheet that I would build, allowing Dennis and Margi to share with their other customers.

Whole school playing of the card game for 5-10 minutes as day and regular tests (100 questions in 5 minutes) were started in September. Children were baselined and tested at their level, doing both multiplication and division tests. The scoring of tests makes preparing progress data very easy as blue test are scored to 100, green 101 to 200 and red 201 to 300.

At the start and end of the half term children take a mixed multiplication and division test at the age-related expectation. In year 2 this is blue, year 3 green and 4-6 red.

Once a child has achieved the level expected for their year group there are extension materials to deepen understanding. Some of my year 6 children are now completing 100 percentage, decimal and fraction questions in five minutes.

The data below summarises the progress in each year group in the Autumn term. Average points progress are shown for multiplication, division and mixed (ARE) tests. 60 points progress would as an example see a children move from scoring 75 on the blue test to 35 (recorded as 135) on the green test.


Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Year 6
Group X ÷ Mix X ÷ Mix X ÷ Mix X ÷ Mix X ÷ Mix
All 47 42 20 42 20 7 62 53 16 93 70 20 98 105 30
Disad. 44 35 21 35 21 6 36 20 12 70 59 14 100 85 27
Not Disad. 47 43 21 43 21 7 68 46 17 98 87 22 95 110 32
SEND 24 27 16 27 16 3 16 9 10 41 44 8 86 86 11
Not SEND 51 45 22 45 22 8 68 43 17 100 85 22 100 104 32
Boys 45 41 19 41 19 6 55 36 13 103 93 23 87 90 29
Girls 48 43 23 43 23 8 68 44 19 84 70 17 110 114 32


Table show points progress between first test of the year and final half term test in Autumn 2 in multiplication (X), division (÷) and mixed tests for each year group.


% Children at ARE at the end of Autumn 2

Year 2 – 0% (Average Score 28 from 6 at start of year)

Year 3 – 0% (Average Score 118 from 111 at start of year)

Year 4 – 4% (Average Score 229 from 212 at start of year)

Year 5 – 12% (Average Score 247 from 227 at start of year)

Year 6 – 16% (Average Score 258 from 235 at start of year)


Data will continue to be gathered over the year and reviewed each half term to assess what can be done to push progress overall and in specific groups. Parent packs of the cards are available and these have been given to disadvantaged pupils at the school with parents offered training on playing the game. At this stage we are really pleased with the progress across the year groups. The very strong progress in year six reflects a real push to get the children fluent with their multiplication and division facts. Our current year 2 children will be the first to sit the tables test in 2019 so we are hopeful that this focus and the whole school use of Tackling Tables will give them a great start.

Having been wowed by the simplicity and really high level of engagement from the children in response to the game it was interesting, reading Barak Rosenshine’s (2012) article outlining the key principles of instruction, to see how many of these the ‘simple’ idea addresses. In the summary showing 17 principles of effective instruction, the ‘game’ offers: the opportunity for new material to be introduced in small steps with ample opportunity for practice; limits the amount of new material introduced at one time; has clear instructions; asks questions and offers an easy way for answers to be checked; is very active; guides students clearly; provides instant feedback with many examples and the opportunity to reteach/relearn preparing students for independent practice and use of what they have learnt. In the article Rosenshine states “The best way to become an expert is through practice. The more the practice, the better the performance.” Jo Boaler (2015), outlines research that shows the benefits of developing number sense rather than just remembering multiplication and division facts, suggesting game-based activities based around the seeing and understanding of patterns might be more effective than those based around speed and testing.

It is also interesting to consider the ‘game’ element and theories based around simplicity and engagement that are applied to apps such as Tetris (perhaps showing my age there) and Candy Crush. The tables game is quick to learn and provides a simple way to hook players in. Children actively want to play it and groan when it is time to move on. In an interesting article on gamification in education David (2016) considers the applying of game related principles to learning outlining elements such as immediate feedback, fun, mastery (moving through levels) and progress indicators as some key ways to motivate and engage learners.

Though Tackling Tables has regular tests to assess children’s progress it is the regular playing of the game that we believe is having the positive impact on the children’s knowledge of both multiplication and division facts.

maths steps

The staircases at each end of the school have had the tables using the Tackling Tables colours added to them.

For further information:

Article in Primary Mathematics – Spring 2018 pages 32-35

Tackling Tables website

Helping children learn through a proportionate primary assessment system, DfE

School’s Week Article ‘DfE Announce Multiplication Times Tables Check

Don’t forget our other blog entry on Facing the Multiplication Tables Check.



David, L., (2016) “Gamification in Education,” in Learning Theories, January 26, 2016, https://www.learning-theories.com/gamification-in-education.html.

Rosenshine, B., (2012) “Principles of Instruction; Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know”, American Educator, v36 n1 p12-19, 39 Spring 2012. Boaler, J., 2015. Fluency without fear: Research evidence on the best ways to learn math facts. https://www.youcubed.org/evidence/fluency-without-fear/

Posted on 24 February 2018
Posted in: Blog, Evidence
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