Iconic Numbers Game – Real Multiplication Tables

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Iconic numbers are often misunderstood in our classes. For many of us iconic numbers are so obvious, so… well… iconic, that we don’t pay much conscious attention to them. We all know that a motorcycle has 2 wheels. Which might explain extra attention paid to 3-wheel trikes whenever they pass us by (not too often).

So why even care about iconic numbers. The short answer is they help children develop their number sense.

Why Iconic Numbers Games

Working with a group of numbers as a whole is a prerequisite for building our number system, which is based on groups of ten. Grouping smaller numbers and using iconic numbers for easy recognition provides a scaffold for working with tens, and of course for multiplication.

Also, it’s rather fun to try and find all times tables facts in more-or-less iconic form. You might become strangely addicted to this game. Just try to find an iconic 3*5. One of the excellent suggestions we received for it was “fingers and toes of a pirate”!

Math We Make in This Game

  • Iconic groups of iconic numbers
  • Artistic times tables
  • Pictures of ourselves with iconic multiplication
BIG Math Concept

Iconic numbers, multiplication

BUZZ Words

  • Group
  • Multiplication
  • Bonus word Unitizing is the ability to work with a group of numbers as a whole unit. Our number system is based on units of ten. Cards, dominoes and dice make it easy for players to unitize, because counters are organized in patterns. Iconic numbers help to unitize.

How to Play With Iconic Multiplication Tables


Look for iconic groups with the same quantity in each group. For example, the four seasons each has three months for an iconic 3*4.
Infants  – Put up examples on walls or create your own book with dots or stickers highlighting what you count. Photograph the baby holding iconic objects for more fun!

Toddlers – If the examples toddlers find aren’t quite iconic, accept them anyway. You can sort the collection into more and less iconic pictures later. The point is to find multiplication, not to argue whether cartoon hands always have four fingers.

Kids – Older kids can create more artistic multiplication tables in the same visual style. They can go on timed or competitive photo scavenger hunts, with challenges to find as many iconic multiplication examples at a museum or a park as they can.

Adults – It’s actually pretty hard to find examples past five. Some people find the activity strangely addictive. Maybe you can finally find a 3*5 for the Natural Math collection!

Other Ways to Play with Multiplication Tables

  • Story ideas: Multiplication stories often have to do with equal sharing. There are a lot of stories about fingers (iconic five), for babies. Psychology and biology have scientific tales based on their taxonomies, such as the 16 Meyers-Briggs personality types or the 4 dominant-recessive trait combinations.
  • Can you find iconic addition and other operations? It’s harder than finding multiplication! Example: in Yelena’s family, it’s 2 adults + 1 child = 3 family members (you can find this on car stickers).
  • Some kids like to relax the iconic requirement and make times tables out of their favorite object, grouped many times, such as 2, 3, 4, 5 evening primrose flowers for multiplication by 4. This is easier to do and still fun.
  • Put your iconic numbers into a mirror book for instant iconic multiplication!



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Posted in Make
4 comments on “Iconic Numbers Game – Real Multiplication Tables
  1. Claudia says:

    Hi Yelena, I’m trying to explain iconic numbers to my 3 year old but I’m struggling a bit with the concept myself. Can you please give a few more examples of iconic numbers. Thanks very much.

    • Yelena says:

      Hi Claudia, I love fairy tales and myths, so I’m going to use that for examples. How many wishes do genies usually grant? How many dwarfs lived in the small house in the woods? How many muses were there in Greek mythology? How many days did evil Ursula give Ariel to walk on land? It’s fun to build collections like that as you read the stories or watch the cartoons or movies. Perhaps your 3-year old is more into trains (mine was when he was that age). Let’s see what numbers can we find – how many chimneys does Thomas the Train have? How many wheels? How many wheels are on the coal box car? Building collections like this with objects and stories you and your child love is a lovely and meaningful activity.

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