Start with concrete items. Use manipulatives. 3x4 means 3 groups of 4. Model it with manipulatives. Have kids do it and count the total. Use the word product for total. Make sure kids can count by 2's, 5's, 10's before starting.

I agree...concrete models are the best in the early stages. Even my 4th graders often needed that hands-on and visual type of model. Once they seem to grasp the concept, then they can start with the flashcards and things. At the school where I recently taught, there seemed to be little emphasis on students learning the facts. When they got to me in the 4th grade, only about 1/2 of the students were pretty fluent in the multiplication facts. That made it so difficult when it came time to learn more advanced concepts. I ended up having to use up a significant amount of time to help the students learn about basic multiplication. Those that still really struggled when it came to the facts were able to use multiplication tables and other helpful tools. Although I am not a huge fan of rote memorization of a lot of things...I think that knowing math facts is so important. Once my students took the time to memorize the facts....they were so much more confident and successful in math. However, the most important thing is for the students to understand the concept, not just memorize the facts.

Definitely use manipulatives. Also, let them draw things out (equal groups and arrays). As upsadaisy suggested, make sure they understand that 3x4 means 3 groups of 4. They need to understand exactly what it is that they're doing before they start memorizing the facts.

Use the manipulatives. In student teaching, my finale project was on multiplication. I used the "M&M COunting Book" and built a serries of lessons around it. They caught on very quickly!!

The brain needs the concrete models, then pictorial models, then abstract. So, even 4th graders benefit from the manipulatives. Lots of primary teachers think that if a child can understand with just the pictorial models then they should skip the manipulatives. That isn't true at all. (The same thing happens with place value. I see the results of this in middle schoolers who don't have a solid internalized sense of numeracy.)

There is a natural progression in the order of learning multiplication families- 0's,1's,2's,5's, 10's, 9's,11's, doubles (4 x 4 ), then everything that's left. Manipulatives are really important.