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Tips for Introducing Telling Time in the Primary Grades

In the primary classroom, we teach lots of skills and concepts that our students will use for the rest of their lives.  Learning to tell time is just one of them.  Some math concepts are fairly straightforward, but telling time is not one of them.  Here's a few tips for introducing the concept of telling time in the primary classroom.

1. Get to Know the Clock

Before you jump right into the concept of telling time, introduce your students to the clock.  I'm a believer in teaching kids related vocabulary right from the start.  When you teach about time here's some of the key vocabulary that students should know:
  • clock face
  • hour hand
  • minute hand
  • analog
  • digital
One of my favorite ways to do this is with hands-on activities.  Students can build their own clock using a paper plate or work with practice clocks like these:

As students interact with the clock have them identify different parts and naming them using the vocabulary.  

2. Introducing Time to the Hour

Telling time to the hour is the best place to start when students learn to tell time. This is important because being able to identify the hour is necessary in other telling time skills.  While the traditional approach is to teach that when the minute hands points to the 12 we say "o'clock" I'd urge you to broaden that.  When we teach our students a hard and fast rule like this, we are setting them up for misunderstandings. 

Add a little science in with math and teach about how an analog clock works.  Learn about gears and how they move the hands.  As students understand the gears they will learn that because of the gears, the clock hands can't just jump from one number to the next.  Using this we can teach students that the hour actually happens when the hour hand is on the number or in the space after the number.  

A great visual for teaching this concept is this amazing clock that uses color to show each hour zone.

Give students lots of hands-on practice with time to the hour.  Students should be able to look at the clock and tell the time, but they also need to be able to create the time on the clock. 

It's also important to introduce students to telling time to the our on a digital clock.  This way students are exposed to the different forms of time to the hour that they will see in real life.

3. Time to the Half Hour and Beyond

Once students have a good understanding of telling time to the hour, then it's time to move on to time to the half hour.  Students will be able to use their knowledge and understanding of the "hour zone" and apply it to telling time at all levels.  

The general order of teaching is:

  1. Telling Time to the Hour
  2. Telling Time to the Half Hour
  3. Telling Time to the Quarter Hour / 15 minutes
  4. Telling Time to the Minute

While you might not go through all of these in the primary classroom, you will be laying the foundation for the years to come.  What's most important is that students understand the concepts so that they can apply and build on their understanding as they move to subsequent levels.

No Prep Resources

In addition to all of the hands-on practice, it's important that students just have opportunities to practice telling time.  Here are some no prep resources that can be used as you teach time to the hour and the half hour.

You can find these telling time resources in print and digital format in this Telling Time and Counting Money pack.  Practice these two important life skills with this single resource.  You can also find out how I teach counting coins in the blog post.

Save these Tips for Telling Time

Pin this to your favorite classroom Pinterest board so you can come back for these tips and ideas on teaching time in the primary classroom.

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