How to Teach Students to Tell Time {A Bright Idea}

One of the things I love most about my job is when something unplanned turns out to be the best plan.  I know you know what I'm talking about.  You're up there teaching and instead of teaching exactly what is written in your lesson plans, things begin to go in a different direction.

This happens a lot in my classroom.  Sometimes things work out better than other times, but I usually find that this is when my best ideas happen.

This is exactly what happened a few years ago when I was teaching my students to tell time.  A silly little story was born up there at my Promethean Board in room 205.  That story has helped my students "get" the clock face and how to tell time so much quicker than anything I've ever done in the past.  So, today I'm here to share it with you.  I like to call it...

Step 1: Teaching Students the Hands of the Clock

When teaching the hands of the clock, I introduce them as "The Handy Brothers" - there's big brother Handy and baby brother Handy.  The Handy brothers are good boys and they are very well-mannered.  Therefore, big brother Handy always lets his baby brother go first....EVERY matter what.

{From here on out, I will ask my students, "Which hand do we read first?"  OUR baby hand....get it...."HOUR" baby hand.  That also helps them remember that the little hand is called the HOUR hand.}

Step 2: Reading the Minute Hand Using a "Secret Code"

The Handy brothers are, well, very handy.  And, since they're so responsible and well-mannered, mom and dad let them wander all around their "Clockville" neighborhood helping their neighbors with anything and everything.  You see, the Handy brothers live at house #12 and as they travel around the neighborhood they must always follow the one-way street (going clockwise).  The boys can travel on their own, but they have to be ready to tell mom and dad their locations at a moment's notice.  They do this by naming the house they're at or the house they just left.

{It helps if students start at the 12 and move their fingers around the clock, to give them a visual of passing the "houses."  I also remind them that they have to report they're locations using the LAST check-in.  So, even if they're closer to the next house, they can't report that one because they haven't checked-in there yet.}

But, big brother Handy doesn't always want baby brother Handy to know where he is....sometimes he just needs a break from his little brother.  Therefore, he uses a "secret code" to report his location.  The secret code is easy enough so that all of his friends and parents will be able to figure it out (counting by 5's) but not baby brother!

{At this point, we learn the secret codes for all of the numbers on the clock.  All throughout the day when we have a few spare moments or we're standing in line, I will quiz students by calling out a clock number and they'll respond with the secret code.  We do this until students are quick with those codes!}

Step 3: The Lookout Posts

Once students have nailed telling time to the five minutes, we divide the clock into quarters using the "compass" numbers.  This is what I call the 12, 3, 6, and 9 - those numbers that sit in the North, South, East, and West positions.  It gives the students something to relate them to, making them easy to remember.  We learn that each of these numbers are mom and dad's lookout posts.  This is where they "station" themselves from time-to-time to keep a lookout on their boys...with stations at each of these spots, they can keep an eye on their kids at all times!  These posts have special names to mom and dad - we learn these names and use "parent talk" in our conversations.

I hope this silly story is something you can try out with your kiddos if they're struggling with time.  I'm amazed at how well it always works with my students.  Of course, the sillier you are when telling it, the more memorable it will be!  Do you have any silly stories like these?  I'll be back again soon with a silly, but handy "Polygon Chant" that we are using in our Geometry study at the moment.

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  1. I love this silly story! I can't wait to use it! It will be so helpful to some of my students who struggle with time.

    A Tall Drink of Water

  2. This is genius! We start telling time on Monday and this will be so helpful. Thanks Amanda!

  3. Awesome! Wish I had seen this about a month ago!

  4. Telling time is such a difficult concept for kids. Thanks for the tip!

    Krazy Town

  5. Awww so adorable!

  6. Love this story--Thank you for sharing. I can't wait to hear the polygon chant!
    Tales from a Fourth Grade MathNut

  7. This is brilliant!!! Thank you for sharing! :)

  8. This is so awesome! Thanks for sharing!



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