Learning to Tell the Time Across the Curriculum
Telling the time is a difficult skill that takes years to develop. The table below shows the progression of skills from year 1 to year 4 as students learn to tell the time on digital and analogue clocks. By the time students finish year 4 it is expected that they can tell the time proficiently and are able to solve simple problems involving elapsed time.
|Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Year 4|
|Tell time to the half-hour (ACMMG020)||Tell time to the quarter-hour, using the language of 'past' and 'to' (ACMMG039)||Tell time to the minute and investigate the relationship between units of time (ACMMG062)||Convert between units of time (ACMMG085)
Use ‘am’ and ‘pm’ notation and solve simple time problems (ACMMG086)
In my own year 3 classroom I am finding more students struggling to make sense of how to tell the time on an analogue clock. This is understandable because it is a complicated skill to learn.
Time uses a base 12 system
Right at the time when students are coming to terms with the base ten system of place value, we expect them to understand how a clock works with its 12 hours, 24 hours, 60 minutes and 6o seconds.
An analogue clock has more than one scale on it
Analogue clocks have numbers to show the hour scale along with its own hand. Then we add in the minute scale with its own hand. And to make things more complicated, some clocks even have a second hand! This is all very tricky to get your head around when you are in year 1 and 2.
It involves skip counting
Often students are told or shown that telling the time involves skip counting the minutes, before they have mastered this skill when counting concrete objects. Prematurely teaching students to skip count the minutes can cause confusion as students fail to realise that we are skipping over the single minute marks between each hour number. They also get confused by the fact that the numbers we were just using to tell us the hour are now being used to tell us the minutes.
People don’t wear watches anymore
Gone are the days where nearly everyone wore an elegant analogue watch and we felt we had come of age when we got out first fancy watch. Our students are seeing less and less analogue clocks in their home and community environments.
Students don’t understand how night and day are caused
Students learn about what causes day and night and the times involved in these events in year 3- Earth’s rotation on its axis causes regular changes, including night and day (ACSSU048). So until they have a good understanding of these influences on time it is difficult to understand what a clock is measuring and why it is made up of 12 hours.
Now we know the reasons for why learning to tell the time is difficult we can teach it better!
Teach the Minute and Hour Scales Separately
Start by learning about the hour scale how it changes through the day. Talk about the number of hours in the day and why there are 12 hours on a clock. Many students mistakenly think that whichever number the hour hand is closest to tells which hour it is. Have students colour and label the segments on the clock that indicate each hour. move the hour hand into different positions on the hour scale and ask which hour of the day the clock is showing.
Once students are familiar with the hour scale add in the minute scale. Make sure they understand that every mark on the clock is one minute. Count them by ones so they know there are 60. Have students move the minute hand only to different positions and identify which minute of the hour it is pointing to.
Once they are familiar with both scales and how they move they can begin to use both at the same time to tell time.
There are two main activity types that students must complete with analogue clocks, reading the time and drawing in the hands. Develop a set of steps or questions to ask students each time they complete these tasks.
Here is a poster I use to show students how to read the time. At random times during the day I ask different students to tell me the time. If they look at me blankly I go through these steps with them.
Use Real Clocks
I bought some clocks from Ikea for very little money for use when I teach time. Students can see how the hands move in different ways and what the position of the hour hand is in relation to the minute hand.
You can also draw on the clock face glass with a whiteboard marker as you teach students how to use the different parts of the clock.
Variety of Language and Problems
There are lots of different ways of saying a time and students need to be taught these explicitly. Think about the time 3:15. This can be described as quarter past three, fifteen minutes past three or said as three-fifteen. Most times can be said in various ways and we need to explain this to students and have them practice it. This can be as simple as asking ‘Can you say that time in another way?’
Get Parents Involved
Many students need some extra practice with these skills at home. If a student is struggling let the parent know how they can help. Lots of homes do not use analogue clocks and watches as much as they used to, so prompting a parent to make this a focus can make all the difference.
Make a Lap Book!
I have made a pack that helps to deal with some of these teaching points. I have used it in my own class and found it very helpful. The students make a clock that has all the minutes labelled and is structured in a way that students can learn about the minute and hour scales separately and then add them together.
Over to You
I would love to hear about any great ideas you have for teaching time. Leave a comment in the space below if you have found something that works for you.