postheadericon The Three-Period Lesson

Editor's Note: The Three-Period Lesson is a fundamental technique used by Montessori educators to introduce a new lesson to children and lead them along a path to understanding and mastery. Most of us first think of the Three-Period Lesson as it is used to teach vocabulary, as illustrated in this brief article by Lillian DeVault Kroenke (excerpted from her longer article, "Building Your Child's Vocabulary At Home"). We commonly use the same three steps in helping children master new lessons throughout the curriculum.

Introducing Rocks & Minerals: Quartz, Pyrite & Obsidian


Most Montessori pre-primary teachers introduce rocks and minerals as a sensorial and vocabulary building activity. Let's use three contrasting minerals for our example: quartz, pyrite and obsidian. For the purpose of this example, let us assume that your child is already familiar with quartz.

The First Period: This is...

One by one, pick up and handle the stones. Keep the conversation precise and to the point. Identify each stone individually. Repeat the name several times, clearly and slowly. There is no need to rush.

"This is pyrite. Pyrite."

Handle the stone. Let your child handle the item if possible. It reinforces the idea kinesthetically. Repeat the name while he is holding the item. Return it to its place.

Pick up a second stone, preferably the one he knows best

"This is quartz. Quartz."

"Can you say quartz?"

Handle the stone. Let the child hold the stone and proceed as above. Take the last stone.

"This is obsidian."

"Would you like to hold the obsidian?"

The Second Period: Show me ...

This will often be a separate and later exercise. If it is, be sure to repeat The First Period briefly. Note which item your child seems to know best.

This is a time to extend the handling and movement - the action, to reinforce the names. This is not the time to ask (test) the child to verbalize the names.

"Pick up the obsidian."

"Feel the obsidian."

"Put the obsidian on the tray."

"Pick up the quartz."

"Feel the quartz."

"Put the quartz on the tray."

"Pick up the pyrite."

"Feel the pyrite."

"Put the pyrite here."

The Third Period: What is this?

This will often be a separate and later exercise. If it is, be sure to repeat The First Period briefly. Note which one you child knows best.

When you feel your child knows the names, point to the object your child knows with certainty and ask:

"What is this?"

Then point to the next object and ask:

"What is this?"

Point to the last object and ask:

"What is this?"

Specific Techniques

The Trick of the Middle

We learn in Psychology 101 that, in a long list of items, we have the hardest time remembering the items in the middle of the list. The items at the beginning and at the end hold our attention and are easier to recall.

Place the new object at the beginning or at the end. Place the object that you are sure your child knows in the middle to increase his comfort level. The last object can be new or somewhat familiar to the child.

If you continue, begin this time with the last object mentioned, reinforcing it immediately. Keep the known object in the middle. When you get back to what was originally the first object, you will reinforce it again.

The Second Period

Most adults want to get to the third period as soon as possible. We want to test, get it over with, and move on to something else. After all, it's easy for us. We already know it.

I want to emphasize that the second period is the critical, most important period and should be the longest. The second-period lesson serves several purposes: reviewing the vocabulary, reinforcing the vocabulary, and getting a glimpse of the process underway within the child. What connections are made? What slipped through the cracks? What needs more emphasis?

Second-Period Variations

Extend the second period as long as you can hold your child's interest. Have the child move the object around. The movement, which increases kinesthetic memory, will make the lesson more attractive. For example:

"Move the --- here," pointing with your finger.

"Take the ---to the table."

"Bring the ---back."

"Point to the---."

"Give me the ---."

At times when we are learning something new, we cling to the examples given in the instructions or by the instructor as the magic way to do it. As long as you understand the principle, keep it simple and focused, you can ask you child to do whatever is appropriate for the setting, object, or idea you are teaching.

Using the Trick of the Middle, ask you child to show you first the one you are sure he knows. That limits the number of items for his focus and increases the odds to select the correct one the second time. Ask for the one he is most likely to know of the two remaining.

If you started with only two objects, there is no middle object. The second object is obvious.

The Third Period

This is the first time you are asking the child to say the name of the object or idea. Move to the testing period only when you are sure your child will succeed. Remember, mastery usually takes some time.

One of the most insightful mandates to the Montessori teacher is teach by teaching, not correcting. If you move to the third period too quickly, you will be in a correction mode. If this happens, bring the lesson to a close. Casually move on to something else with no recrimination. At a later time, begin again with the second period.

Our ultimate goal is to help the child master the information and himself. This knowledge becomes a starting point for the child's next learning adventure. We want each child to say, "I can do it." Every time your child masters a skill or assimilates an idea, he is becoming a stronger, more competent and independent person open to learning more. Enjoy your time with your child. Isn't that what you really want?



Lillian DeVault Kroenke, now retired, has been a Montessori pre-primary Directress and school administrator, teacher trainer, owner of designed for children, curriculum researcher for the Montessori Development Foundation and director of the AMS School Consultation Service. She can be contacted at 505-291-8022.

Last Updated (Monday, 09 August 2010 14:10)