Montessori Basics 1: The 3-Period Lesson

I’m starting a new series of posts over the next few weeks. I’m really excited about them! Many of you email me with questions that are basic to the Montessori method, so this will be a way to answer them for everyone. I’ll be permanently linking to each post in my blog sidebar so that they’re always available.

The first post in the series will be on the 3-period lesson. We often hear this term but it’s nice to go back and clarify exactly what it means.

A general definition: A 3-period lesson is a way of teaching nomenclature (vocabulary) to children using 3 stages that gradually increase in difficulty. It is not used with math material except to teach the names of numbers (both quantity and numerals). The 3-period lesson is most commonly used in preschool (3-6) but may occasionally be used in elementary (6-9).

Some preliminaries to keep in mind:

1. Make sure the work is complete before bringing it to the rug
2. Make sure you are familiar with the vocabulary words involved
3. Make sure you are presenting to a child who is ready for the work
4. Choose a place and time that is free of distractions

Bring the work to the rug and set out the map/nomenclature cards/sandpaper numbers or letters that you’d like to work with. For a young child, 3-4 new items at a time may be enough. Better to do too few at first than too many. In this case, we are wanting to teach the word “leaf”, so we want either a real leaf or an isolated picture of a real leaf.

Period 1: Naming

In this step, the desired vocabulary word is isolated (e.g., “cube”, “North America”, “seven”). In this case, say “This is a leaf” and repeat the word several times while pointing to the appropriate item or card.

Period 2: Association/Recognition

In this step, the child is called upon to show you the appropriate item or card. You should not indicate which answer is correct. Simply say, “Show me the leaf” and name the vocabulary word.

Additionally, you should begin with the last object or card that you ended with in Period 1. If the material is sandpaper numbers/letters, in this step the child may trace and say the number/letter after identifying it correctly. If the child is unable to identify the correct item or card, go back to Period 1, pointing to the correct item and saying the word.

Period 3: Recall

Now, you will point to an object or card and ask, “What is this?” The child will need to recall the name. If the child cannot recall the name, you may give them a hint by saying the beginning sound of the item. If necessary, return to Period 2.

These three steps may not happen all at one time. A child may proceed through Periods 1 and 2 and then not be able to complete Period 3. The next time you work with the material, they may be able to start right with Period 2 and move to Period 3. It’s different for each child. Some will need to repeat the steps more than others. The need for repetition is important for mastery, and should not be seen as something negative on the part of the child.