Yuki had a green paper watch wrapped around his wrist with the hands of the clock permanently drawn to 3:00. I asked him what time it was. “Oyatsu no jikan!” (Snack time!) he replied. “Oh!” I said. “That’s something to look forward to!”
Yuki couldn’t read a clock yet, but at four years old, his teachers were introducing the concept of analog clocks in a fun way and anchored in a daily event that was important to him.
Those little paper watches are super easy to make and kids really like them. Download a free set of templates by clicking on the image below. Teachers also use these watches for sight word and CVC word practice!
How and when to begin…
I begin teaching my ESL kids clocks when they start learning in their own language. Because my classes are only once a week for 50 minutes, I regularly teach a little bit about clocks over a very long period of time. Starting with paper watches, I plan ahead by planting seeds for future practice.
For young English language learners, reading, writing, and speaking the time is a convergence of several different concepts and skill sets. Numbers alone can be used to teach most of the language skills necessary for reading digital clocks and speaking the time. Once kids have learned CVC words like six and ten, sight words like one, two and it’s, and CVCe, or long ‘e’ words, like five and nine, reading time as text can begin. As for the concept of reading an analog clock, you can give that up to the culture at large and simply ride closely on its coattails. As your kids learn to tell time at home and at school, be there to support their efforts and begin introducing easy, parallel English lessons.
FYI – In Japan, being able to hear the spoken hourly time and read digital time is part of the first (Bronze) level of the aural Jidou Eiken tests for young English language students. Click the link to learn more and download sample tests. It’s worth investigating, if only to learn about the vocabulary required to pass the three-level tests.
Practicing time can begin very early on. I prefer flash cards to plastic clocks with hands that can be manipulated simply because they don’t break and they aren’t perceived as a toy that older kids may object to. With a good set of clock flash cards, there are numerous games you can play that will make repetition more enjoyable.
Here are a few fun ideas to try in class:
- Make sure that clock is part of your primary classroom vocabulary flashcards.
- Place a clock image of the time your class will end on a classroom board. Kids will become super clock-watchers.
- Set a time for a simple event to happen – like dropping your pencil or clapping your hands. Be sure you’re distracted when the time comes and be surprised when it happens.
- Hand out hour flash cards and have students play a simple I Have/Who Has activity. “I have 1:00. Who has 2:00?”
- Hand out hour flash cards and have students line up in order of the hours.
- Tack hour cards around the room (add half hours, quarter hours, etc. as your lessons progress) and have students individually go to the time directed.
- Hand students a stack of clock flash cards and have them sort the cards into time order.
- Write digital times on the board and have students match the time with analog flash cards.
- Once kids start learning to read time as text, write times on the board and have students match the times with analog cards. Setting this up as a relay brings a competitive and fast-paced edge to an otherwise simple exercise.
Remember, clock exercises are another opportunity to review the challenging numbers eleven and twelve, and later on 20, 30, 40, and 50. If you need a good set of number flash cards, you can download them here for free. If you’re in need of a refresh on your flash card activities, download 41 Flash Card Activities for ideas to get you going.
Once students are comfortable with reading simple hours, it’s time to begin doing worksheets. Tack completed worksheets into interactive notebooks so they can be reviewed later. Over time, these worksheets will become an invaluable and easy-to-access reference for future lessons where time is practiced.
If you’re looking for worksheets, here are the first ‘hour’ exercises from my textbook, Clock Work. Download and try them out in class. They’re free and I think you’ll like how the worksheets are differentiated. Click on the image above to visit my web site and learn more about the textbook.
After lots of hour practice, adding half hours is the easy next lesson. From this point, understanding and retention should begin to happen faster. Then, it’s step by step, reviewing and practicing numbers in quarters, tens, and fives for times like 9:30, 3:15, 10:40, and 8:55. To repeat, if you see your kids only once a week, plan on teaching a little over a long period of time and don’t forget to review. It will add up!
I’d love to hear the approach and activities you use when teaching time to younger students. I have a lineup of games I like to use, like Clock Bingo, Clock I Have Who Has, 4 in a Row, and clock game boards. Clock flash cards, and differentiated worksheets provide repetitive practice and handy visuals for explaining time concepts.
Over the years I’ve learned that teaching students how to tell time in English is not a one-off lesson. From the early skill of reading an analog clock, then reading and expressing time in text, to understanding the language variances of telling time in English, a little at a time goes a long way. Make sure students are solid in the early lessons and you’ll have fewer problems building their language skills later on.
As always, best of luck in your classes!
Kinney Brothers Publishing