3-Period Lesson

how to teach vocabulary with the montessori 3-period lesson

You've all heard about it, this radical and elegantly simple way to teach vocabulary to anyone at any age. Really, if you're working with toddlers or teaching a new language, the Montessori 3-period lesson is THE go to strategy to help build vocabulary. 

Once you've learned it, it is incredibly easy to use. Here's the big picture. The teacher follows the following three steps to teach new words:

  • Period 1: This is the... [name the object]
  • Period 2: Show me the... [name the object but let the child interact]
  • Period 3: What is this?

The key points to remember are that:

  1. Most of the learning happens in period 2
  2. Never go to the third period until you are 100% certain the child can produce the vocabulary

Why? First, because receptive language (understanding what a thing is called) is much easier than expressive language (being able to produce the name of a thing). That's why we do a lot of work in the second period, especially movement. 

Keeping the second period lively is one of the core tricks in the pocket of every great Montessori guide. Here are some ideas.

  • Mix up the cards while the child is looking.
  • Ask the child to close their eyes while you mix up the cards.
  • Ask the child to pick up the object/card and move it to a new location.
  • Move across the room with the child and ask them to go back to the work area and get one of the objects/cards.

There are more ways than this but, hopefully, you can see that the second period is meant to be a lot of fun!

As for the third period, that is really a test. We DO NOT want children to fail! If they don't know the answer, it's not because they're stupid, it's because we asked too soon (and need to observe them more closely). Does that make sense?

We're always trying to develop a child's sense of capacity and self-efficacy. So, we want them to succeed at the highest level they're able to. This is really the art of teaching. We're trying to guide them to work that is at exactly the right level of challenge and interest. If it's too easy or too hard, they loose interest. If it's not what they're interested in, they lose interest. But, when we find the magic combination of interest and ability, learning takes off like a meme!

Young children are particularly interested in learning the names of everything they see. So, they are eager to get these three period lessons. Start with teaching them the names of everything in the physical space. And don't limit your vocabulary here. Don't just say floor, specify the kind of floor like hardwood maple floor, blue tile floor, low pile carpet. Do you see what I mean? You can really go to town there.

Once they have experience with learning the names of real objects via the 3-period lesson, you can move on to pictures of objects (Vocabulary Cards). From there, the sky is really the limit. You can purchase or make vocabulary cards that give them exactly what they want to know.

I made a little video so you can see how this can work. If you have other tips, tricks, or questions, please leave a comment below. If we all work together, we can make the journey a lot easier for those who follow!


December 08, 2022 by Julia Volkman
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