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The Absolute First Step of Teaching Students to Tell Time -No Matter the Grade Level!

Telling time on an analog clock can be really tricky for some students, especially now with the common use of digital clocks.

So, what is the trick to teaching students to tell time?

The answer is finally here.

And, it’s NOT by starting with telling time to the hour.

This step is so critical, that it should be reviewed and taught every year, no matter what grade level you are teaching, no matter what time standard you are teaching.

Wonder how to teach telling time to your students? This blog post tells you the first step you must take!

Step One: Learning the Space of the Hour

Instead of teaching students to tell time to the hour, teach students the space of the hour on the clock.

The first step for teaching students to tell time should always be teaching and reviewing the space of the hour.

Why This Should Be Your First Step for Teaching Time

You see, when we teach students to tell time to the hour in kindergarten, they are taught that 2:00 is when the hour hand is pointing directly at the two and the minute hand directly at the twelve.

But, this leads to problems down the road when students begin telling time to the minute because 1:55 looks a lot like the 2 o’clock hour.

Students instinctively look to the hour hand first, because that is how it was first taught to them in kindergarten.

The FIRST step should always be to teach students the space of the hour, no matter what grade level.

From kindergarten through third grade, this should always be the first thing you review before you continue teaching students to tell time.

The space of the hour is the space that the hour hand moves across during the hour.

This will help them understand that even though a time, such as 1:55, might look like it’s pointing to 2 o’clock, its actually still in the one o’clock hour’s space. 

You’ll want to model this using an analog clock and then have them color each hour’s space on the printable.

Grab your FREE copy of the printable above when you subscribe to my email list at the bottom of this post.

The Progression of Teaching Students to Tell Time

As students get older, the standards for teaching students to tell time become more complex.

Let’s take a look at the progression of the standards for kindergarten, first, second, third, and fourth grades:

Teaching Time in Kindergarten

In kindergarten, there is not an official telling time standard. Many teachers choose to introduce time anyway and teach to the hour.

Instead, I recommend simply teaching the space of the hour in kindergarten, without introducing either hand.

Teaching Time to First Graders

The first grade time standard reads:

1.MD.3 Tell and write time in hours and half-hours using analog and digital clocks.

In first grade, students are introduced to the analog clock for the first time.

They learn the different hands, and how many numbers are on the face.

Learning about analog clocks mini book
Vocabulary chart for telling time
Cut and Glue activity for placing numbers on the face of an analog clock

First graders learn the placement of the numbers on the clock face, the terms hour and minute, and they also learn to correctly read time on a digital clock.

After this, students learn to tell time to the nearest hour and the nearest half hour.

This is an important time to review the space of each hour.

Students will begin to notice that the hour hand is no longer pointing directly at the hour, but instead is found halfway between one hour and the next.

Each time they tell time to the half hour, they are having to make a decision about which hour to choose.

This why knowing the space of each hour is critical.

Get resources for teaching students to tell time in first grade here.⏰

Telling Time in Second Grade

2.MD.7 Tell and write time from analog and digital clocks to the nearest five minutes, using a.m. and p.m.

In second grade, students learn the difference between a.m. and p.m. and different types of activities happening at different times of the day.

This helps them become more aware of time in their everyday lives.

A.M. and P.M. time sort
Telling time to the nearest five minute increment bingo board

Second graders also learn to tell time to the nearest five-minute increment.

This means the minute hands are pointing directly at a number on the clock face.

Before teaching this, it is essential that you review the space of the hour. Otherwise, students will likely have confusion as they tell time such as 11:45, 3:50, 4:55, etc…

Get resources for teaching time in second grade here.⏰

Teaching Time in Third Grade

The third grade time standard reads:

3.MD.1 Tell and write time to the nearest minute and measure time intervals in minutes. Solve word problems involving addition and subtraction of time intervals in minutes, e.g., by representing the problem on a number line diagram.

Telling time to the minute bingo board game
Elapsed time resources for third grade

Wow, that was a big jump from second to third, wasn’t it?

In fact, I personally believe that the fourth-grade expectations of time are easier than third.

Nonetheless, in third grade, a lot is expected of students when it comes to telling time.

Third graders must now:
  • Use what they know about reading an analog clock and now tell time to the nearest minute.
  • Use what they know about a.m. and p.m. in order to elapse time.
  • Use what they know about minutes in an hour to elapse time.

This standard can be a bit overwhelming for third graders, and I believe it’s best to take your time (no pun intended) and teach it step by step.

Start with reviewing everything students have learned up until this point, and gradually add in the new information.

Get resources for teaching time in third grade here.

Teaching Time in Fourth Grade

In fourth grade, the time standard is found in a measurement conversion standard.

4.MD.1 Know relative sizes of measurement units within one system of units including km, m, cm; kg, g; lb, oz; l, ml; hr, min, sec. Within a single system of measurement, express measurements in a larger unit in terms of a smaller unit. Record measurement equivalents in a two-column table.

In fourth grade, students will use what they know about time, (60 minutes in an hour, 60 seconds in a minute) to do two-column table equivalents.

Two-column conversion chart for converting units of time in fourth grade.
Get resources for teaching time in fourth grade here.

Grab the free telling time printable!

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