Telling the time is difficult. For starters there are two, sometimes three, hands and they have to remember which is which. Then, although there are only 12 numbers written on the clock face, they have different values: sometimes the 1 really is a 1, but sometimes it’s 5. As for the 3 – sometimes it’s 3, sometimes it’s 15, sometimes it’s only a quarter. And we haven’t even started on ‘to’ and ‘past’. It’s not surprising that children struggle with it.

Most children do manage to learn to tell the time without too much effort, but for some it remains a mystery, often until well after they have left primary school. This series of posts is aimed at those children who need additional help learning to tell the time.

When I teach telling the time, I start by stripping away everything that is non-essential, leaving me with a clock face and the short hand. I explain that this is called the hour hand because it counts the hours round the clock. It takes one hour to move from one number to the next, and this means that we can tell the time (more or less) with just this hand.

We move the hour hand around the clock face. When it points exactly at the 1 it is one o’ clock. When it points exactly at the 2 it is two o’clock and so on. When the child is happy with this, we stop the hour hand exactly half way between two numbers. We talk about the fact that because it takes one whole hour to move from the 1 to the 2, when it is exactly half way between the 1 and the 2 it is half past one. Exactly half way between the 2 and the 3 is half past two, and so on. To check understanding I will get the child to show me four o’clock, half past seven, etc still using just the hour hand.

After this we look at where the hour hand will be at quarter past an hour – ie exactly half way between the hour and half past, or a quarter of the way from one hour to the next.

Once they are happy with this, I get them to move the hour hand slowly from one number to the next so that they can see that to begin with the hand moves past the first hour, but after the halfway point it is moving closer to the next hour. This deals with that tricky concept of ‘past’ and ‘to’ that confuses so many children, without the distraction of the minute hand. We look at where the hour hand is at quarter to an hour.

Now the children can tell the time correctly to within fifteen minutes (o’clock, between o’ clock and quarter past, quarter past, between quarter past and half past etc) without needing to look at the minute hand at all. This then gives them lots of confidence to move on. When they are ready, you can introduce the minute hand.

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Related posts: Teaching the Times Tables and Teaching Number Bonds

Addition 17-08-16

I’ve just found this blog post which explains the concept of looking at just the hour hand in a different way. I like their idea of rooms! Teaching telling the time