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Being the Observer and Guide
By Claire

By Claire

Being the Observer and Guide

"The teacher, when she begins to work in our schools, must have a kind of faith that the child will reveal himself through work. She must free herself from all preconceived ideas concerning the levels at which the children may be. The many different types of children...must not worry her...The teacher must believe that this child before her will show his true nature when he finds a piece of work that attracts him. So what must she look out for? That one child or another will begin to concentrate."

Maria Montessori - The Absorbent Mind, p. 276

This week a large number of vacancies at a variety of schools have opened up.   Many new teachers, guides or directresses face the opportunity of a lifetime to open a new chapter in their lives.

In light of this, I thought it would be interesting to learn a little about the teaching methods.  One of the most important is the three-period lesson.  I have heard this phrase on many teachers’ lips, without having a real understanding;  so I went searching.

The NAMC training centre had a very interesting article on this subject which I replicate below, with thanks.

Montessori teachers use the term three-period lesson so often it becomes second nature. We forget that there are others who may not understand what a three-period lesson is. This was ever so clear the other day in a staff meeting where we were discussing basic Montessori classroom techniques. I glanced over at a new assistant who has not yet gone through training and I could see that she was clearly lost. So now, before we get any further into the school year, is a perfect time to review the concept of a three-period lesson.

The three-period lesson is a fundamental approach to introducing a new concept (not just vocabulary) to children. It is used to move the child from basic understanding to mastery.

The Three-Period Lesson: A Key Part of the Montessori Method Explained

For this discussion, I will use the largest and smallest cubes with the Pink Tower material while teaching the terms big and small.

Period 1: Introduction (This is…)

During the first period, it is important to always isolate the desired nomenclature*. Pick up the biggest cube. Say to the child “This is big…big.” Set it down and move it out of the way. Pick up the smallest cube and say to the child “This is small…small”. It is always good to repeat the words several times while pointing to the appropriate item or card. Letting the child handle the Montessori materials is also a good idea. There is no need to rush; there is beauty in the calm serenity of the lesson.

*The Montessori curriculum uses nomenclature material to help children memorize important facts. Pictures and corresponding labels with names (and definintions at the higher levels) are matched by the child based on their lessons with the educator.

Period 2: Association/Recognition (Show me…)

The second period is often a separate lesson, done after the first period lesson. Its purpose is to extend the handling and action presented in the first lesson. It is not a time to ask the students to verbalize the names of the Montessori materials. Unfortunately, most adults want to rush through this period and prematurely ask students to verbally identify materials without enough practice. This is the most critical period and should last the longest. During the second period the Montessori teacher has the opportunity to review and reinforce vocabulary as well as see what connections the child made.

In this lesson, the Montessori teacher calls upon the students to show the appropriate materials. Place both cubes together on a mat. Begin with the last item named in period one. Ask the child to show you the small cube. Repeat small and big several times in different contexts: “Point to small. Hand me big. Place small on the tray. Return big to the shelf.” If the child is unable to correctly identify the correct item, return to the period one lesson, stating the word and pointing to the correct item.

Being the Observer and Guide
Courtesy of AMI USA

Period 3: Recall (What is this…?)

This is the first time the Montessori teacher asks the child to name the object or idea. The teacher should only move to the third period when she is sure that the child will succeed. This may come some time after the second period lesson as mastery often takes time. Since the ultimate goal is to help the child master the information for himself, moving to the third period too soon, puts the teacher into the mode of correcting the child.

Begin by isolating the objects, starting with the last object shown. Ask the child to name the object. While pointing to the object, say to the child “What is this?” Continue until child has named all of the objects.

It is important to understand that the knowledge gained during these lessons becomes the starting point for the child’s next quest for knowledge. Every time a child masters a skill or idea, he or she becomes stronger, more competent and more independent and wants to learn more.

Courtesy of Michelle IrinyiNAMC Tutor & Graduate


The Three-Period Lesson is used throughout NAMC’s Early Childhood (3—6) curriculum manuals for teaching nomenclature to children.

As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center – originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Monday, September 3, 2007

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