Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Montessori Three Period Lesson: How To Present, With An Example

NAMC Montessori three period lesson explained example teacher and student
One of the hardest things I had to learn as a Montessori teacher coming from a public school background was to resist asking students questions that led to guessing or children second-guessing themselves. This type of questioning leads to wrong answers and misinformation, which puts the teacher in a correcting mode, not a teaching mode. Montessori was very clear that we should teach, not correct. We need to tell the students exactly and simply what it is they need to know and allow them to practice the concepts until they reach mastery.

The three period lesson is the approach used in the Montessori classroom to present new material to students. It first introduces the concept, allows for practice, and finally, provides a demonstration of mastery. First the teacher names the object, second, asks the child to touch the object when the name is given, then third, asks the child to name the object to which the teacher is pointing. Most often associated with teaching vocabulary, the three period lesson is used throughout the curriculum to help students gain information and master concepts. For this purpose, I will use the concept of architecture and Greek Columns.

The Montessori Three-Period Lesson: How To Present, With An Example

The First Period: "This Is..." (Naming)
This is the introduction of the concept or nomenclature. There is no sense of urgency as the teacher moves from one isolated concept to another, using simple language to simply state "This is.... Sometimes called "the gift", this first period lesson gives the student knowledge they had not previously received.

  • Place one picture of each of the three types of Greek Columns (Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian) on a work mat.
  • Point to the Doric column and state “This is a Doric column. It is the most plain.”
  • Repeat the name several times, slowly, with purpose.
  • Point to the Ionic column and state “This is an Ionic column. It has fancy scrollwork.”
  • Repeat the name several times, slowly, with purpose.
  • Point to the Corinthian column and state “This is a Corinthian column. It is very ornate.”
  • Repeat the name several times, slowly, with purpose.
The Second Period: "Show me...” (Recognizing)
Often, this lesson occurs at a later time, after the first period lesson. You may wish to briefly repeat the first period lesson. The purpose of the second period is to present action and build muscle memory of the concept. If the objects are tangible, the student holds them, moves them, and touches them in order to fully absorb the object with tactile movement and his senses.

The second period lesson is the most critical and most important lesson. It is a time to review and reinforce vocabulary. It is also the time where the teacher observes the thought processes of the student. What connections are being made? What is not understood? What needs re-teaching or more emphasis?

NAMC Montessori three period lesson explained example greek columns
  • Randomly place the pictures of the Greek Columns on the mat.
  • Ask the student to show you the Corinthian column (or the last object named in the first period).
  • Repeat with the remaining columns. You can also ask them to manipulate the objects: turn it over; hand it to another student; return it to the shelf; etc.
  • *If the student is unable to correctly identify the item, the teacher returns to the first period lesson, stating the word and pointing to the correct item. The second period is not an assessment period, it is still a learning period. This is not a time for correction or guessing (process of elimination).
The Third Period: “What is…?” (Pronouncing)
Now is the time the teacher asks the student to name or verbalize the concept or object. This should only be presented when the teacher is certain the student will experience success. It may not be immediately after the first and second periods: mastery takes time. If the student makes a mistake, do not correct him, but bring the lesson to a close and move on to something else. At another time, repeat the second period lesson and allow the student more time to practice and internalize the concept. The Montessori teacher teaches by modeling and teaching, not by correcting.

  • Place the pictures of the Greek Columns on the mat.
  • Point to a column and ask the student “What is this?”
  • Continue until the student has correctly identified the objects.
  • If the student is unable to correctly identify the correct item, quietly close the lesson and suggest the student find another work. The second period lesson should be repeated with this student at another time.
When the teacher has completed all three periods of the lesson, she/he finishes by pointing to each object one at a time and stating, “Now you know three Greek columns: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. You may work with these whenever you like.”

If the lesson was unsuccessful, the teacher may do one or all of the following: simply start the lesson over with the first period; decide whether to repeat the lesson another day; reduce the number of objects being learned; or all of the above. The three period lesson can be demanding for a child, which is why it should not exceed a few minutes in one sitting. Depending on the child’s level of success, the teacher may also decide that the child is simply not ready for this type of information yet.
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 Wednesday, December 30, 2009.


  1. Thank you for this post. I just featured its photo with a link at my blog It is valuable information not just for Montessorians, but all educators and parents as well!


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