Monday, September 03, 2007

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

NAMC montessori three period lesson explained teacher and girl

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.

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.

For more information on this topic, please visit Montessori for Everyone, Montessori Basics 1: The 3-Period Lesson posted on April 21, 2007.

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

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

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.


  1. was useful for doing my work :)

  2. Hi, I have a question about this. I find the 3 Period Lesson to be extremely successful and work almost every time but I have one child with whom it is not working. He is 4 and cannot retain the information (from period 2 to 3 or from daily lessons on the same numbers or letters). When the 3 period lesson does not what else can I do? (I have added matching pictures to sounds, quantities to numbers, tracing in the sand, writing on paper, etc...)

  3. Dear Curious,

    I'm curious to know how you are presenting the 3-period lesson. How many objects are you presenting? The most I would suggest would be 3 and if that doesn't work, I would try presenting only two. Also, it's important not to rush that the second and third periods. The first period may be repeated a few times before moving on the second period. The third period should be saved until you really know the child is ready. If the child makes a mistake at any time during the second or third period, thank him for the lesson and put it away. Do not correct or keep going. Start again at the first period another day.

    It is good to add variation to the lesson and I see you doing that with your extensions above. I would also add that it's important to follow the child. What is he interested in? Does he have trouble retaining information in lessons and subjects that interest him? If not, it may be that he simply is not ready. Minimize the frustration by presenting lessons that interest him and slowly go back and incorporate sounds, letters and numbers as he gains more confidence. You can also incorporate reading and writing depending on his interest. If he is interested in dinosaurs, for example, you may use the sound "duh" for dinosaur. You can count them, etc. This will appeal to his interest and he will want to learn more.


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