Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Three-Period Lesson and Generalization: Helping Cognitive Processing

NAMC Montessori three period lesson cognitive processing

Along with controlled error and freedom to choose your own work, nothing is quite as Montessori as the three-period lesson. The three-period lesson is a focused and precise way of presenting new vocabulary and concepts to children in a consistent manner, allowing them a sense of comfort and security. They know what to expect every time something new is presented and can focus their entire attention on the concept rather than on the structure of the lesson.

The structure of the three-period lesson is simple. It is made up of three phases:

This is… (Naming Phase)
Show me… (Recognition, Association Phase)
What is…? (Recall, Confirmation of Knowledge Phase)

The Three-Period Lesson and Generalization: Helping Cognitive Processing in the Montessori Environment

If we look at Bloom’s taxonomy, the three-period lesson aligns with the first three levels of the pyramid:

NAMC Montessori three period lesson cognitive processing bloom's taxonomy
(Cornwell, 2011) from

While the process of the three-period lesson remains static, we can add variety to the language we use within the lesson to promote generalization, the child’s ability to use knowledge in new ways.

This transfer of knowledge to new scenarios helps children internalize and master new concepts.

Thomas Caffery, board-certified behavior analyst and parent of a child with autism, recommends being proactive when helping children learn to generalize concepts. (Caffrey, 2014) We can do this with our language and what we ask the child to demonstrate.

Show me...

  • Give me...
  • Touch...
  • Hand me...
  • Pass me...
  • Find...
  • Where is it?
  • Get...

What is this?

  • Tell me what this is.
  • What's the name of this?
  • This is...?
  • What is this called?
  • This is called..?
Generalization is an important skill for all children, but it is especially so for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Children with ASD sometimes have trouble transferring knowledge, behavior, or skills into new contexts. (Erinoaks Kids, 2014) By varying the language we use with the three-period lesson, we can help children with ASD transfer or generalize the vocabulary they are learning into language they understand in a variety of contexts. Rather than simply knowing the new vocabulary only in an instructional setting, they are now able to manipulate the vocabulary into more functional use.

Works Cited
Caffrey, T. M. “Let’s ‘mix up’ what we say to our students when we teach!”
Cornwell, J. Successful Teaching. March 23, 2011. “Bloom's taxonomy: Encouraging higher cognitive thinking in primary school classrooms.”
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, September 17, 2014.


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