Wednesday, September 26, 2018

What’s the Rush? When Presenting the Five Great Lessons, Slow Down

when presenting the five great lessons slow down teacher presenting five great lessons.

The Five Great Lessons are thought to be the catalyst of the Montessori elementary cultural curriculum. From the origins of the universe to the story of human communication, the Five Great Lessons provide the keys to learning about science, history, geography, and economics in the Montessori elementary environment. If these lessons are so important, why then, do we often rush to get through them?

A Case of Semantics

Perhaps a name means more than we think. In modern educational terms, a lesson is finite. It has a beginning and end, with the purpose of instructing. In short, a lesson is the amount of learning done at one time. If this is our definition of a lesson, then it is logical to think that the Five Great Lessons should be told quickly so that we can move on to more important activities.

Some Montessorians call all presentations “lessons.” NAMC intentionally uses the term “activities” instead, to indicate that children are actively participating in their learning rather than passively absorbing information.

What if we viewed the Five Great Lessons as the Great Stories, instead? A story conjures the image of a journey. We follow the progression of a story from beginning to end, pausing where there is conflict or where the story captures our interest. When we think of the Five Great Lessons as stories, we give ourselves permission to stop, reflect, and learn along the way.

The Story of the Second Great Lesson: Life Comes to Earth

when presenting the five great lessons slow down second great lesson.

We can use the Second Great Lesson to illustrate this shift to thinking of the lessons as stories. The Second Great Lesson is about how life came to earth, and the story takes place over 3 billion years. Can you tell the story of 3 billion years in just one sitting? Yes, you can because the story is kept very general, giving just enough information to engage the students and spark their imagination. (Although you may want to take 2–3 days so students can truly absorb the whole story.) But the Great Lessons aren’t a “once and done” presentation. We tell the story, and we invite the students to stop and explore.

To get an idea of what we mean, let’s look at the topics that are presented in the Second Great Lesson: Life Comes to Earth.

1. Bacteria, the first life on earth
2. The importance and function of oxygen
3. Early ocean life
4. Trilobites
5. Fossils
6. The appearance of fish
7. The appearance of vertebrates
8. Plants, the first life on land
9. The appearance of insects
10. The appearance of amphibians
11. The importance of ferns
12. The appearance of reptiles
13. Dinosaurs
14. Conifers
15. Flowering plants
16. The appearance of birds
17. The appearance of mammals
18. Earth’s changing continents (continental drift and plate tectonics)
We can look at this story as one GREAT story made up of numerous mini stories. Each mini story offers students a wide variety of exploration and learning. In the Montessori environment, we call this “follow-up work.” If the Great Lessons are the foundation of the Montessori cultural curriculum, then the follow-up work is the scaffolding. It is the children’s research and exploration that provide substance to their learning.

NAMC’s Five Great Lessons manual suggests that the stories be told at the beginning of the school year, within the first 8 weeks. However, you can certainly take longer than that, giving students time to connect with the stories and explore topics that have captured their imagination. In the next blog, we will explore how to use the Five Great Lessons as the foundation upon which to build your presentations throughout the year.

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 Wednesday, September 26, 2018.


  1. I loved this explanation! I am in Upper Elementary and the teacher that has been acting as my mentor said to use the stories as just that, a link into what they will be studying next. When I did the second Great Lesson my students were asking questions about creation stories... led to an unplanned unit on just that!


Have questions or comments? Let us know what you thought about this article!

We appreciate feedback and love to discuss with our readers further.

NAMC Blog Inquiries Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Search the NAMC Montessori Teacher Training Blog

Are you interested in reading back through NAMC's blog articles from years gone by, or for more information on a specific topic?

Browse a select list of our most popular categories below; by clicking on one, you will see every article posted under that topic since 2007. You may also use the lower archive menu to select a year and month, displaying all blog posts in the chosen time frame.

If you are seeking a range of information on a certain topic or idea, try this search box for site-wide keyword results.

Choose From a List of Popular Article Topics

NAMC Montessori Series

Montessori Philosophy and Methodology

Montessori Classroom Management

The School Year

Montessori Materials

Montessori Curriculum

Montessori Infant/Toddler (0–3) Program

Montessori Early Childhood (3–6) Program

Montessori Elementary (6–12) Programs

What is Montessori?

Search Archives for Montessori Blog Posts by Date

Thank you to the NAMC Montessori community!

This year marks NAMC’s 20th anniversary of providing quality Montessori distance training and curriculum development to Montessorians around the globe. Since we began in 1996, we have grown to build a fantastic community of students, graduates, and schools in over 120 countries. We are grateful for your continued support and dedication to furthering the reach and success of the Montessori method. Thank you for sharing this amazing milestone with us!