The Three Period Lesson

11 Jun



In the Montessori Casa (3-6 year olds) and Elementary (Gr. 1 +) classrooms, new vocabulary and concepts are introduced via the Three Period Lesson.

Here’s a brief explanation of the three periods, introducing geometric solids as an example (this lesson is generally introduced in Casa and I have also reviewed it in the beginning of the year for Grade 1 students).


Montessori Geometric Solid material. Made of wood and all painted blue so that the only difference between each object is the shape.

Photo Credit


First Period: Name it! 

“This is a…”

Introduce an object by isolating it for the child then pointing to it and giving its name. Objects may be introduced using concrete materials or nomenclature cards (pictures below), but of course it’s best to use the materials or real life objects for the initial presentation (a real live flower instead of a picture of one).

Example: You bring a tray of geometric solid materials to a mat and set it in front of the child. Take out the sphere solid and set it on the mat. Say to the child, “This is a SPHERE. Sphere. Can you say sphere?” Have child repeat the word and allow him or her to handle it, explaining the features at an appropriate level.


Second Period: Recognize it! 

“Show me the…”

Once the object/concept is introduced, the second step is recognition. This step is usually a separate lesson and will most likely last longer. The child may need review or more time working with the material and this is when the teacher would assess their progress and provide more time and support.

Montessori students also use Nomenclature Cards to learn new concepts. The cards consist of a picture card (a photo or a very simple drawing), a label/name card, and a story/description card (not pictured and usually used for older children who can read).


Montessori Nomenclature Cards: pictures & labels.

Photo Credit


Introducing the Nomenclature Cards after this initial presentation is useful because they can match the pictures to the correct labels. The Control of Error could either be the matching booklet that had all the cards in order or on the back of each card there were matching stickers (by number or colour, for example). The Control of Error allows the children to independently check their own work and correct themselves.


Nomenclature Cards (“Parts of the Fish”): The book is at the top and is used to check work. Below is the picture card, name label, and description. The pictures are purposely kept simple and are repeated on each card. The only difference between the pictures is the part of the fish that is being described is red, isolating the concept.

Photo Credit


In elementary, we used the story cards. The children read the information to learn more and then transcribed it into their notebooks.

The child is beginning to associate the name and the object, and noticing the different characteristics of the object.

Example: Point to the sphere and say, “Show me the sphere.” or “Put the sphere in front of you.” The child points to the sphere or follows your instruction correctly.


Third Period: Know it!

“What is this?”

By the third period lesson (a separate lesson once the second period is mastered), the child can name the object on her own. Formal testing does not align with Montessori philosophy. This Third Period is one way teachers will “test” for comprehension.

Example: Point to the sphere and ask, “What is this?” The child gives you the name, demonstrating her knowledge.


Three Period Lessons in Toddler Language Development: An Observation

As I talk to Freestyle and point out the names to different things around her, I noticed that I would naturally incorporate the Three Period Lesson when I taught her new words.

For example, when she first noticed dogs (she loves dogs!), I would say, “Look at the dog. That is a dog. Can you say ‘dog‘?” (First Period).

Then, if we ever saw dogs in other places, such as in picture books, I would point it out and say, “This is a dog, just like the one we saw outside! Dog. Can you say ‘dog‘?”

Later, if we were out for a walk and someone was walking their dog OR we were reading a book and there was a dog in the picture, I can ask Freestyle, “Where is the dog?” and she would be able to point to it and repeat the word “dog.” (Second Period)

Now when she sees a dog anywhere (in real life or in pictures), Freestyle will point to it and say, “Dog!” (Third Period). Or, if we asked her, “What is that?” she can answer correctly. The word dog is now set in her vocabulary and she can recognize dogs (even though there are various types, though she does not know the different breeds yet, of course!) in different contexts.


Dr. Maria Montessori

Photo Credit


When I realized that I was doing this, I laughed because I feel that the Montessori philosophy of education is so natural and makes so much sense!


If you have younger children, do you notice that you naturally use a version of the Three Period Lesson when teaching them language? 



2 Responses to “The Three Period Lesson”

  1. HT June 11, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

    MM, your post is so timely! My little one is starting to talk, so the three period lesson will be a great method for me to teach and reinforce learning.

    • Montessori Motherload June 11, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

      That’s great! At home it doesn’t have to be a formal lesson of course, since you would just naturally speak with your child all the time. I just found that the Three Periods would just happen when I taught Freestyle new words! Thanks for the comment! I’m glad you enjoyed this! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: