When introducing vocabulary to the child, Montessori teachers use specific language in a specific order to help introduce, practice and check for mastery. This is called the Three Period Lesson. The lesson can be used throughout the Montessori Environment. The lesson is used to increase and enrich the child’s vocabulary.
Edouard Seguin, a French physician who worked with special needs children during the late 19th century, was an influence on Maria Montessori in many ways. He developed the Three Period Lesson that is now used in Montessori environments.
The First Period is the introduction period. This is the time that the child is given the name of the objects, images or concepts. Depending on the age of the child, there are three to eight objects and they are in one category, but visually different. For example, three pieces of fruit-an apple, an orange and a banana. The teacher introduces one object at a time, slowly and gives the name. The teacher repeats the name several times and ensures she is speaking clearly. This introduction should be done sensorially, so the child has a chance to hold, touch, look closely at and smell the object, if appropriate. The child is building an experience of that concrete object so the word has meaning and context. Later, when he hears the word he will be able to recall the sensorial experiences. Once all three objects have been introduced, they are reviewed one last time.
The Second Period is the time for recognition and association. The teacher will ask the child to point, place or move the objects, one at a time. The handling and moving of the objects helps the child learn kinaesthetically. The teacher might say “put the apple here” or “put the banana in the basket.” The teacher can be creative in the commands, but they should be specific. As the child gets older, the teacher can ask him to close his eyes as she moves the objects around before continuing. If the child chooses a different object, the teacher will just name that object and keeps working. This period should not be rushed. It is the most important part and should last the longest of all three. The teacher is able to observe the child to see the connections made and can review and reinforce vocabulary.
The Third Period is the recall stage. The teacher asks the child to name the objects. This only happens if and when the teacher is confident the child can be successful. If the child has been rushed through the second period, the teacher will be correcting in this stage, which should be avoided. This stage would not be done with a child under the age of three.
The ultimate goal of the Three Period Lesson is to help the child master the information and vocabulary in a meaningful, concrete way. 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.
You can do a Three Period Lesson with your child at home. It doesn’t have to feel formal, have fun with it! Remember to introduce 3-8 objects at a time and allow lots of time for mastery in the Second Period.
First Period: “This is…”
Second Period: “Show me…”
Third Period: “What is this?”