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Once Upon a TIME: Telling Time in First Grade

April 30, 2019 No Comments

Once Upon a TIME: Telling Time in First Grade

April 30, 2019 No Comments
Our school day timeline: telling time to the hour and half hour

Once upon a time in a first grade classroom, there was a teacher desperately trying to figure out the best way to teach her first graders to tell time. She tackled this tricky task year after year and was constantly seeking new ways to help her little ones understand the abstract concept. While she still hasn’t found a magic wand to make her first graders magically understand, things are going well and they are all on their way to living happily ever after! Here’s the story:


When I first taught the time unit I’m embarrassed to say that I just taught them to look at the hands and record the time. We would raise our hands up to the 12 and say “O’CLOCK!” and move them down to the 6 would be and chant “THIRTY!”. Of course, I had to spend a little time teaching them the *tricky* position of the hour hand for the half hour. “Always choose the smaller number, except when it’s between 12 and 1!” They’d all nod their heads but with really no clue as to why.

It’s totally okay if you’re cringing with me right now! I mean, it worked in the sense that most of my little ones could meet the expectations of reading time to the hour and half hour but something always felt a little ‘off’ to me. It was very mechanical and their actual understanding of time (especially analog clocks) was still limited. Sooooo, I decided I was going to do a better job at this whole ‘teaching time to little people’ thing! Cue the giant floor clock!!!

Floor Clock
Giant Floor Clock: the perfect tool for introducing time!

THIS is my new favorite tool for introducing time to little ones. Anything oversized immediately captures their attention so what better way to get them excited about learning to tell time?! It also allows for lots of hands-on exploration. After they ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhh’ about how BIG it is, I open it up for them to talk about what they know about clocks and for things they’re wondering about.


Here’s the BIG change: I start with teaching time to the minute. Once we’ve talked about the hour and minute hands, I model how the minute hand travels all the way around the clock for an hour. The minutes are clearly marked on the big clock so it’s perfect for this! They count with me and we stop at the 3, 6, 9, and 12 to note how many minutes have passed. Of course they all want to volunteer to move the hands around so we do that for a while. 😉

At that point, I ask them what they think the hour hand is doing while the minute hand moves. Once they understand that it’s slowly moving toward the next hour, I get 2 volunteers to move the hands. They really start to gain an understanding of why the hour hand is often in between numbers. Next up, I ask them to figure out where is will be when 30 minutes have passed. NO MORE “pick the smaller number” stuff because now they actually see why that’s the case. I can tell you this has been a total game changer in my classroom!

Telling Time to the Hour and Half Hour Game
Piggie Rescue: What time is it Mr. Wolf?

We play lots of games to practice telling time to the hour and half hour. Since we’d just wrapped up our Fairy Tales unit, I made this little pocket chart review game. They take turns reading the time on a wolf card. If they read the time correctly, they can lift the card and see if there’s a piggie behind! We continue playing until all three pigs are rescued. My kiddos could play this game FOREVER!! We play as a group initially and then I make it a center. The small pocket charts from Target are perfect for portable centers.

Telling time to the hour and half hour
Portable Center: one partner hides the pig and the other partner reads the time cards until the piggie is rescued! Then they switch roles. FUN way to practice telling time (and to help some little piggies)!


To help my little ones start thinking about their daily schedule, we created a timeline of a day in first grade. As a group, we brainstormed our daily activities in half hour increments. Then they illustrated the activities and we displayed it on the bulletin board so we can refer back to it as we move through our days. It’s great to hear them calling out the times now, “It’s 12 o’clock! Time to clean up!”

Our school day timeline: telling time to the hour and half hour
A timeline of our busy days in first grade!


Soooo, I needed to review the days of the week with my kiddos and the book Cookie’s Week was a perfect fit! It’s a simple and entertaining story about a cat named Cookie’s week of mischief. It’s organized by day and my class was hooked right away when Cookie fell in the toilet on Monday 🙂 After reading, they had to put Cookie’s week back in order and illustrate their favorite part (I saw a LOT of toilet pictures that day). One note about the story: it begins on Monday so we had a discussion about Sunday being the first day of the week. My kiddos decided that it was okay to start with Monday since that’s the beginning of our school week 😉

Cookie's Week: Sequencing activity
Click the picture to grab a copy!
Cookie’s Week sequencing activity: great way to review the days of the week!

Speaking of COOKIES… our school has been collecting donations for the local food bank and this year they let us know which items were in highest demand. Guess what our class was assigned?! YUP! COOKIES!! We decorated our box for the school food bank train with the one and only Cookie Monster!Click here for a walk down memory lane with the adorable Cookie Monster! Oh and fun fact: Sesame Street is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year. Good to know that the love for cookie monster still lives on…although I believe that he now refers to cookies as a ‘sometimes’ food!


On that note, I’ll sign off until next time! If you have any strategies or thoughts to help with teaching time, please leave me a note in the comments.

With love, from my classroom to yours,

Heart of the Class

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Hello! Welcome to Heart of the Class! I'm a teacher who has found a happy home in first grade. Creating fun and engaging activities for my little ones is a passion of mine and I'm happy to have this space to share them with you. Let's grab a cup of coffee (make that Turkish...mmmm) and hang out for a while! Read More

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