Fun Practice Of The Time For Young Learners

By Alex Case
Games, puzzles, stories and songs for intensive practice of “four o’clock”, “half past five” etc.

clockAlthough children can have problems learning how to tell the time even in their own language, this topic does also have its selling points. The main one is that there are all kinds of physical and other fun ways of using the shape of a clock with its two hands. To start with a TPR example, students can respond to times that the teacher shouts out by moving their own arms into the position of the hands of the clock for that time, e.g. one arm straight up and one arm straight down for “Six o’clock”. Which arm is which can be confusing, so you might want to give them a nice long new pencil and an old worn down one to hold and point. They can also put the pencils in position on the floor, or you can also make using the floor much more physical by getting students to lie flat in the shape of the time, with the hands of the clock being the body of one or two people. For example, one person bent at the waist or two people with their legs touching at 90 degrees could be “Nine o’clock”.

You can also add running by putting two students from each team into the middle of the room and asking them to run to points on the walls to represent the positions of the two hands of the clock, e.g. one student running to the right side of the blackboard and the other student running to the opposite wall for “Half past one”.

The shape of a clock can also be used for a flashcard memory game. Lay twelve cards out in a clock shape, like in the game Clock Patience. Ask students questions about where the cards are or which cards are at particular points on the clock. It is best if the cards represent daily routine actions so you can ask semi-realistic questions like “What do I do at four o’clock?” and “What time do I brush my teeth?” If you only use cards for morning routine actions, you could also do the same thing with the cards representing the five minute graduations of the minute hand, e.g. “I have a shower at twenty five past six”.

It is also fairly easy to make or buy toy clocks, or you can buy real clocks from a discount shop and take off the clear front cover so students can touch and turn around the hands. As well as responding to the times the teacher shouts out by making the clock tell the right time, students can also use them to help calculate little time-related maths puzzles, e.g. “Fifteen minutes earlier than five to ten”/ “Fifteen minutes ago” or “Two hours later than half past eleven”/ “In two hours”.

Another fun maths game is the Reverse Pyramids game. The teacher shouts out a time such as “Twenty five to eight in the morning”. The students write the time down as 07:35, then add those figures to each other, i.e. 0 + 7 + 3 + 5 = 15. That number is then split into single figures which are added together (1 + 5), and this continues until students reach a figure between zero and nine, which in this case leads to the first student to calculate and shout out “Six” winning that round.

A real or model clock can also be used for student to feel the hands with their eyes closed or the clock inside a bag and then shout out the time, but you’ll need to make sure that the hands are fairly fixed so that they don’t move while they are being felt.

Other prompts for students to shout out the time from include the teacher’s arms, something spun around quickly, and two students walking around the edge of the room or a big circle on the floor. The teacher could also keep them on their toes by shouting out “What time is it now?” at random times during the class, but you’ll have to make sure it is a time that they can say in English (i.e. probably not “Two minutes to ten”) or use a toy clock for this purpose. After you tell them how long they have to do something, you should also always ask them what time that means they should finish by. You can also count up to a particular time (e.g. from one o’clock to twelve o’clock in thirty minute graduations) instead of counting down from ten to make them finish something quickly.

Although the physicality of traditional clocks lends itself to some great games and it is easier to understand “five to” etc if you can see that that is where the minute hand is, students who are still struggling with the time in L1 can sometimes find digital clocks easier to cope with. You can give them magnetic numbers to put in order when you shout out a time, or a whole team of four people can hold up number each. They can also race to set the time you say with the controls on the back of real digital clocks.

A good traditional game that involves times is What’s the Time Mr Wolf. This works best if the wolf is told that five o’clock is dinner time and all the other times they say must be in order and before five, as this leads to more language and ratchets up the tension when they reach “Half past four” or “Ten to five”. There are often similar games in other cultures that you could use to help explain the quite tricky rules of this one. There is also a What’s the Time Mr Wolf book available, and in fact there are many books on the topic of time (e.g. Chicken Bedtime is Really Early and The Grouchy Ladybug), as it is something that English native speaking kids also need time to learn. With some work you can also get useful practice out of songs, e.g. getting students to mime the times as they sing the start of Rock Around the Clock or variations on Hickory Dickory Dock that include other times. Wee Sing also includes What Time is it Now? (to the tune of The Farmer’s in the Dell).

The next stage after making sure students know how to understand and say times is to get them in full sentences, e.g. by asking them to mime sentences like “I get up at half past six” for the people watching to guess. You will then want to introduce some personalisation, e.g. giving students points for anything they do earlier in the day than their partner. “Earlier” and “later” can also be used for a guessing game by asking them “What time do I go to bed?” and giving them those clues until they reach exactly the right number.

It is also possible to introduce cultural information, e.g. by giving students a globe and asking them to work out what time it is now in different places. More advanced classes can also listen to or make sentences like “It’s three o’clock in the morning there now, so I’m sure everyone is sleeping”.

Written by Alex Case for Teflnet August 2012
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
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