Telling Time to the Hour and Half Hour

The math standards are carefully aligned to gradually develop concepts over a period of time. A great example is telling time. In First Grade, students are required to tell time to the hour and half hour. In Second Grade, the standards extend it to five-minute intervals. Finally, in Third Grade, students work with one-minute intervals and elapsed time.

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Although most clocks are now digital, the standards require students to read both digital and analog clocks. When you think about it, reading an analog clock is a VERY abstract concept. We say the numeral the hour hand is pointing to, but we count by 5s for the minute hand. Not to mention the fact that they have to remember which is the minute hand and which is the hour hand. While digital clocks are easier to read, they don’t provide a visual referent for times. For example, there is nothing to show that 2:55 is almost 3:00. Students must know there are sixty minutes in an hour, so 55 minutes past 2:00 is almost to the next hour.

Whenever students encounter a new skill or concept, it’s important for them to have concrete experiences. In the case of time, students should work extensively with geared student clocks to experience the relationship between the minute hand and the hour hand.

Here are some suggestions for a progression of teaching time to the hour and half hour in First Grade:

  • Have students practice showing and writing times to the hour using geared student clocks. Provide visuals, such as an anchor chart, to help students remember that the hour hand is the shorter hand and the minute hand is the longer hand. Tip: There are fewer letters in the word hour, and the hour hand is shorter. When writing time, explain that the 00 following the hour in a time like 3:00 indicates that the time is zero minutes after 3 o’clock, or 3 o’clock and zero minutes.
  • Allow students to explore what happens to the minute hand when the hour hand moves from one hour to the next. Ask students to show the time 3:00. Then ask them to move the hour hand slowly until it reaches the next hour. Repeat this with additional times to the hour. Ask students what they notice and wonder about the minute hand and the hour hand.
  • After students are secure with times to the hour, provide them a frame of reference for times to the half hour by asking them to estimate where the minute hand would be halfway between two hours, for example 3:00 and 4:00, and show you on their geared clocks. Remember to have students defend their answers. Because students in First Grade aren’t required to understand 5-minute increments, it’s not really necessary to show them that the minutes are counted by fives. It’s enough for them to know that an hour has 60 minutes, so times to the half hour show a time halfway from one hour to the next and are written with 30 for the minutes.
  • Have students show time a time to the hour and then move to the half hour. For example, have students show you 3:00 and then move the hands on their clocks to 3:30. Again, it’s not necessary for them to count by fives. What you do want them to recognize is that the minute hand points to the 6  and the hour hand is halfway between the 3 and the 4 on the clock. Alternately referring to the half hour times as half past provides students with another frame of reference. Repeat this activity to provide students with lots of practice.
  • Once students have separately practiced times to the hour and half hour, give them mixed practice by alternating asking students to show times to the hour and half hour, so now they have to think a little more about the process. Again, stick with those geared clocks!
  • When students move toward writing times to the half hour, I always have them decide on and write the hour first. I have them circle the two hours the hour hand is between, and then write the hour it has already gone past.
time to the half hour

I hope these tips for teaching students to tell time to the hour and half hour are helpful to you!

If you’re looking for a fun way to practice, check out this I Have/Who Has Game.

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  1. If you teach fractions first it helps with the notion of half an hour. Take one hour – full clock and then cut in half. Also use cubes to make a set of 60 and then have the kids move into 2 equal sets or 30 per group. Very visual.

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