Telling Time as an Everyday Use of Numbers (Phase I)

Hiroko Darnall, Thomas Dooley School, Schaumburg, IL


Program Background Unit Plan Lesson Plan Teaching the Lesson


This unit is introduced as part of establishing a daily routine near the beginning of the school year. The second phase is taught two months later.



Many of the Japanese-speaking children who come to our program have strong native language literacy skills, as most of them go to the Japanese Saturday School. Nevertheless, those Japanese students who have spent several years in the United States generally need a boost to expand their vocabulary and gain control of certain grammatical forms, such as the passive voice and causative forms. Thus, I make a point of introducing more sophisticated vocabulary in content area teaching. I also attempt to use the more difficult structures whenever they fit naturally into the lesson. In addition, during the Japanese Language Arts time, I teach the areas of language that need reinforcement, using a Japanese textbook approved by the Japanese Ministry of Education.


An important consideration in teaching Japanese is which politeness level to teach, formal or informal.  Typical Japanese first graders use informal forms among themselves.  However, they need to learn to use formal forms when they speak with those who are older in order to show respect.  Therefore, I teach the formal form of the language. I find that the English-speaking students are able to pick up the informal forms by interacting with their Japanese-speaking peers.


In general, students’ second-language skills are usually quite limited when they come into my room. In this lesson, the native English-speaking students are learning new concepts in Japanese. When I conduct the lessons, I make sure to provide visual clues and to accommodate students’ learning styles. The use of TPR, gestures, music (including chants or songs), and visuals (drawings or pictures) is essential. Different colored markers, paper, index cards, a portable white board, and magnets to display the visuals are kept close at hand. I try to adjust instruction whenever students do not seem to be understanding, a situation that occurs often in dual language classes, so having these supplies immediately available can be a lifesaver.



A challenge in teaching in a Japanese dual language setting is the scarcity of Japanese teaching materials for both content and language instruction, especially at the elementary school level and for materials mandated for use throughout the district. Materials must be linguistically and culturally appropriate for the language of instruction. Thus during Japanese instructional time, we often use materials written in English and adapt them for Japanese language instruction. In math, the student lab books and activity books that come with the math curriculum are all written in English. For this particular lesson, materials are not a problem. Teaching children to tell time is probably universal. Any clock patterns available to teachers will do for this lesson.


In the first lesson of the unit, students make a clock with an hour hand only. Since they use this clock several times during math and other lessons, it is a good idea to laminate the hand for durability.


I go over the key vocabulary items with the students and write them on a sheet of white construction paper. With each lesson, I add words. The sheet is posted prominently in the classroom so that the children can refer to it.  It stays up until the unit ends.



On the day before the lesson, the students created a clock with an hour hand only and had time to explore it. They practiced showing the exact time from 1:00 to 12:00. Using this prior experience, I began the lesson described above by reviewing what the children had found out about the hour hand. Also I reviewed telling exact times.

Chants can help students become familiar with expressions such as いまなんじですか。 (What time is it?) and _______ じです。 (________  o’clock).


Teaching/Learning Activities

To clarify the meaning of estimate, I use the Natural Approach and TPR. For example, I first demonstrate the concept of estimate by showing an hour hand clock whose hand is not exactly aligned with a number on the clock. I say “だいたい___じごろです” (It’s about ___o’clock), while showing the approximate time. I then repeat the process with different times. Those students who are ready to join in are encouraged to give the approximate times. Then I do the same activity with ___じちょっとまえ (just before __o’clock) and __じちょっとすぎ (just after __ o’clock). I tell the time and the students respond by indicating the time on their own clocks. I always show the possible acceptable times to the students. Every time I show an approximate time to the students, I say that it is an estimated time (だいたいのじかん).


Active and cooperative learning activities as well as playing games such as Time Bingo can also be used to enhance the understanding of the concepts. Students can be paired at their tables or in a whole group setting so that a native speaker is paired with a language learner. Additional practice for telling time is incorporated as activities can be recycled for learning centers.


For those who can already tell time or estimate the time using the hour hand, an enrichment activity is provided. If the students are ready to use the terms はん (half), 15 ふん (a quarter or 15 minutes), and so on, I introduce the vocabulary and encourage the learners to use those expressions for saying the “between” times. Math Exemplars are available for math-gifted children in both languages. These provide enrichment activities related to time.


At the end of the lesson, I review the key phrases and words listed on the white construction paper. One side of the sheet lists Japanese words, and the other shows the corresponding English words.



Most assessment can be done informally through daily observation. For example, when the students are directed to show the time 3じちょっとまえ (just before 3:00), their performance shows that they understand. Participation in a Time Bingo game can be assessed too. For example, students who have trouble finding where to place their markers are probably having difficulty with certain expressions or vocabulary terms.


When assessing, I try to differentiate between those students who have learned the academic concept but are having difficulty because of their stage in language development and those who are having trouble with the academic concepts. One way to do this is to write the time in digits followed by the words ちょっとまえ (just before) on a portable white board or an overhead, placing an arrow pointing counterclockwise above the words. If the students still cannot set their clocks to a little before the hour, it suggests that the problem is at least in part with their understanding of the concept. It is very important to provide visuals when assessing mastery of the concept in order to make sure that the students are not being penalized because of emergent proficiency status.


The worksheets and lab book that come with my district’s math curriculum are also used for evaluation. They are written in English, but I explain the directions in Japanese and go over the material in Japanese. I encourage the children to respond in Japanese as much as possible.


Numbered Heads Together, a cooperative learning activity, provides everybody a chance to answer questions, so that speaking can be assessed. I ask a person from each group to respond verbally instead of writing the answer. The Japanese children often help their English-speaking peers if they need language assistance.


Since the basic content and language concepts of this unit will be used everyday in basic classroom routines, assessment through observation is ongoing. Students’ progress toward these content and language objectives can be recorded on a record sheet during informal observations, allowing for ongoing monitoring of student performance. Students who need extra time to acquire the concept will be encouraged to practice frequently.