In Montessori teachings, all notions are taught during what we call «the lesson in three steps». You are already familiar with it if you have read the articles on the teaching of letters and numbers.
I have noticed during training classes that this method of teaching, which is natural when used everyday, involves a lot of repetition for those who are not used to it.
I therefore thought it was necessary to write a specific article on the subject so that you can use it every time you want to teach your child something new. This method works very well for a great variety of lessons and at any specific age: letters, numbers, vocabulary on the sensorial material, but also vocabulary used in geography, science, music and so on… even words in a foreign language.
First step :
Presentation of the notion to be taught with the exact word and the association of the sensorial perception with the name.
The teacher must first pronounce the names and/or adjectives necessary without further input. The teacher must pronounce the names very distinctly with a clear voice, so that the sounds composing the words are heard very distinctly by the child. For example, when the child touches the smooth paper and the rough paper, during the first sensorial exercises, the teacher will say: “it is smooth!” – “it is rough!” repeating the words, with a clear voice and decomposing the sounds “smooth – smooth” – “rough – rough”. If dealing with numbers, the teacher will say: “it’s four – four” – “it’s five – five”.
Since this naming lesson must consist in the association of a word with an object or with the abstract notion of what the word represents, the object and its name must be used to hit the child’s conscience: that is why it is essential that no other word is pronounced.
Second step :
Distinction of the object that corresponds to the word. The teacher must always make sure that his lesson has reached its goal.
The first positive proof will be that the name stays associated to the object in the child’s conscience. It will therefore be necessary to leave a lapse of time between the first and the second step of the lesson, which will be a moment of silence. Then, the teacher will ask the child calmly, pronouncing the only name (or adjective) taught: “what is smooth?” – “what is rough?”. The child will point the object. This way, the teacher will know if the child has assimilated the association.
The second step is the most important. It contains the real lesson, the association and will help the child memorize the notion. When the teacher has proof that the child has assimilated the notion and that he is interested, he will repeat the question several times but in different ways: “show me what is smooth” – “touch what is smooth” – “take what is smooth”, and so on…
By repeating the question several times, the teacher will insist on the word that will soon be registered. During each repetition, the child that answers by showing the object repeats the association that he is imprinting in his brain. If the teacher notices that the child is not willing to pay attention, if the child responds incorrectly without making the effort, instead of correcting him or insisting, the teacher will have to postpone the lesson to later on.
Third step :
Remembering the word that corresponds to the object. . The third step is a rapid verification of the previous lessons. The teacher asks the child (isolating each part of the material, which means showing one piece at a time): “how is this?” – “what is this?” – “what is this letter?”… If the child has assimilated the vocabulary correctly, he will respond with the correct words: “it’s smooth” – “it’s a four” – “it’s an sssss…”
It is important to conclude this lesson by: “today, we have learned “smooth”” and the teacher touches the smooth paper, “and “rough”” and the teacher touches the rough paper.
Summary of the lesson in three steps to teach the names of each color “red”, “yellow”, “blue”.
Take out three flash cards and place them in front of the child. Tell him: “today, we are going to learn the names of three colors”.
First step: showing each card: “it’s red, red!” – “it’s yellow, yellow!” – “it’s blue, blue!”
Second step: We show the cards: “show me red” – “show me yellow” – “show me blue”. We shuffle the cards and we ask the same questions a great number of times.
Third step : We take the cards away. We place one in front of the child and we ask: “what is it?”. We take it away and place another one in front of the child and ask: “what is it?”, then finally we place the last one in front of the child and ask: “what is it?”
If the child answers correctly, we set the three cards in front of him and we conclude by telling him: “today, you have learned “red” (we show red), “yellow” (we show yellow) and “blue” (we show blue).
Before teaching the next three colors (on another day), we verify that the child remembers the previous colors. If he remembers just two, we take the one that he has not mastered and add two new ones.
We usually present objects, or letters, or numbers or colors… three by three. For a very young child or a child who has difficulties (dyslexia for example), we often present only two objects at a time.
For autistic children, we only present two objects at a time and we come back to it frequently without ever showing any sign of lassitude.