Dyslexia Reading a Clock – Multisensory Monday

Multisensory Monday Post from Sarah at RLAC
Please also go check out Sarah’s excellent video post today, which is about when to spell with C or K and a nice mnemonic drawing your students can make to remember this concept!

Telling Time on an Analog Clock

One thing that can be VERY difficult for our students with dyslexia is telling time using an analog clock. I know I struggled with it due to my dyscalculia, and only in my 20s did I finally figure out how the darn things work!

There are several ways to introduce reading an analog clock using multisensory activities.

First Concept: the Clock is really 2 number lines!

Ronit Bird is my hero, because she makes difficult concepts understandable to people like me with dyscalculia. I so wish I could have been taught math by her! Here is a wonderful video she has made about reading a clock:

Here is a similar concept, showing a home-made number line turned into a clock:

Clock-Wise and the Hour Hand

First, teach your students that a DAY = 24 hours, but we count the day in 2 halves so the clock has half of 24 or 12 hours on it.


Then, show your students, and practice, which way is clock-wise. Have them watch the second-hand on a real analog clock– which way does it always go? Practice winding a watch– forward/backward so they can see which was is clock-wise. Make some drawings where you can only draw circles clock-wise. When you play many card games with 3 or more people, play passes clock-wise, so that is another good time to practice the concept!

Once a child has a good concept of counting from 1-12 on a simple number line and a good grasp on the clock-wise direction, they can be shown how to figure out the hour hand on a clock (many 4 year olds can do this, although dyslexic kids may take longer) and show them that the small hand is the one which points to the hour (because there are fewer hours than minutes, so it needs a smaller hand).

One VERY important concept which is lost on a lot of students unless explicitly taught is that the hour hand MOVES during the hour (so slowly it is hard to see)… it may or may not be pointing close to the number of the actual hour. Think about where the hour hand is for the time 4:59– it’s actually pointing right at the 5. One way to practice this concept is to use a geared clock to show that the hour hand moves. This is something a child will not get much practice with if you are using a teaching clock without gears!

Judy teaching Clock with gears
Many instructors like to use this “Judy” clock, because it contains gears and moves like a real clock. Of course, you could use a real clock for the same purpose, with the plastic face taken off so that you can manipulate the arms.


Introducing the Minute-hand

Then, once they can skip-count by 5’s and count to 60, they can be shown the minute hand and start the process of learning to tell time to the minute.

clock flower with minute petals
There are many versions of this idea to make a clock into a flower with the minutes included, so your students can learn the minutes.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

When you have a difficult concept, never underestimate the amount of practice that it can take for the skill to become automatic. The more practice the student has access to, the more likely the concept will stick and that reading an analog clock will become a life-long skill that student can use.

Here is another great video which talks through all the steps for telling time from an analog clock (great for older students too!):


Here is an online, interactive clock to play around with that simulates the movement of all 3 hands (hour, minute, second): http://www.visnos.com/demos/clock

The Language of Time

After your student is adept at reading off the hours & minutes on the clock, you can then start to talk about the language of time. Your student will need some basic idea of simple fractions (halves and quarters). Some suggested vocabulary terms to define and practice:

  • A.M.
  • P.M.
  • noon
  • midnight
  • O’Clock
  • Half Past
  • Quarter Past
  • Quarter ‘Till
  • 5 Past
  • 5 ‘Till

This is one thing which will be especially difficult for dyslexic students– all the ways we talk about time. So, if you say “half past 3” or “quarter-til noon”, they must parse the language in that and really understand what you mean. Your students will need LOTS of practice saying the time in various ways. How many ways can you express that it is 5:45? You could say “it is 5:45 A.M.” or “it is 5:45 in the morning” or “it is a quarter ’till 6”. But they’re all referring to the same time.

Telling time can also be very difficult for students with dyscalculia or dyspraxia. If you have worked through all the concepts and practiced-practiced-practiced, but your student is still not fully capable, maybe having their own special teaching watch could help. This was developed for children with dyspraxia, but it would certainly make it easier for all students who struggle with telling time: http://www.dyslexiadublin.ie/easyread-time-teacher-watch-red-blue.html

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