Is telling time really that important? With a clock on every phone, why do our adult ESL students need to know how to ask for the time?
Even if we HAVE a phone on us, sometimes we need to ask what time an event begins or ends. Sometimes Google DOESN’T have the answer, and navigating through a website in English trying to find a time for something specific is difficult to do when English isn’t your first language. Don’t believe me? Try it on a website in Chinese or Arabic or any other language you don’t know.
What is the purpose of telling time?
It goes way beyond being able to ask and respond to the question, “What time is it?” Think about all the ways telling time is important in daily adult life.
- for the dentist
- to get the car repaired
- to view an apartment
- for a parent/teacher conference
- at work
- a change in the work schedule
- an in-person meeting
- a time-sensitive deadline
- and more, such as
- finding out when a store opens or closes
- learning the new flight departure time
- to know when to meet a new friend
- to know/understand the time period during which the electric bill will soar if you run too many appliances at once
Sure, you could devote entire lessons to telling time, but I’ve found that making it meaningful by incorporating it into other lessons is often better.
3 Types of Activities for Telling Time
Sneak telling time sentences into your grammar classes.
Teaching yes/no questions and answers? That’s a fantastic time to mix in some questions related to telling time. Create a page that lists many different times using analog clocks, digital clocks, and the time written with numbers and with words (5:30/five-thirty). Then ask them yes/no questions that would require them to understand the time written on the page. For example, the page might have:
Then you would ask questions like:
- “Does the movie start at ten-thirty?
- “Did they finish at half-past twelve? ”
Create time-telling opportunities for them to practice saying and listening to the time. That page I mentioned just above? Make it half and half. Then students could work in pairs to ask and answer those yes/no questions. Grammar and telling time speaking/listening practice all rolled into one! Don’t have time for that? Try my Telling Time task cards for the simple tenses!
Go beyond clock time with your telling time lessons.
Of course, sometimes you really do need to devote entire lessons to telling time, and we both know that there are only so many times you can have them asking for and giving the time. The thing is, telling time is NOT just about clock time.
Remember to teach them about noon, dusk, and in the afternoon, just to name a few.
Talking about daily routines often is paired with telling time exercises, and for students who prefer to answer vaguely or get too anxious about being precise in their answers, being able to say “in the morning” instead of the more exact “at 6:25″ is a relief. Ooh, and look at that! Prepositions with time! See how telling time practice can tie into more than images of clocks?
Lob a few time-related idioms at them.
You might not want to give your beginners an entire lesson on time-related idioms, but tossing in an idiom per day is manageable for many students. They’ll remember and use the ones that have the most meaning to them. I liked to match idioms to specific situations that arise in conversations with my students so that their first exposure to them was already context-embedded. However, if we waited only for such idiom-moments, we might not have a chance to get to the really rich, juicy ones. I’d like to take a quick moment and save you some time by offering you a time-related idioms freebie. Click here to subscribe to my newsletter, and it’s yours!
Take note of differences in telling time
If your students come from a country that uses what people in the USA call “military time,” you’ll need to spend a little more time teaching “am” and “pm.” Point out to them how we might substitute “three in the afternoon” for “three pm” to get across the same meaning that “fifteen hundred” does.
Ask your Thai students about how a day is split into four 6-hour periods vs. two 12-hour periods. Have fun explaining to many of your students why 3 am is in the morning even though it happens during what we’d otherwise call the night.
Find resources made for adults for telling time
Giving my students enough opportunities to practice talking about and asking about time was always been difficult if I used only the given materials. Many of them needed MORE than just a couple of fill-in-the-blank questions. Searches of the internet yielded tons of material–for young learners.
Well, when we can’t find what we need, we have to create it ourselves, right? So, that’s what I did. As time went on, I improved it more and more and even made more versions of it like the my Telling Time boom cards. When TpT created Easel, wow did I ever have fun making a digital version for my Telling Time for Adult ESL resource!
My Telling Time packet with its accompanying digital presentation and interactive Easel with audio is for our adult ESL students who need practice telling time in a variety of ways that is NOT geared toward children. Why get this? You need more material, but you have other things going on in your life and can’t take the time to make your own materials, right? By purchasing this, you’re purchasing time. Enjoy spending the time you save in any way that you choose! This saved time is redeemable each time you teach a class about telling time.