Planning Montessori lessons is one of the most important things that a Montessori teacher does. Because the classroom is child-led, a Montessori teacher needs to be ready for when their students are prepared to advance, and they must carefully deliver the lessons in such a way that the child is at the center of it, not the teacher.
Montessori lessons are designed in a scientific manner so that teachers can develop quality lessons that help them understand the development of the children in their classrooms. Lessons must be carefully and thoughtfully planned out.
In this guide, we will discuss what lessons look like in the Montessori classroom, how to create a Montessori lesson plan, and we will give examples of Montessori lessons to inspire you in your lesson plan creation.
What are Lessons Like in a Montessori Classroom?
Before you start developing lessons for a Montessori classroom, it is helpful to learn about (or remind yourself about) what a lesson looks like in a Montessori classroom because it can be very different from the lessons taught in traditional classrooms.
Characteristics of a Lesson According to Maria Montessori
According to Maria Montessori, there are three important characteristics of individual lessons, and she doesn’t hold back when it comes to teachers who don’t embrace them. In her own words, these include:
- Conciseness: Lessons should be brief, and they should not be wordy. Teachers should not “lose herself in vain words.” Each word should be uttered with care and precision to best help the child.
- Simplicity: Lessons should be pared down so that they only contain what is true. They should focus narrowly on a topic without including extra unnecessary information. The language used should also be as simple as possible. Anything not central to the idea being presented (like puppets or a made-up story about numbers) should be discarded.
- Objectivity: While demonstrating the lesson, the teacher should be as objective as possible. Their personality should not shine at this moment. The child should not be encouraged to apply themselves to the lesson, and they should not be made to “feel that he has made a mistake.” This will make the child apply themselves when they wouldn’t normally, and it is not conducive to child-led learning.
The characteristics of a Montessori lesson are not unexpected if you think about what Montessori was trying to do. Montessori lessons promote child-led learning, experimentation by the teacher, and they do not position the teacher at the center of the activity even when they are presenting a lesson.
But these are not the only essentials of a Montessori lesson plan. Montessori also made use of the Three Period Lesson, which we’ll discuss in the next section, and her philosophy and values are reflected in all aspects of lesson planning.
What is the Three Period Lesson?
Although the Three Period Lesson has come to be associated with Montessori lessons, Maria Montessori did not come up with the idea. She adopted it from the French physician Edouard Seguin, who researched educational methods for special needs children in the mid to late 1800s.
The Three Period Lesson consists of three parts:
- First Period. The teacher presents the vocabulary or concept to be learned to the student. This is done simply and without any fanfare. For example, when teaching a child shapes, the teacher might place a wooden shape piece in front of the child and say, “This is a circle.” Then she might place another and say, “This is a square.”
- Second Period. The teacher asks the student to show them where a specific item is. With the shapes, the teacher would place all the shapes in a row and say, “show me the circle.” The student would then point to the circle.
- Third Period. The third period requires students to come up with the word on their own. The teacher might hold up the circle and say, “What is this?” Once a child makes it to this period, they are likely masters of the material.
Montessori’s Three Period Lesson
Montessori put her own little spin on this concept, however. Let’s take a look at some of the guidelines she gave for implementing the Three Period Lessons.
- Sensory foundations. Before you can begin the first period, a child must have the ability to differentiate between sensory stimuli, which is why sensory education is an important part of the Montessori classroom. With the shapes, this could be achieved by asking the student to sort different shapes or match shapes before they even know the names.
- Comparisons. When presenting material to students, it is customary to provide at least two items at a time and sometimes more, so that the child will have something to compare it to. In the example of the shapes, 2-3 shapes may be presented at one time so that the child can observe that some shapes have corners, some rounded edges, and some have sharp points.
- Wrong answers. If the child at any point does not respond as they should, it is best not to let them know. It is important that children come to the material in their own time and when they are ready for it. Montessori suggests simply giving the child an encouraging smile and ending the lesson.
- Delayed third period. That third period, when the student can show mastery of the lesson, does not usually come quickly. There are exceptions, but most students require several interactions with the word/concept before they hit the third period. For example, a child may need to interact with a shape in several different ways (puzzle, drawing, matching activities) before they master the term for it.
The Three Period Lesson is easy to translate into the preschool classroom, where concepts are simple and easy to present, but with a little outside-of-the-box thinking, it can be applied to just about any lesson. The Three Period Lesson is organized in such a way that material is presented in the order that we naturally learn things. We are presented with information, we learn to recognize it, and then we learn to recall it.
Other Characteristics of Montessori Lessons
There are some other characteristics of a Montessori lesson that Maria Montessori doesn’t directly discuss, but they are rooted in her philosophy.
Montessori Lessons Include Hands-On Activities and Meaningful Work
Montessori was all about providing hands-on work for children, especially younger children. The younger the child, the more hands-on the work would need to be, but even in the elementary classroom, you’ll see teachers providing activities that get students doing.
In a preschool classroom, this could be setting the table or sorting colors. In an elementary classroom, it could be sewing, washing dishes, writing books, or matching definitions and vocabulary to pictures.
There aren’t many Montessori schools out there, and Maria Montessori mostly discusses the education of younger children, but the philosophy holds true. High school students would be engaged in real-world activities like running a business, cooking, or studying constellations. Areas of study are dictated by the interests of the students as much as regulations permit.
Montessori Educators Must Be Flexible and Adaptable with Lessons
Montessori classrooms typically include children of different ages, and there is a wide range of abilities and needs. A teacher must be prepared to teach any number of lessons at any given time. One student might be ready for a lesson in number recognition, while another might need help recognizing colors.
When the lesson is delivered will be different for most students. When large group lessons are necessary, the teacher must also be ready for some students not to participate. We’ll touch on this more later in this article.
Montessori Lessons are Grounded in Truth and Fact
In lessons, the teacher should not attempt to entertain the students or ignite their imagination and curiosity. In a child-led classroom, this isn’t necessary; It can detract from the lesson and cause confusion among students. This is why Montessori pushed the idea that teachers should only give lessons on what is true.
She gives an example of a teacher who pretended to have a baby in her arms for the sake of a lesson. Montessori’s observation of the lesson showed that this only confused the children. Another teacher used a doll while demonstrating addition, which only detracted from the actual information being presented.
You can probably think of a time when you sat in a classroom and a teacher tried to explain something using an imaginary element. It was likely meant to entertain and excite you about a topic you weren’t interested in. Think about what you actually learned and consider whether it aligns with a child-led educational philosophy.
So before including something like this in a lesson, you might want to be certain that it won’t just get in the way.
Montessori Lessons Are Taught One-on-One or in Small Groups
Maria Montessori made it very clear that lessons should be taught on an individual basis whenever possible, especially in the early days when children are still learning how to comport themselves in the Montessori classroom.
Lessons directed at the whole class should be a rarity. In her book, The Montessori Method, she writes, “The collective lessons, in fact, are of very secondary importance and have been almost abolished by us.” So, group lessons aren’t necessarily banned, but the teacher should always be thinking of whether whole group instruction will be practical or necessary.
Individual lessons are an essential component of a Montessori classroom for good reasons. Here are the advantages that teachers get from teaching children one-on-one or in small groups:
- Individual lessons allow for individualized education. By teaching one child at a time or even small groups, teachers can meet students where they are. If a child is ready for more rigorous work than the rest of the class, they can pursue it. Allowing the child to learn at their own pace is one of the foundational principles of Montessori.
- Individual lessons let the classroom be child-led. According to Montessori, in the child-led classroom, it can be difficult (or impossible) to get a group of children to sit quietly, listen, and attend until they have developed the ability to differentiate between good and evil. It is, however, possible to get just one (or 2-3) students to do this.
- Individual lessons give the teacher the opportunity to both observe and experiment. Montessori believes that educators should know how to experiment with their lesson plans so that they can understand children better and develop meaningful lessons that work. When teaching to the whole class, teachers cannot observe or experiment with the same precision.
So, for younger children or children just entering a Montessori classroom, it is essential that lessons be taught on an individual basis or in very small groups. As children get used to the classroom and become more mature, group lessons are okay, but individual or small group lessons are always the preference.
When Do Montessori Teachers Give Lessons?
So when does all this lesson giving happen in the Montessori classroom if it is done individually? Just about any time! Whole group lessons can be presented during circle time or any time that isn’t during a work cycle.
Small group lessons and one-on-one lessons can be completed during the work cycle. This is the ideal time to introduce a child to a new concept. They would select an activity that is new to them. The teacher would then sit with them and present the lesson.
What Are the Essentials of a Montessori Lesson Plan?
In this section, we’ll go over what you need to include in your lesson plan. We’re going to present them in the order that we think about and consider them, not the typical way you’d see them on a formal lesson plan. For example, we won’t talk about the lesson title right away because we don’t focus on that first, but certainly, you’ll want it at the top of your page!
Every teacher will lesson plan in a different way. So, as you read through this section, you should feel encouraged to change up the order that you do things or add in a section that seems important to you or your classroom. For example, if you’re working with children with special needs, you may need to include specific student modifications so that the lesson can be adapted to meet their needs.
Here is a quick glance at the essential components of a Montessori lesson plan:
- Learning objective
- Skills practiced
- Prerequisite knowledge
- Lesson title
- Lesson delivery
- Anticipating questions or stumbling blocks
- Materials needed
- Future activities
- Children ready for this lesson
Now let’s look at each of these a little more closely.
Learning objects are arguably the most important part of the lesson plan. Without learning objectives, you’re not planning a lesson. You’re planning an activity that may or may not result in learning.
A learning objective is the goal of the lesson. It is what the child should be able to do, and it should be as precise as possible in its estimate. For example, the student will be able to correctly label a circle, a square, and a triangle with an accuracy of 100%.
The characteristics of good learning objects include:
- They focus on what a child will be able to do.
- They include the precise information or concept that is to be mastered.
- They are measurable.
- They can be assessed.
We like to think of the learning objective as a hypothesis. When well done, they are basically what the teacher believes the outcome will be. If most students do not achieve the outcome, then the lesson should probably be revised.
In a Montessori classroom, most lessons should only have one main objective, even if there is overlap in the skills used. For example, a lesson can be about shapes and include a puzzle. The student may need to practice fine motor skills to complete the puzzle. It can be helpful to note these skills in your lesson.
Here are some of the skills a Montessori lesson might include without them being a part of the main objective:
- Fine motor skills
- Gross motor skills
- Scissor use
- Pencil grip
- Cleaning up
- Emotional regulation
- Letter sounds
Really, there is no limit to the number of skills that a child could be using while completing a lesson! If you keep your lessons in a digital file, you can easily search for specific terms like “fine motor” when selecting lessons for individual students.
In some ways, when you create your objective, you’re building in the assessment. When a child is able to label the shapes with 100% accuracy, you know they’ve mastered the topic. However, sometimes a specific assessment outside of the lesson is required or desirable.
For example, you might present the lesson, and the child may show with 100% accuracy that they can label the shapes in a puzzle that you’re using, but you want to be sure that they can apply that knowledge in a different scenario. You might set up a tray with cardstock shape cut-outs and ask them to tell you what each shape is called.
This kind of testing is not always necessary, desirable, or practical in a child-led classroom, so use your judgment.
Before you can deliver a lesson, you need to think about what a student needs to know before they are ready for the lesson.
In the case of the shapes, you have to be sure that the student has the sensory ability to differentiate between different shapes. They also may require the motor skills required to complete the task. Consider and list all of the prerequisite knowledge the child will need before engaging in the lesson.
Title the Lesson
Name the lesson! At this point, you should have enough of an idea of what you’re about that you can accurately name the lesson.
In the case of our example about shapes, we would name the lessons Labeling Circles, Squares, and Triangles. The lesson leading into this one may have been called “Sorting Circles, Squares, and Triangles.”
This section is very important and should not be skipped. There is a tendency to think that you can just wing it or that you know what you’re going to do, but this isn’t the best route to take. Because lessons should be short, simple, and objective, you’ll want to prepare what you’ll say in advance.
In this section, you should include:
- What you will do
- What you will say
- What you will do if the child is unable to complete a task
You won’t be using this as a script, but it might look kind of like one. You should study it, so you remember (approximately) what you’ll say at each stage of the lesson.
This also will help you imagine how the child will react and get you thinking about what you’ll need for the lesson.
Anticipating Questions or Stumbling Blocks
Now that you have an idea of what will happen during the lesson, it can be helpful to brainstorm a list of questions you expect children to ask or what stumbling blocks you might run into.
For example, if you’re giving a lesson about the life cycle of a butterfly, you will likely be asked quite a number of very good questions about butterflies or the life cycles of other animals.
Depending on the age group, you may get several “but whys” you will want to be prepared for. Ideally, you would be able to direct the student to a resource where they can learn more if they show an interest.
List of Materials Required
By this point in your process, you will probably be ready to write down the materials you will need to present the lesson. Consider some of the following questions while making this list:
- What material do I need?
- Where will the lesson be taught? Does it need to be taught in a specific location?
- If there is something created through the lesson (like a story or a painting), what will the student do with it?
- Will there be garbage created, and what will the student do with it?
- Where will the materials be placed and organized?
Some of these questions might not be necessary, depending on the type of lesson you’re planning and how your classroom is set up, but it is good to think about these things beforehand.
This section is all about where this lesson is headed. What lesson would you ideally teach right after this one? Ideally, each lesson should build on the last, but it shouldn’t require a great leap.
In the case of our shapes lesson, your next lesson might involve sorting squares and rectangles or circles and ovals. You wouldn’t necessarily expect the student to label them without working on their ability to discriminate between the two similar shapes.
In this section, you might also want to think about activities you could slip into the prepared environment that the student can complete independently, but relate to the topic. For example, you might introduce a pin-poking activity with shapes.
Children Ready for This Lesson
This is an optional section, but when pulling together a new lesson plan, we usually have a student or two in mind who we think would enjoy it or benefit from it. It can be helpful to make a note of those students, even if it is just on a sticky note, so that you can be sure the student notices it.
This is, perhaps, more useful in the elementary classroom, where regulations may require that a student meet certain educational standards.
Examples of Montessori Lesson Plans
Now let’s take a look at some examples to get you started in making your own lesson plans. Below I will share a preschool lesson plan as well as an elementary lesson plan.
Montessori in secondary school is even more student-led, and how you plan lessons will vary depending on how you interpret Montessori at this level. Many Montessori teachers at the secondary level see themselves as trusted advisors and do very few lessons.
Example Preschool Lesson Plan
Title: Identifying Parts of a Flower
Learning Objective: Students will be able to identify the flower, stem, leaves, and roots of a flower with an accuracy of 100%.
- Sensory perceptions
- Students will display understanding within the lesson through the completion of the activity.
- Further mastery can be displayed during time outdoors, with flower arrangement activity, or during a flower dissection.
- A flower cut into its parts
- A whole flower for the student to examine
- Containers to hold the pieces of the flower
- May want a rag handy for cleaning up depending on the student’s tendencies
- Students should have sensory experiences with flowers and other plants in nature.
- Students should have mastery of a matching activity where parts of the flower are sorted.
- Invite the student into the lesson.
- Point to the whole flower. “This is a whole flower.” Point to the pieces and say, “These are the parts of the flower. This part is called the flower. This part is the stem. These are the leaves. These are the roots.” Pause between each to allow the student to take in the information. (This is the first period.)
- Ask the student to show each part of the flower: “Show me the stem. Show me the flower. Show me the leaves. Show me the roots.” (This is the second period.)
- If the student does not point to the flower’s proper parts, allow them to continue exploring the flower, smile at them, and end the lesson when appropriate. The lesson may be repeated at another time if the child shows interest.
- Ask the student, “What is this?” and point to the stem. Continue with each part of the flower. (This is the third period.)
- If the child does not respond with the right answer, smile and end the activity when they are ready to move on.
Anticipated questions or stumbling blocks:
- Are petals and leaves the same? Why?
- Why are roots dirty?
- What is the center of the flower called?
- What are flowers for?
- Potential stumbling block: the difference between leaves and petals, flower refers to the flowering part of the plant and not the whole plant. This could lead to confusion.
- Arranging the parts of the flower so that they make a flower
- Circle time reading about what each part does
- Pollination and bees
Children ready for this lesson:
Example Elementary Lesson Plan
Title: Identifying Local Deciduous Trees
Learning Objective: Students will be able to identify the three types of trees near our school (Maple, White Oak, Poplar) with 80% accuracy.
- Sensory perceptions
- Fine motor
- Students will display understanding within the lesson through the completion of the activity.
- Further mastery can be displayed during time outdoors or when using a nature journal.
- Several leaves from a Maple, White Oak, and Poplar tree, ideally fresh picked (or photographs)
- Pictures of each type of tree
- Labels for each type of tree
- Students should have experience observing trees out of doors.
- Students will need to be able to read to labels.
Invite the student into the lesson. The tray should be arranged with the leaves next to the image of the tree.
|First Period||Point to each type of tree in the photographs and tell the student its name. “This is a Maple. This is a White Oak. This is a Poplar.” Allow the student to examine the leaves of each tree and ask them to share their thoughts on the leaves and their differences|
|Second Period||Give the student the labels and allow them to place the labels with the corresponding tree. If the student does not point to the proper parts of the flower, allow them to continue exploring the flower, smile at them, and end the lesson when appropriate. The lesson may be repeated at another time if the child shows interest.|
|Third Period||Ask the student, “What type of tree is this?” and point to one of the trees. Continue with each tree. If the child does not respond with the right answer, smile, and end the activity when they are ready to move on|
Anticipated questions or stumbling blocks:
- Why do leaves fall off of trees?
- What other types of trees are there?
- What are these things running through the leaves? What do they do?
- Why are there different types of trees?
- Do some trees have leaves that look the same?
- Trace the leaves on paper in a nature journal and have the student label them.
- Go on a nature walk and identify the different types of trees.
Children ready for this lesson:
Hopefully these examples have been helpful in providing some insight into what Montessori lesson plans look like. The most important thing to keep in mind is to let the child be the focus of the lesson instead of the teacher, as well as to follow the child and the pace of their learning.