Inside Track: Reading Analog & Digital Clocks

Teaching Video:

Teaching students to read the time is a complex task. The more traditional, analog clock uses two hands to represent a continuous measurement of time in two units, one which divides the day into 24 equal parts, and rotates twice each day, the other which marks out sixtieth parts of each hour, rotating 24 times each day. “Reading” the time involves working out where both hands are and compiling a time making up a measurement of the hours and minutes since it was last 12 o’clock. No wonder it takes so long for children to get it.

A digital clock, by comparison, is quite a bit simpler, seeing as it displays the numbers of hours and minutes directly in numerical (digital) form.

Note that although time appears to be in a fairly standard numerical form, it is a combination of base ten numbers (eg, 25 minutes), groups of 60 (minutes in an hour, seconds in a minute) and groups of 12 or 24 (hours in a day). It will take children quite a while to become really confident with time measurements.

Here are some suggestions:

• Introduce the idea of measuring the number of hours and minutes since 12 midnight, and later since 12 midday
• Deal with hours first, as the bigger units, talk about the number of hours since midnight, the start of the day. Discuss events which last approximately one hour (eg, math class each day, a TV program)
• Then talk about minutes and how long 1 minute is (a short walk, holding your breath for a long time, reading a page of a book, cleaning teeth)
• Starting with “o’clock” times, show how the time in hours is represented on the analog and digital clock (show both together if possible)
• Then introduce the quarter hours, show how they are shown on both clocks. Give special attention to the “quarter to” times, since they require the name of the nexthour on the clock.
• Talk about the groups of 5 minutes represented between the big numbers on the clock. You can connect the number of minutes to multiples of 5 up to 60.
• Finally, talk about single minutes and how to count them on the clock