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How To Increase Your Child’s Vocabulary: The 3 Period Lesson

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The Montessori 3 Period Lesson for Vocabulary Development

“Can you put the yellow warbler on my nose?” I said to Annie as we did the 3-period lesson with backyard birds. 

She thought that was so silly, and we had so much fun while learning the new vocabulary word, yellow warbler!

The three-period lesson in Montessori is a fantastic method to help young children with vocabulary development. I started using the lesson with my daughter, Annie, when she was two and a half last year. 

I often use this lesson with her if we’re learning new and tricky words. 

When I was a Montessori teacher, I was amazed at how well this lesson worked. We used it in the classroom for teaching letter sounds, numbers, colors, shapes, and all kinds of new words.

Here, I’ll share how to do the three-period lesson with your child. I’ll also offer some tips and tricks to get the most out of it and how you can increase your child’s vocabulary!

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In This Post

Why are vocabulary words important for young children?

According to the International Literacy Association (ILA), vocabulary is essential for young children because it helps develop skills for:

  • reading
  • academic success
  • comprehension 
  • knowledge of the natural and social world

The ILA also notes that vocabulary provides knowledge that gets greater over time and that learning new vocabulary should start with very young children. 

Additionally, Montessori said,

“A child can only acquire the words he hears spoken around him. This is not teaching but absorption. The child is, by nature, hungry for words; he loves strange, long words like the names of dinosaurs and constellations. He takes in all these words without understanding their meaning, as his mind is still taking language in by a process of unconscious absorption.”

Montessori observed that very young children within this specific sensitive period for language could learn new words limitlessly. 

Young children love to say new words as they practice moving their mouths and tongues to say new words. 

When I was a Montessori teacher and while working with my daughter, Annie, I observed that little kids love repeating the most advanced or technical words that I say to them. 

For example, they love learning the names of dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus Rex and Brachiosaurus. Also, little children love the unique names of different animals, trees, insects, and flowers.

Short term benefits of vocabulary development

  • speaking clearer
  • using complete sentences
  • improved listening skills
  • confidence 
  • self-expression

Long term benefits of vocabulary development:

  • preparation for writing and reading
  • increased confidence
  • enjoying books and the pleasure of reading
  • building a solid foundation for communication skills

What is the Three Period Lesson?

The three-period lesson in Montessori is a teaching technique involving three parts: 

  • First Period: Association
  • Second Period: Recognition
  • Third Period: Recall

Montessori teachers use the method in the classroom for children to learn new vocabulary words. Teachers also use the three-period lesson with the children so that they can learn new letter sounds, numerals, colors, shapes, and other terminology.

Where did the three-period lesson come from?

The French physician Edouard Seguin developed the three-period lesson in the late 19th Century. Seguin worked in a hospital with children with learning differences and disabilities. He used his three-period lesson to get them up to speed with learning and cognitive development. 

Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator, worked under Seguin, where she learned how to use the three-period lesson. She used the method with the children in her schools. She discovered the effectiveness of using the three-period lesson in children.

Nowadays, the three-period lesson is used in Montessori schools around the globe to learn new vocabulary words, letter sounds, and more! 

There have been evidence-based studies about the method, showing that this method can also help with learning a second language and help children with learning differences. 

How do you do the three period lesson in Montessori?

Begin by introducing new vocabulary

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name the birds

Choose a vocabulary activity with your child. Here, Annie and I did classified objects with little backyard birds. 

To learn new words, you could also match object-to-object, object-to-picture, matching cards, or three-part cards.

Here, we named the birds:

  • blue jay
  • robin
  • oriole
  • yellow warbler
  • cardinal
  • woodpecker
  • indigo bunting
While doing the activity, notice what your child is attracted to and what she loves. What names does she already know, what does she want to pick up, and what doesn’t she know yet? 
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put the rest of the birds away

I asked Annie, “pick two birds you would like to remember the name of today.”

She picked the yellow warbler and the cardinal. 

Then, I asked her to put the rest of the birds back on the tray, and we put the tray out of sight. 

Next, we started the 3-period lesson. 

I made matching bird cards. If you’d like to download them, scroll down to the bottom of this post and sign up for the resource library.

First Period: Association

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You say, "this is a cardinal. This is a yellow warbler."

In the first period, you associate the name with the object or picture. You’re naming the object. 

You say to your child while pointing, “This is…”

In this case, I said to Annie while pointing:

This is a cardinal.

This is a yellow warbler.

I repeated this a few times and went back and forth, starting with the yellow warbler first. 

Second Period: Recognition

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Put the yellow warbler on my nose

In the second period, your child recognizes the objects when you ask her to point out the objects this time.

You say to your child, “Show me… give me…”

In this case, I asked Annie,

Touch yellow warbler. Pick up yellow warbler, put yellow warbler in my hand, and place yellow warbler back on the mat.

I started with the yellow warbler, which was the last object I named in the first period; this will help your child remember.

Then, I moved on to the other object:

Show me cardinal.
Give me cardinal.
Put cardinal on your elbow.
Put cardinal on your head.
Put cardinal on my head.
Put cardinal back on the mat.

Extend the second period: move your body!

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put the yellow warbler on YOUR nose

It’s essential to extend the second period in creative ways. Here is where the fun begins! 

Get your child’s whole body involved while naming the objects, and be silly! 

I went back to the first object, yellow warbler, and we tried different things. 

vocabulary, 3 period lesson, Montessori, vocabulary development, birds
hold yellow warbler and do tree pose

I asked Annie:

Put yellow warbler on my nose.
Put yellow warbler on your nose.
Hold yellow warbler and do tree pose.
Hold yellow warbler and jump up and down.
Walk down the hallway with yellow warbler.

Then, we did the same with cardinal. 

You could go back to the yellow warbler if your child wants to continue playing.

The ideas are endless. You continue to name the object as your child does different movements, which helps your child to remember the new vocabulary words. 

I made matching cards for the bird objects. So you could also extend the 2nd period by turning it into a little game by asking your child,

“Can you find the matching card for the yellow warbler?”

I made matching bird cards. If you’d like to download them, scroll down to the bottom of this post and sign up for the resource library.

Third Period: Recall

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What is this?

In the third period, your child recalls what the word is when you ask her to name the object. Your child is remembering and naming. 

You ask your child, “what is this?”

At this point, you have named the objects several times while extending the second period. So it’s the perfect time to ask your child if she can say the names.

Note: ask your child to name the last object you named in the second period so your child remembers.

In this case, I asked Annie while pointing:

What is this?
Annie said, yellow warbler.

Then I pointed to the second object while asking:

What is this?
Annie said, cardinal.

What if my child doesn't remember the name?

Sometimes, your child won’t remember one or both of the names when you ask during the second period. That’s okay. Just be gentle about it. Make a mental note about it to go back to this another time.

You could go back to the first period again or put the activity away and try it again another time. In Montessori, we try not to correct the child. But we can model and name the objects gently.

When I was a Montessori teacher, and while working with Annie at home, I noticed that it’s very common for the kids to forget the name of the second object when you ask, “what is this?”

They most often remember the name of the first object because it’s the last one you named.

At what ages can we do the three-period lesson?

We usually implement the three-period lesson for kids aged two-and-a-half to six years old. I’ve heard of some Montessori teachers using this in the lower elementary classrooms for specific vocabulary and other terminology, with great success.

You can also do the three-period lesson or variations for younger toddlers (around 18 months old to two years old). It depends on the kid and if they are exceptionally verbal.

Remember to be gentle with very young toddlers and skip the third period, naming the objects if they’re not ready. We want to avoid asking them to remember the names and say them if they’re not ready yet. 

But this is a great time to have fun and play a little game in the second period.

For more fun ideas on extending the second period, I have broken out ideas for different age groups in a cheat sheet. Download the cheat sheet by signing up for the Resource Library at the bottom of this post.

3 period lesson pin

The Dos and Don'ts while doing the three period lesson


  • You can use two or three objects at a time. (I prefer to use two objects at a time).
  • Choose objects/pictures that are attractive to your child.
  • Choose objects/pictures that your child doesn’t know yet.
  • Keep a log of successes and misses.


  • Don’t force the third period.
  • Don’t pick random objects; group items in classified themes (birds, ocean animals, flowers, dog breeds).
  • Don’t do more than three items at a time.

Concluding Thoughts about increasing vocabulary with the Three Period Lesson

The critical thing to remember while doing this method with your child is to have fun and be silly. 

Do different movements with your body while saying the word. The repetition while moving can help children to remember the new words.

What Annie loved the most was putting the bird on her head and placing the bird on her nose. 

She also enjoyed doing tree pose while holding the bird. Be creative with it and turn it into a little game! 

You could even do a little “put it away” game to practice cleaning up independently.

Have you tried the three-period lesson with your kids? How does your child learn new vocabulary words? Leave a comment below! 

More Montessori Resources

You can also download the lesson plans for:

1. Beginning Oral Language Activities

2. Picture Story (Dictation) Plus 24 photos and the lined paper we used!

3. Naming – plus 140 labels for around the house

4. Classified Objects – plus 8 insect photo cards

5. Object Discrimination (Object Matching)

6. Object Picture Matching – plus 8 flower photo cards to go with objects

The Three Period Lesson Cheat Sheet – plus 7 bird photo cards

You can download them all below, by signing up for the Resources Library.

The Montessori 3 Period Lesson for Vocabulary Development

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14 thoughts on “How To Increase Your Child’s Vocabulary: The 3 Period Lesson”

  1. My daughter loves to talk, and she picks up on new words really quickly, even the complicated and long words that I mentioned in passing. I’m so amazed at how fast little kids can learn, and you have some great tips here that I can totally adopt. Thanks for sharing this post!

  2. Excellent article. I am trying this out. I am having such difficulty keeping my twins focused, and the more I read about Montessori methods, the more I feel inclined to try them on my girls.

  3. Great resources you have here – super thorough and so many ideas for parents with kids at this stage. I especially love the object to picture with the birds. So thoughtful.

  4. This is such a great method, I really like the use of moving your body and doing an action to remember the word, I’ll be using it on my little one to increase his vocabulary. Thank you for sharing!

  5. This is such a great teaching tool to add to my toolbox! I plan to homeschool my son and love this idea for teaching new vocabulary!

  6. This is a great idea. I’ll try it with my 19 month old since she’s so verbal already and always trying to learn new words. Thanks for the tips!

    1. Hi Aydela! That’s so wonderful. I’m so glad you’re going to try the 3-period lesson with your 19-month-old to learn new vocabulary words!

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