How To Teach Telling Time To A Special Education Student?

Last Updated on October 3, 2023 by Editorial Team


Time telling is a fundamental life skill that is essential for individuals to navigate their daily lives. Not only does it allow us to plan and organize our day, but it also helps us to be punctual for appointments, meetings, and other important events. In today’s fast-paced world, being able to tell time accurately is more important than ever.

For special education students, learning to tell time can be a challenging task. These students may have learning difficulties, cognitive delays, or other challenges that make it difficult for them to understand and use time concepts. Special education teachers and support staff work tirelessly to provide these students with the necessary tools and resources to develop their time-telling skills. 

However, it is important to consider the individual needs of each special education student when teaching time telling. For example, some students may benefit from the use of a digital watch or a talking clock, while others may need more hands-on activities. So, the article below mentions the reasons why learning disabilities make telling time difficult for special needs children and the strategies that can be used to help them. 

Telling time & learning disability: Which areas do students face problems in?

Students with learning disabilities may be equally smart as the other kids, however, it is important to acknowledge there might be a neurological cause to their challenges. Due to this, they may face difficulties in understanding and mastering the skill of telling time for a variety of reasons. These may include:

time telling
  1. Difficulty understanding the concept of time: Some students may have difficulty understanding the abstract concept of time and how it is measured.
  1. Difficulty with numbers: Learning disabilities like dyscalculia make it difficult for students to understand numbers, which can make it difficult for them to read and understand the numbers on a clock.
  1. Difficulty with spatial relationships: Difficulty in understanding spatial relationships can make it more difficult for students to understand how the hands on a clock move.
  1. Difficulty with fine motor skills: Fine motor skills difficulty are present in many learning disabilities, and they can surely add to the difficulty of manipulating a clock or using a stopwatch.
  1. Difficulty with memory: Some students may have difficulty with memory, which can make it difficult for them to remember how to tell time.
  1. Difficulty with attention: Disorders like ADHD pose a problem in concentration, hence, making some students face difficulty with attention. Hence, making it difficult for them to focus on the task of telling time.
  1. Difficulty with visual processing: Some students may have difficulty with visual processing, which can make it difficult for them to read the numbers on a clock or understand the position of the hands.
  1. Difficulty with language processing: Language processing might also be a factor affecting time telling in specially-abled children. This can make it difficult for them to understand the words and phrases used to describe time.

It is important to note that every student is unique and may have different difficulties in learning to tell time, so it’s important to tailor instruction to their specific needs. Understanding the areas that students face problems with will help to create an effective teaching strategy. Furthermore, teachers and parents can also opt to list out some time-telling IEP goals to help these kids further.   

How to teach telling time to a special education student

Teaching telling time to a special education student can be challenging, but with the right approach, it can be done effectively. Here are some tips and strategies for teaching this important skill to students with special needs:

teaching time telling
  1. Start with the basics: Before teaching the students how to tell time, make sure they understand the concepts of hours and minutes. Use visual aids such as clocks, pictures, and diagrams to help them understand.
  2. Use hands-on activities: Hands-on activities are a great way to help students with special needs learn. Allow the student to practice telling time using a real clock or a manipulatable clock. This will help them understand the concept of time and how the hands on a clock move. Furthermore, while the concept of telling time is different than elapsed time, a few activities of the latter can also be beneficial for the kids as both ultimately focus on teaching time-related skills to the kids. 
  3. Break it down: Break down the task of telling time into smaller, more manageable steps. Start with teaching the student how to read the numbers on a clock, then move on to teaching them how to read the hands on a clock. Once they have mastered these skills, teach them how to tell time using the minute and hour hands.
  4. Use visual cues: Visual cues such as color-coding the hour and minute hands can be helpful for students with special needs. This will help them to quickly identify the difference between the two hands and understand how they move.
  5. Use repetition: Repetition is crucial for students with special needs. Practice telling time regularly, and encourage the student to practice at home as well.
  6. Use technology: There are many apps and software programs that can be used to teach telling time to students with special needs. These programs can provide interactive lessons, quizzes, and games that make learning fun and engaging.
  7. Use real-life examples: Make sure to apply the concepts of telling time to real-life examples. For example, ask the student what time they need to wake up in the morning, or what time their favorite TV show comes on.
  8. Be patient and encouraging: Teaching a special education student can be challenging, but it is important to be patient and encouraging. Remember to celebrate their successes, no matter how small they may be.
  9. Measuring progress: After identifying, at which point the child faces problems with telling time, measures can be taken, such as teaching them how to tell time within a single hour, then going to two hours and gradually increasing it for the whole clock. Additionally, keeping track of their progress and figuring out where they get stuck can also be kept under supervision.

Special educators and psychologists recommend using a multi-sensory approach, such as breaking down the task and using real-life examples, amongst others. These strategies can be used in combination with one another to help the student understand and master the skill of telling time. It is also important to remember to be patient and encouraging and to celebrate the student’s successes along the way.

What does the research say about time-telling and learning difficulties?

Time-telling problems have been observed in several children, whether neurotypical or special needs. However, the areas affected might be different for the two. For instance, while a neurotypical child may have problems with vision, a special needs child may face problems in visual processing.

A study by Weiber et al.[1], found that the use of oral instruction alongside large clocks resulted in improved time telling. As time can be less concrete for a special needs child to understand, they might have trouble grasping the concept of time. For instance, a study[2] by Ann L. Owen found that the concept of time might be too abstract for special needs children, hence, introducing a practical applicability framework will help them clarify the concept.


As the clock ticks and the minutes pass, time is a precious commodity that we can never get back. It’s a skill that is vital to our daily lives, as it enables us to plan, organize, and make the most of our time. But for special education students, learning to tell time can be a daunting task. That’s where special education teachers and support staff step in, they are the timekeepers of the future, guiding these students to master the art of time-telling.

By using creative and engaging techniques such as visual aids, hands-on activities, and interactive games, special education teachers can help these students understand the concept of time in a fun and relatable way. Schedules can also be used to provide structure and routine to their day, giving them a sense of time and its importance in their daily lives. It’s important to note that every special education student is unique and therefore their learning process should be tailored to their individual needs.

In essence, teaching special education students to tell time is not just about teaching them how to read a clock, it’s about giving them the tools to navigate their world with ease and independence. It’s a journey that requires patience, understanding, and a willingness to think outside the box. With the help of special education teachers, these students will be able to keep pace with the ever-ticking clock and make the most of every moment.


  1. Wieber, A. E., Evoy, K., McLaughlin, T. F., Derby, K. M., Kellogg, E., Williams, R. L., Peterson, S., & Rinaldi, L. (2017). The Effects of a Modified Direct Instruction Procedure on Time Telling for a Third Grade Student with Learning Disabilities with a Brief Comparison of Interesting and Boring Formats. Learning Disabilities: A Contemporary Journal, 15(2), 239–248.
  2. Owen, A. L., & Wilson, R. R. (2016). Unlocking the riddle of time in learning disability. Journal of Intellectual Disabilities.

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