What Is a Teachable Moment? Why This Spontaneous Teaching Method is Important to Development

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You often hear about teachable moments when you're talking to parents or training to teach. But what exactly is a teachable moment, and how can you seize them in the classroom or at home? Here's your guide to teachable moments and how to take advantage of them. 

What is a teachable moment?

A teachable moment is an opportunity for a teacher or parent to provide special insights on a topic that has captured the attention of their classroom or children. Teachable moments are unplanned and must be sensed and seized by the teacher or parent. Often, it's a brief tangent from a lesson plan or conversation to discuss a topic of interest or timeliness. Teachable moments are easier for children to digest and remember because they are inherently more interested in the topic at hand and can feel its applications to the world around them. 

Examples of teachable moments

Teachable moments are unplanned and can occur at any moment. Here are examples of teachable moments in different contexts: 
  • A teachable moment in the classroom: A classroom is reading a book together and one of the character's parents is a orthodontist. A student asks his neighbor what an orthodontist is and the teacher identifies this question as a teachable moment. She asks the class if they know anyone with braces and ask them to raise their hand if they have braces. Then, she shares what an orthodontist does and tells her students to think of an orthodontist every time they see braces on someone's teeth. 
  • A teachable moment at home: A child wakes up in the morning and does not have school. They ask their parent why they don't have school. The parent identifies this question as a teachable moment. Instead of simply answering that school is closed or it is a holiday, the parent says: "Today is a special holiday called Memorial Day. Do you know what Memorial Day celebrates?" When their child answers "no," the parent takes time to explain what Memorial Day is, why the United States celebrates it and that the celebration means that the bank and some stores are closed, too. 

How to use a spontaneous teachable moment

Seizing a teachable moment takes practice. First, to understand what moments are teachable, you need to be dialed into what your kids or students are talking about and interested in. You also need to be willing to engage with questions and opinions, and to foster honest dialogue in your home or classroom. 
To seize a teaching moment, take a question or topic of interest of your students or children and provide time to talk about it. If it's a question, explain the "why" behind it's answer. If it's a topic of interest, ask questions to find out why they are interested or what their thoughts are. Then, dive deeper by answering questions about the topic, discussing their opinions or tying the topic of interest to other topics you are teaching. If you don't know the answer to a question, demonstrate a dedication to learning new things by saying you will look up the answer together. 

How to create a teachable moment

Creating a teachable moment is possible. Find out what questions your students or children have or what part of a lesson truly captures their interest by asking them questions about their work. For instance, if you are reading a book, ask them to talk about what was interesting to them or what they didn't understand. Listen to a song and talk about the lyrics they identify with. Look at pictures and ask them what they see. Ask what questions they had about a worksheet or what they enjoyed about an assignment. Then, see what topics come up to explore. 

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