The Teachable Moment and how to use them effectively

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As I developed and grew into myself as an educator, I became more and more familiar with the Teachable Moment. Do they address this powerful tool in your credential program or is it just something you hear about by word of mouth? Or perhaps you have to EXPERIENCE them to truly get the hang of them. 

I can’t seem to recall. You see I began my journey as an educator fresh out of college, WITHOUT a credential. They hired me to be the fourth-grade teacher for my local parish school, just 2.2 miles from my home! The requirements were a bachelor’s degree (check!) and in a credential program (check!). I wasn’t married, and I wasn’t a mother. Those students were truly my first kids! My adventure in education began over 25 years ago!

Teachable Moments occur in the classroom, while homeschooling & in life!

One thing I am sure of having a dual life in education is, Teachable Moments are all around us. We do not reserve these magic moments for classrooms. Teachable moments are available to Moms, Dads, Grandparents, Babysitters, older siblings, and even strangers in the grocery store or park! When the moment arises – go for it!

When you define Teachable Moments in this way and open them up wide, you will recognize them in your life. I would love to share a few TEACHABLE MOMENTS from my time as a classroom educator, homeschool mom, and even “Good Samaritan” so you can see how easy they are to implement into your home and classroom.

What is a Teachable Moment? 

Just after she hired me, I asked the principal if I could come in and observe in the fourth-grade classroom before the school year ended to see what it was like. My actual teaching experience was working with first-grade Sunday school kids. I knew I could handle a room of fourth graders, but it would be nice to see how another adult did it. The principal thought that was a fantastic idea. 

On the day of my arranged observation, I learned the definition of Teachable Moment: You must be willing to throw caution to the wind and veer off the well-worn path and comfort of your plans.

 You see, I was informed by the principal when I showed up to OBSERVE a classroom, that the 6th-grade teacher was out sick, and instead I would substitute 6th grade for the day. 

This 20-something never-taught-a-day-in-her-life was about to experience her first Teachable Moment. 

My Defining teachable moment

There were many helpful students in the class that day. But apparently, I was asking too many questions and didn’t *quite* seem to have it all together. Let me tell you I was faking it till I was making it before that phrase was invented, so when one student asked:

 “UM, have you ever been a teacher before?” 

I knew I had 2 choices. LIE or run from the room. 


Without missing a beat, I looked her square in the eye, Catholic school teacher and all, and said: “Absolutely. Do you think the principal would have hired me as the new fourth-grade teacher if I had never taught before?” 

We went on with our day and those wonderful 6th graders did NOT give me any problems! 

Teachable Moments come in many shapes and sizes. The lessons can be for you, or for your students. The secret is to be open to them. 

Teachable Moment Examples

I spent 6 years as the Fourth Grade teacher of that Catholic school before spreading my wings and experiencing life as a public school teacher, Homeschool Mom, and then back to Catholic Education. As God would have it, I found myself back in the very fourth-grade classroom that I began my career in. I spent another 7 years serving my parish community and experiencing the blessings of the teachable moment daily. 

Teachable Moments can be BIG or small. 

In the classroom

One of my favorites was during an eighth-grade grammar class. Each sentence used a different species of bird in the sentence, and when we got to Kiwi bird, the students could not resist asking what a Kiwi bird was… having only known kiwi fruit. This was so fun for me as it was my first year back in the classroom and computers and the internet was a thing! When I left teaching in 2000 to homeschool, I hadn’t experienced the Teachable moment with anything other than a set of encyclopedias and a pull-down set of maps! 

Being 8th graders, I had to exercise caution as they also liked to avoid the task at hand and get me distracted with teachable moment after teachable moment! 

Sometimes Teachable Moments are surrounded by humor! Take for example during a fifth-grade grammar lesson when we were discussing compound sentences. I began the lesson by asking the class to define the word COMPOUND. We were able to agree it means more than one. The teachable moment arose when one of my students said: “I’m confused then. What does it mean at the Chinese restaurant when he asks if I want compound chicken?”   It took me a minute because I actually laughed out loud. I explained the waiter had an accent, and what he was really saying was  Kung Pow Chicken. This opened the door to discuss English as a second language, how having an accent impacts pronunciation and how we must be kind to everyone. Her question was SERIOUS, in her fifth-grade world for sure! 

As a Homeschooling Family

Homeschooling is filled with teachable moments. Using cooking to teach multiplication for example. You can bake chocolate chip cookies and have the number of chips in each cookie be multiples. Even the conversations that arise from narration activities can spark great conversations that turn into teachable moments. Allowing your child to TALK and TELL what they think opens doors to places THEY want to go. 

I love to use a simple trip to the grocery store as a teachable moment. Each child is responsible for dinner one night a week. They plan the meal, make the list of items needed from the store, then shop their list while we are at the store. On the night of their dinner, they prep and cook their dinner. You can adapt this in so many ways. You can do it once a month, you can grow part of what you need to make the meal, etc. Talk about the workers involved in getting the ingredients, including the pots and pans! 

While driving on a family vacation we saw a unique road sign. Do not pick up hitchhikers. The kids were extremely curious why that sign was posted at all. This opened the discussion that the sign just above the caution sign was informing passers-by about the local state prison. With this added information, the hitchhiking sign began to make more sense… we all got a good laugh!

Disneyland provided lesson after lesson. When my children were very young they loved to play with the Kugel fountains. There was one in Tomorrowland and also one that looks like the Pixar ball in California Adventure. The challenge was always to get the ball to change direction. Well, it weighs about 6 tons, so even though physics was on their side, height and weight were not.

After a break in Disney passes, we returned to our magical land. The lure of the Kugel fountain was not lost and 3 teenagers were drawn to it like a magnet. My son said: We are big enough now to stop it and change its direction. They were also exposed to more science and able to discuss amongst themselves theories as to why a 6-ton ball “floated” on a thin layer of water. It took some digging, but eventually, we actually found the truth! If you are interested you can read the Physics of the Granite Sphere Fountain too!

As a parent, just living Life

Life provides us with beautiful teachable moments as well. As you pull up to a stop sign and the other car waves to indicate you can go first. Talk about this act of kindness with your child, or even traffic laws in your state. It doesn’t matter how far away from driving the kids are. These are teachable moments. 

At the park with friends, we were waiting for our turn to ride the train. A young boy got a nose bleed and he tipped his head back. This is a very common “wives tale” treatment for a nosebleed. Sometimes it’s hard to interfere with another parent and their child, but that day I chose the teachable moment. I had one of those small packs of tissues in my purse so I handed it to her and calmly said: Here you go: “Have your son use these, pinch right here at the bridge of his nose and have him lean forward. If he leans back there is a small chance he could swallow blood and possibly choke.”

Here are some great tips if you would like to refresh your memory on how to stop a nose bleed.

When The moment is overwhelming

Sometimes they hit us like a ton of bricks. September 11, 2001, did that to me. I was a 5/6 combination teacher and I was also 9 months pregnant at that time. (My oldest daughter was born, just days later).

When I arrived at school that morning I was so concerned with my cousins that worked in New York City and the enormity of the events as they unfolded, I was not engaging in the teachable moment. Had one of my students asked me a question, I know I would have responded and been my best self, but for whatever reason, not one of them said a thing. I was soon out for Maternity leave and the moment was gone. I often look back and think I failed that group of kids that day, but I must give myself grace and move forward. Many, many teachers across the country used that day as a teachable moment, and have continued to do so since. 

When I returned to the classroom I kept the “never forget” mentality and assigned homework the days prior to September 11th. I asked each student to interview an adult in their life who remembered the event occurring on September 11, 2001. I gave them THIS WORKSHEET to fill out and bring back. This assignment was never for the students if I must be honest, but always for myself, and for the adults. This was so we could go outside our comfort zones and make sure another generation remembers. 

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Create your own Teachable Moments

You might think you have to simply wait for teachable moments to just serendipitously arise within the natural course of events. I’m here to tell you that you can INSPIRE teachable moments by providing enriching experiences through the Holiday of the Day Curriculum! 

Holidays provide us with built-in teachable moments, even days that don’t come with joy-filled memories and those wonderful reasons to CELEBRATE I’m always shouting about. History has given us many days of remembrance like Patriot’s Day (September 11th) that we can use as teachable moments, 20, 30, 40, 50, and 500 years in the future. 
Use our Calendar of Holidays and find a Holiday a day, or just once per week and watch the spark of interest ignite in the children you work with!

We must always be LOOKING for teachable moments. Then ACT ON THEM. That’s it! To use Teachable moments effectively you must:

1.) Recognize them

2.) Act on them

Thanks for stopping by the Happy Hive to chat about Teachable Moments!

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