Elapsed time can be one of the most challenging math skills for many upper elementary students. But, teaching elapsed time shouldn’t leave you and your students frustrated! By using these elapsed time strategies, your students will be able to organize and visualize the amount of time passed.

I have detailed elapsed time unit plans for 12-hour periods and 24-hour periods in my store. The strategies shown in this post are also taught in these units. You can still use these strategies without the unit plans but the plans include worksheets, games, centers, digital activities, and assessments that can save you a lot of time.


What is Elapsed Time?

Elapsed time is the amount of time that passes between the start of an event and the end of the event. Calculating and converting the hours and minutes can be confusing for students. So, teaching elapsed time with a variety of strategies is key. The more strategies students know, the more likely they are to find one that works for them.

Helpful Tip: With all of these strategies, it is best to encourage students to write “a.m.” or “p.m.” next to each time that they write if the start and end times are different. For example, if the start time is an a.m. time and the end time is a p.m. time (or vice versa).


Strategy #1: Zoom

The zoom strategy is my favorite way of teaching elapsed time. It breaks the elapsed time into smaller chunks of time that are much easier for students to work with.


To find the elapsed time using the zoom strategy:

  1. Draw a large “Z.”
  2. Write the start time at the beginning of the “Z” (upper, left side). Write the end time at the end of the “Z” (lower, right side).
  3. Along the top, horizontal line, determine the elapsed hours. Write an end time at the end of the line that uses the same amount of minutes as the start time (so that students are only working with hours). In the example above, 10:25 allows the student to calculate an even number of hours. Write the number of elapsed hours on the line.
  4. Along the middle, diagonal line, determine the number of elapsed minutes to the nearest 10 minutes. In the example above, 10:25 rounds up to 10:30. Write 10:30 at the end of the line. Calculate the elapsed minutes and write them on the line.
  5. Along the bottom, horizontal line, write any remaining elapsed minutes on the line.
  6. Add the hours and minutes written on the three lines to find the total elapsed time. In the example above, 14 hours + 5 minutes + 4 minutes = 14 hours and 9 minutes.

Strategy #2: Mountains, Hills, and Rocks

One of the most popular ways to teach elapsed time is the mountains, hills, and rocks strategy. The method relates elapsed time to a number line.  

This strategy is one of the most visual ways to teach elapsed time. Mountains are one hour, hills can be 5-30 minutes, and rocks are one minute. It may be helpful to create an anchor chart with these symbols to hang in your classroom throughout the elapsed time unit. This will provide students with a quick reference tool when they are working independently.


To find the elapsed time using the mountains, hills, and rocks strategy:

  1. Draw an open number line. Write the start time on the far, left side of the number line.
  2. Draw a mountain to represent each elapsed hour between the start and end times.
  3. Draw hills and rocks to represent the elapsed minutes between the start and end times.

Remember, the hills can represent any interval of time from 5 – 30 minutes. I encourage students to use the hills that make the most sense to them. The following image shows two different ways that students could use hills and rocks show the elapsed minutes between 10:30 and 11:17.


Strategy #3: T-Chart

The t-chart strategy is another method that allows students to work with number ranges and intervals of time that makes the most sense to them. This is an easy and effective strategy for teaching elapsed time.

To find the elapsed time using the t-chart strategy:

  1. Create a t-chart. The left heading should say “Time.” The right heading should say “Hours / Minutes.”
  2. Write the start time at the top of the “Time” column. Under the start time, write a time that is easy to get to from the start time. Write the elapsed time between the two times in the “Hours / Minutes” column.
  3. Write another time that is easy to under the bottom number. Write the elapsed time between the two times in the “Hours / Minutes” column.
  4. Repeat the process until you reach the end time.
  5. Add the hours and minutes in the “Hours / Minutes” column to find the total elapsed time.

When using the t-chart strategy, it can be helpful to teach students to move forward by using benchmark numbers. With time, benchmark numbers are easy to visualize and calculate. These can include 1 hour, 30 minutes, 15 minutes, 10 minutes, 5 minutes, and 1 minute.

If students memorize these benchmark numbers, they can apply them when using the t-chart strategy. For example, find if there are any hours in the elapsed time first. Then, find if there is 30 minutes in the elapsed time, etc.


Elapsed Time Teaching Resources

I’ve just shared three of my favorite strategies for teaching elapsed time. If a student is struggling with this math concept, giving them multiple strategies to choose from is often the key to their success.

If you’re looking for even more ways to teach elapsed time, be sure to check out my elapsed time units for 12-hour periods and 24-hour periods. Each unit includes all of the strategies and resources shown in this post.

Each unit also comes with everything you need for teaching elapsed time. You’ll find:

  • Detailed lesson plans
  • Worksheets
  • Games and centers
  • Foldables and Sorts
  • Anchor charts
  • Exit tickets
  • Digital activities
  • Quizzes
  • Final Test

You can also find lots of review games for teaching elapsed time in my store.



I hope you find strategies and resources for teaching elapsed time to be helpful. Be sure to pin this post for later so that you can access these math tips any time!