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Fun Ways to Teach Ordinal Numbers: First, Second, Third

By Keren Perles

Yes, older toddlers and preschoolers can learn about ordinal numbers, such as “first,” “second,” and “third.” To teach these concepts, try out some of these ordinal number activities. Early childhood educators will love them!

Sequencing a Book

It can be difficult to come up with fun ordinal number activities. Early childhood educators understand the importance of teaching students the concept of ordinal numbers (e.g., first, second, third), and they recognize how helpful fun activities can be in encouraging students to learn this concept. One of the most basic activities you can use is a reading activity that involves sequencing events in a book.

Choose a simple book with several events, such as a retelling of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” (See this article for more Goldilocks activities.) Make sure that the book contains simple pictures of each of the main events in the story. Photocopy these pictures and place them on the blackboard. Have students take turns describing what is happening in each picture. Then ask students, “Which event happened FIRST in the story?” Encourage them to choose the correct picture and place it below the rest of the pictures. Then continue with additional questions about the second, third, and fourth events in the story. Review the pictures with students after they are put into order by saying “Now let’s review. FIRST, Goldilocks got lost in the woods and found the bears’ house. SECOND, she tried to sit on a chair…”

This article includes more examples of sequencing activities that are perfect for older kids.

Who Is First?

Line up several students in a row, and then call on a different student to identify which student is first, second, and third in the line. Then mix up the numbers, asking which student is third, then first, then fourth, and then second. Students will love hearing their names called out by a classmate. If necessary, you can encourage the student to touch each classmate’s shoulder gently as she counts them, so that she won’t lose track.

Match Cardinal Number to Ordinal Number

Other ordinal number activities you may want to try consist of helping students to match a cardinal number to its corresponding ordinal number. There are worksheets that teach this skills, but interactive games and activities are often more helpful. For example, you could place several notecards on the board, each containing a number between 1 and 4 (or any other numbers you would like to practice). Then you could simply call out an ordinal number, such as “second!” and encourage one student to run up to the board and choose the notecard containing the number “2.”

Alternatively, if students can read well, you can create a matching game using notecards, in which each match consists of one notecard with an ordinal number (second) and one notecard with the corresponding cardinal number (two). Students could then take turns flipping over two notecards in an attempt to make a match.

These are just several examples of ordinal number activities early childhood classrooms may benefit from. Take note of which ones your students seem to enjoy and repeat them periodically in order to review this important concept.