Ordinal numbers are a concept that we use every single day. So, obviously, we need to make sure that our kids understand what they are and what they mean. But, you may be thinking, “It’s been a few years since I was in school, and I can’t remember what the heck an ordinal number is!”
Well, don’t worry because I’m going to tell you what they are, and I’m going to share 10 ordinal numbers activities to help you teach this skill across all the different subjects!
What are Ordinal Numbers?
Ordinal numbers are simply “a thing’s position in a series.” (As in, first, second, third, so on and so forth.) That’s it!! Yet, understanding what they are in your mind and knowing how to explain ordinal numbers to kids are entirely different.
You can say, “one” and show a child one object. That’s pretty straightforward.
However, ordinal numbers are relational and a completely abstract concept to little kids.
What I mean is that the relationship between the positions of 2 different objects is the foundation of ordinal numbers. In other words, you have to have a second to have a first.
That’s why you need engaging activities and ordinal number exercises that provide a solid foundation! But, don’t think you have to learn all sorts of new information. It’s very likely that you’re already doing some and don’t even realize it.
So, let’s get to it!
Ordinal Numbers Activities
1. Line It Up
One of the first and easiest ordinal number activities for preschool is lining objects up in a row. My favorite thing about this activity is that you can use anything of which you have an abundance. (So, at our house, we would use LEGOs because we own about 10,000 LEGO bricks.)
You can use stuffed animals, cars, trains, or any other objects that interest your kiddos. Start out with 3-5 objects and my free printable ordinal number cards. Let your kiddos point to the object and match the correct number card. It’s that easy!!
As a classroom teacher, you can extend this lesson by having your students line up. However, there is a trick to this. Make sure to take a picture of everyone in the line, and then show the image to the class. Otherwise, everyone will be stepping out of line to see the first person, Jimmy won’t be able to see around Susie, and pushing will ensue. Trust me, classroom management will be a nightmare.
Print out several sets of the image and ordinal number cards. Then have your students work together to match the student and the position. (Joey is first. Cindy is second.)
2. Days of the Week
Another one of my favorite ordinal number activities is using the days of the week. If you do any sort of calendar time, you may already be teaching them without even knowing it! You probably say something along the lines of, “Sunday is the first day of the week. Monday is the second day of the week.”
If not, just start doing this daily. You’ll be amazed at how the consistent practice helps. If you want visuals to go along with the sentences, I have a free “Days of the Week” printable you can use with your ordinal number cards.
See how easy this is? You can do it!
3. Months of the Year
This is another quick way to practice ordinal numbers on a day-to-day basis. When you are discussing the current month, use my free printable months of the year pages to show the position of each month.
Just print out the months and point to the current month. Let’s say we are in the month of March, point to March and say, “This is March. It is the third month of the year.” Then you can write 3rd beside March. Continue this same cycle of sentences and discussion until you have talked about every month and practiced the concepts of first through twelfth.
Remember, teaching ordinal numbers doesn’t have to be super-complex. By simply talking about consistent, sequential daily activities, you are teaching ordinal numbers. Think about it like this. What are the events that kids do every day? First, wake up. Second, put on your clothes. Third, put your pajamas away. Fourth, eat breakfast.
See? You don’t need an expensive set of sequencing cards. You can either draw pictures or let your child draw them. Just have your kids put the pictures in order and match the ordinal number cards to them! Easy peasy.
5. Following Recipes
Following recipes is another one of my favorite ordinal number activities. Obviously, you need to use your judgment on the intricacy of the recipe, but for young children let them make something like pudding.
Go ahead and have all of the tools out for them. Then allow them to complete the steps as independently as they can. For those just learning the concept of ordinal numbers, let them complete 3 steps. “First, pour in the pudding mix. Second, pour in 2 cups of milk. Third, stir it all together.”
For older kids, let them give you a running commentary on every step. “First I get out my bowl. Second, I get out the pudding mix and milk. Third, I pour the pudding mix into the bowl.”
To extend this activity, you can allow them to video themselves and then write the sequence into their own written recipe. Think about what a fun family activity this would be! Your kids could make an entire cookbook and then give them to family members as Christmas gifts.
By the way, I recently found a recipe that I had written when I was in second grade, and it should have been a foreshadowing to my future issues with cooking. I was able to explain (in detail) how to cook “spasketty” in 3 steps. It was hilarious! Obviously, my understanding of cooking and ordinal numbers wasn’t really vast.
6. ABC Order
This is a great way to combine reading and math! You can either make your own alphabet flashcards with index cards and a sharpie or get a pack of simple alphabet flashcards. Then let your littles match the first 12 letters of the alphabet with the appropriate ordinal number. You can mix them up to make it more challenging for your more advanced learners.
To add another level of difficulty, have your kids write their spelling words or vocabulary words and cut them out. Then have them mix the words up and put the words into alphabetical order while matching the correct ordinal number. This is another one of my favorite ordinal number activities!
If you have a child that loves sports, then get them thinking about how each sport makes use of ordinal numbers. Here are two examples…
- Football-1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th downs: 1st-4th quarters: rankings of the favored teams in the NFL
- Baseball-1st, 2nd, 3rd base: 1st-8th innings: rankings of the favored MLB teams
This is extremely useful when you get the dreaded “When am I ever going to use this skill in real life?” Well, now they know!!
Because I’ve taught boys, and am raising two boys of my own, I am keenly aware of how much they love competition. They can make a competition out of literally ANYTHING.
So, take advantage of this and let them compete in any category they want. Then have them give out the prizes to the appropriate winner. (Depending on how many participants, you may be able to give out all 12 of the ordinal number tags.)
Any time you can make learning into a game, you have a winning combination.
9. Order of Events
If you have older kids, they will be required to understand and create timelines. So, this is the perfect opportunity to incorporate math into history!
There is a distinct relationship between historical events and ordinal numbers, and this is a great time to get kids thinking about that fact. Have them write out several significant events from history, mix them up, and then ask them to put the events into order.
To challenge your kiddos even more, ask them to explain the cause and effect relationship between the events. This gets them thinking more deeply about “why” the events happened in that specific order.
10. Paragraph Structure
We all know the importance of good writing, but sometimes we don’t really know what that looks like at different levels. Honestly, it can be pretty tricky, but one thing that is necessary to good writing is the use of ordinal numbers! (I bet you knew I was going to say that.)
Think of it like this, if you want your kids to be able to have a coherent piece of writing, they need to include a sequence of events or a distinct order to their paragraphs. So, you teach them how to write sentences and put those sentences into order. “First, the man gave the dog a bone. Second, the dog dug a hole to hide the bone.”
Then when they’ve mastered that skill, you apply this same technique to creating paragraphs and essays!
So, there you have it!
Ten activities for teaching ordinal numbers in all content areas, and all of them are completely FREE!! Was it easier than you thought it was going to be? Do you think you can use some of these simple ideas?