Activities to Teach Ordinal Numbers to Kindergarten Students

Numbers listed in order, such as first, second, third and fourth, are referred to as ordinal numbers. In other words, ordinal numbers are words that describe where in an order a number falls. Kindergartners spend a good deal of their math time dealing with ordinal numbers because they're part of a firm foundation in many other concepts, such as counting and sequencing, that the children will need as they get older.

1 "1, 2, 3 to the Zoo"

Teach ordinal numbers to kindergartners by using “1, 2, 3 to the Zoo,” by Eric Carle. The story is about animals who are riding on the train to the zoo. There are one elephant, two hippos, three giraffes, etc. As you read this story to your students, talk about which animals are first, second, third and so on. When you get done reading, line up plastic zoo animals and ask the children which one is first, second or third. Then to check for understanding, you can also give them a drawing of a train and ask them to glue pictures of the animals in the right car. For example, glue the lions in the fifth car and the tigers in the second car.

2 Ordinal Memory Game

After teaching children the ordinal numbers, have them practice by playing a memory game, suggests Sue Bowen, writing for the University of North Carolina. Before the lesson make cards to use in the game. You need 10 sheets of black construction paper and rectangles of five different colors of construction paper, two per color. Glue one colored rectangle on each black sheet of paper. Choose 10 students to come and stand in a row in the front of the room. Give each child a card to hold. The students in the audience should take turns trying to find a match, just like in a regular game of memory. However when guessing, instead of saying the children’s names they need to say the ordinal numbers such as “first and sixth.”

3 Ordinal Scramble

Tape the ordinal numbers on the backs of your students. Then line them up in the wrong order. Have them help each other line up in the right order. They must not name the cardinal numbers, but they have to use the ordinal words. For example, one student can tell the next, “You should be third.”

4 Ordinal Rainbow

To practice the ordinal numbers and to see if individual students understand, do a coloring activity. Give each child a copy of a black-and-white rainbow. Then have them listen and follow directions as you tell them which stripe to color. To make it more challenging name them out of order such as, “Color the third stripe red. Color the second line orange.”

Cathy Rigden has been writing professionally since 2009. She holds a Bachelors of Arts in early childhood education from Southern Nazarene University and a Master of Arts in teaching from Biola University.