Ordinals Dominate Our Lives

Words that denote an ordered sequence are called ordinal numbers.  Often, they are just called ordinals.


Why are they important to a kindergartener?

Instructional language is an everyday occurrence in a student's life. First, second, and third are used with great regularity when the Kindergarten teacher gives directions

...from outlining the day
...to the steps to take in a simple art project.

Being able to follow directions involves a series of steps, in sequence. Sometimes the ordinal numbers are not stated directly. They are implied. Or, a word like next, after, and last is used, instead.

It makes sense, then, to give kindergarteners at least a basic explanation leading to a well-founded understanding of what these words mean. Following that, they need many experiences to ground their understanding at a practical level.

What do each of the ordinal numbers imply?

In the sentence, Today is the first day of kindergarten, first implies those children enrolled have never been to kindergarten before.

In the sentence, George came second in the breaststroke final, the implication is that someone else came first.

The third activity, today, will be spelling. Here, the implication of third is that two activities will be completed before the spelling lesson.

So, the use of ordinals implies there are other positions. Their use allows us to describe the numerical order of an object or an activity.

Assignments follow an ordinal sequence of events.

Problem-solving strategies imply ordinals.

 In fact, ordinals dominate our lives in and out of school. Think about it.

In cooking, every recipe has an order to follow. Sewing, carpentry, car maintenance, travel -- most any activity you can think of -- has an order of activities attached to it. Even tying shoelaces.

We do things so automatically that it isn't until we're given the task of describing every step that we become aware of the complexity and order. Task analysis reveals to us the importance of ordinals. Task analysis requires the statement of every step to take in the process, from beginning to end.

With so much order in our lives, it seems overwhelming that young children can't relate their everyday experiences to school sequences...without a coherent explanation... even though they use the words on a regular basis. It needs to be brought to a conscious level.

A few appropriate questions help accomplish that:

Ask your kindergartener ... "Do you put on your shoes and then your socks?"
Every child can answer that question...with feigned exasperation that you would ask such a question!
Then ask, "Why not?

Several other age and experientially appropriate scenarios will not only delight your child ... they will develop the idea of ordinal implications at a deep-seated level.

How can we use ordinals in preparation for learning? You can relate them to reading in a very concrete way while providing reinforcement for skills already introduced... even if your child can't read!

Here's how...

All questions and directives refer to this sentence: Dewdney Dragon digs dungeons.

1.  Drill the sentence, orally, until your child can recall it readily when asked, "What's the sentence for the letter D?

2. Show the printed sentence. Ask, "How many words are in the sentence?"

3. "How many word boundaries are in the sentence?"

4. Now, watch! Using the written sentence, count off the words, pointing to each as you count

Do this several times.

5. Next, replace the numerals (1-4) with first, second, third, fourth, while pointing to each word.

Do this several times.

6. "Do it with me!" pointing as you say, first, second, third, fourth

Do this several times.

7. Repeat the exercise in scrambled form, while pointing.

8. Now ask, "What's the third word?"
    Point to it

"Say the names of the letters." or "Spell it!"
When finished, ask, "What word did you spell?"

9. Repeat the sequence for all the words in the sentence.

What will you be working on in addition to ordinals?

You'll be reinforcing letter-name recognition, memory, counting, spelling, and word recognition. This integrating activity will take each aspect of reading readiness to the practical application stage. Not bad for a simple activity!

My experience with at-risk first graders is that I have to re-teach ordinals each Monday for a few weeks. This happens when I first introduce ordinals. By Friday, they get it! But, by Monday, they've lost it, again.


Good teaching practice sets up students for success!


That simply means a brief review is necessary to allow the student to fill in learning gaps before checking out their performance levels. So, don't be disappointed if your child needs a full review of ordinals the next few times you work at sequencing.


If we wish to make changes, we must want it, we must choose it, and we must design activities to make it happen!

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