Cardinal & Ordinal Number Teaching Activities

Written by linda woolhether
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Cardinal & Ordinal Number Teaching Activities
Hands-on activities make the concept of cardinal and ordinal numbers more concrete. (numbers image by Amer Delibasic from

A child's first introduction to cardinal numbers occurs when he begins to learn to count objects. A cardinal number indicates quantity; for example, how many objects are included in a set, such as one, two or three. Ordinal numbers represent the order of things and define rank and position, such as first, second or third. You can use everyday classroom activities to teach both cardinal and ordinal numbers to children.

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Ten Little Rubber Ducks

Read the story, "Ten Little Rubber Ducks" by Eric Carle, emphasising the cardinal numbers as you read. For example, show the page with pictures of six ducks and the number 6. Ask the children to count along as you count each duck. Talk about which position each duck is in the line. The story describes the ducks on a journey as they meet other animals. In the story, the tenth duck in line meets a mother duck and her group of ducklings and follows them to her nest. This teaches first and last as well as second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and other positions in the group. Make simple duck puppets from yellow construction paper glued onto craft sticks as an extension activity. This teaches children how to organise their puppets in different positions and reinforces the concept of cardinal and ordinal numbers.

Teddy Bear Parade

Use plastic teddy bear counters to teach ordinal numbers. Most children have seen a parade and understand that groups or individuals are lined up as they march. This activity works well for small groups or individualised instruction for one student. Line up a row of teddy bear counters, point to the first one and say, "This is the first bear." Continue with three more bears and put them in a row. Ask a student to identify the first teddy bear and then ask him to show the second and the third. Use larger sets of counters once the students are confident with the first three sets. Give each child a set of 10 counters to line up to form a "teddy bear parade." Start a discussion and ask which is the fourth, fifth or sixth. Use red, green, yellow and blue bears to teach the children to count the different colours in each line.

Numbers Scavenger Hunt

Coordinate a classroom scavenger hunt. Small groups work together better than larger ones to find clues that lead to the prize. For the first clue, look for number one in the chalkboard tray. The second clue is to find number two on the bookshelf. Find the fourth clue, or number four, in the math centre. The final clue will lead to a surprise for the kids to share. End the activity with the snack for the day or a note that says "free recess." This activity gets kids up and moving while teaching them to identify cardinal and ordinal numbers.

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