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Order, Order

Grace M. Burton
Location: unknown

In this lesson students seriate objects and review the meaning of ordinal numbers. They describe orderings in words and in pictures. [This lesson gives you an opportunity to review or teach vocabulary such as before, after, and next.] At the conclusion of the lesson, students make an entry in their portfolios. A Science extension is suggested.

You may wish to make pretty pasta for the students to use in this unit. Simply place uncooked pasta of various shapes in a plastic bag; add a few drops of food color and a few drops of rubbing alcohol. Shake the bag until the pieces are coated, then spread them out to dry.

To begin the lesson, call on several students to come to the front of the room and make a line. As you call them, use an ordinal number to name their place. For example, "Tom, you will be first. Susan, you will be second." Invite students to the front until you have fill the first through tenth positions. Then, dismiss those students, and repeat the same process with a different group of 10 students.

Now display a train of 10 connecting cubes made with as many different colors as possible. Indicate that the left-most cube is the first cube in the train. As you randomly point to different cubes in the train, call on students to name the position of the cube using ordinal numbers (first, second, third, and so on).

575 kids blocks

Next, put the students into pairs and distribute 15 or more connecting cubes to each student. Ask the students to sit back to back and have one student in each pair make a train of 10 cubes, using as many different colors as they can to make cars in the train. Then have the student who made the train describe it to his or her partner so that the partner can make an identical train. Then have the students switch roles. (The goal of this activity is to ensure that students are comfortable with ordinal numbers, as they will be used to describe patterns. You may wish to review this concept with those students who are not familiar with ordinal numbers.)

When students are ready, distribute the Pattern Templates activity sheet, which has a strip of 10 spaces along the top. (This sheet also has a flag pattern template, which will be used later.)

pdficonPattern Templates Sheet 

Ask students to circle the first square in black. Then have them color the other squares according to directions that you give. For example, "Color the third car red." When each square has been colored, call on students to name the colors of the cars as you randomly say ordinal numbers from 1st through 10th. You may wish to collect these papers as a first entry in a unit portfolio.

Finally, call the students together to sing Old MacDonald (see Song Lyrics for the words. Call on volunteers to indicate which animal will be named first, second, and so on. For example, "Meg, what will be the first animal? Peter, what will be the second animal?" To help students remember the order, you may wish to list the animals on the blackboard.

pdficonSong Lyrics Resource Sheet 

Assessment Options 

  1. Collect students’ 10-color pattern strips to determine how well they were able to use ordinal numbers to follow your directions.
  2. Periodically assess students when they line up. (You may have a girls’ line and a boys’ line to keep the ordinal positions low for younger students.) Pass out an index card with an ordinal number to each student. As you call their group or table, have students line up on carpet squares or floor tiles according to the place written on their index card.


  1. Place items in a set of 5-6 small identical boxes (such as gelatin boxes or film canisters) so that the boxes vary in weight. You may wish to fill one box with pennies, another with popcorn, and others with cotton, rice and cereal. Then ask the students to lift the boxes and put them in order from heaviest to lightest. If you cover the boxes in different colors, the students can record the ordering using cubes or coloring squares on a strip of paper.
  2. Move on to the next lesson, Sorting Time.

Questions for Students 

1. What words did we use today that tell about order?

[We used first, second, third, ….]

2. How many cubes will come before the fifth cube in a train with 8 cubes?

[There will be four cubes before the fifth cube.]

3. What comes after the sixth place in line? (You may wish to ask this same question using other ordinal numbers.)

[After the sixth place is the seventh place.]

4. What comes before the fourth place? (You may wish to ask this same question using other ordinal numbers.)

[Before the fourth place is the third place.]

Teacher Reflection 

  • Which ordinal values were students familiar with before the lesson began?
  • Which students met all the objectives of this lesson? What extension activities would be appropriate for those students?
  • Which students did not meet the objectives of this lesson? What instructional experiences do they need next?
  • Were all students able to name ordinal positions in random order?
  • Would I make any adjustments the next time I teach this lesson?

Sorting Time

Students sort objects and symbols and make patterns with sorted objects. They make Venn diagrams and use their sortings to create linear patterns. They extend a pattern created by the teacher. Students will begin identifying pattern cores and reading patterns. A Social Studies connection is suggested as an extension.

What’s Next?

Pre-K-2, 3-5
In this lesson, students make patterns with objects, read patterns and find patterns in the environment. They should be encouraged to classify patterns by type (i.e. AAB, ABC). They continue learning about patterns by extending a given pattern, identifying missing elements in a pattern, and recording a pattern.

Playing With Patterns

Students use objects and symbols to make repeating linear patterns. They extend patterns and translate patterns from one modality (auditory, visual, and kinesthetic) to another. A Physical Education connection is suggested as an extension. This lesson is intended to take two class periods to ensure that all students have multiple opportunities to create original patterns.

More Patterns

Students extend their knowledge of linear patterns by recognizing and discussing familiar patterns. Students make auditory and visual patterns from names. An art activity is suggested as an extension.

Multiple Patterns

Students explore patterns which involve doubling. They use objects and numbers in their exploration and record them using a table.

Exploring Other Number Patterns

Pre-K-2, 3-5
Students make and extend numerical patterns using hundred charts. They also explore functions at an intuitive level. This lesson integrates technology.

Growing Patterns

Pre-K-2, 3-5
Students explore growing patterns. They analyze, describe, and justify their rules for naming patterns. Since students are likely to see growing patterns differently, this is an opportunity to engage them in communicating about mathematics.

Looking Back and Moving Forward

This final lesson reviews the work of the previous lessons. Students explore patterns in additional contexts and record their investigations. Students will rotate through center activities. Teachers may add other centers they feel will benefit the students.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Seriate objects.
  • Name positions using ordinal numbers.

NCTM Standards and Expectations

  • Sort, classify, and order objects by size, number, and other properties.
  • Use concrete, pictorial, and verbal representations to develop an understanding of invented and conventional symbolic notations.