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Button Trains

Number and Operations
Grace M. Burton
Location: unknown

In this lesson, students describe order by using vocabulary such as before, after, and between. They also review and use both cardinal and ordinal numbers.

Teach the students how to play the game London Bridge. [All lyrics and directions can be found here.] After all the students have been “caught,” tell those in the left line to sit down and face the other line of students.

Ask the seated students such questions as:

Who is next to Marcia?
Who is in line just after Eric?
Who is in line just before Carol?
Who is between Tom and Karan?

Next ask the students who are standing to name their position in line using ordinal numbers (first, second, third, and so on). Then ask questions using these positions, such as: Who is in the sixth place in line?

Now have the students who are standing sit down and the students who are seated stand in line on the left side of the bridge. Pose similar questions about the students who are now standing.

[This lesson offers an opportunity for another song-related activity, this one focused on “Down by the Station.” If you wish, the students from each side of the bridge can become a separate train, naming their position in ordinal terms and moving around the room to the words of the song.]

pdficon10 Strip Activity Sheet 

Next distribute to each student a bag of buttons and a 10 Strip Activity Sheet. Display a numeral less than 10, and ask the students to make a button train by putting one button into that many spaces in the 10 strip, beginning with the far left space. [This space has been bordered in a heavy line to distinguish it as the first space on the train.] When they are ready, ask the students to count the filled spaces aloud.

Then call on various students to choose a number less than 10, and ask the other students to fill that many spaces in the 10 strip. Have students count the buttons aloud to check that they have used the correct number of buttons.

Now call on a student to display his or her train and ask the other students questions such as: What button is before the red one? What button is after the green one? Which button is in the second space? Which button is between the metal button and the striped one? Request the students to pose similar questions to their peers.


Next have them place one button in each of the 10 spaces. Then call on various students to describe their button strips using ordinal language. For example, a student might say, “I put a big blue button in the first space and a little red button in the second space. Then I put a button with two holes in the third space.” As a first entry in a unit portfolio, you may wish to have the students record one way that they filled the 10 strip.

Assessment Option

At this stage of the unit, it is important for students to know how to:

  • use the terms before, after, and between 
  • name positions using ordinal numbers
  • create a set that corresponds to a given number up to 10
  • count the elements in a set of 10 or fewer members

Because these concepts, vocabulary words, and abilities are essential to other lessons in this unit, students who have not met these objectives should receive additional instruction before proceeding with Lessons 3–8.


Move on to the next lesson, Many Sets of Buttons.

Questions for Students 

  1. What number words did we use today that tell us how many we have of something? 
  2. What words did we use that tell about order? 
  3. Make a train with 10 buttons or less. How many buttons are in Judy's train? In Mark's? 
  4. Here is Sam's button train. Which button is in the third place? The 10th place? 
  5. Look at your train. Who has a red button in the fifth place? 
  6. What place comes after the sixth place in line? After the third place? 
  7. What place comes before the fourth place? Before the 10th place? 
  8. How many buttons will come before the sixth button in a train?
  9. What place is between the second and fourth place?

Teacher Reflection 

  • Which position-describing words (before, after, between) were students familiar with when the lesson began? Which cardinal numbers were they familiar with?
  • Were all students able to recognize the numerals up to 10? Were they able to make sets that corresponded to each numeral?
  • How did students demonstrate the able to locate ordinal positions named in random order?
  • 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?
  • What adjustments should I make the next time that I teach this lesson?
Number and Operations

Many Sets of Buttons

Students classify buttons and make disjoint and overlapping Venn diagrams. In an extension, they make and record linear patterns.
HowManyButtons ICON
Number and Operations

How Many Buttons?

In this lesson, students review classification, make sets of a given number, explore relationships between numbers, and find numbers that are one more and one less than a given number. They apply their knowledge of classification as they play a game similar to bingo.
MoreAndMoreButtons ICON
Number and Operations

More and More Buttons

Students use buttons to create, model, and record addition sentences. They also explore commutativity in addition contexts.
NumbersManyWays ICON
Number and Operations

Numbers Many Ways

Students work with subtraction at the intuitive level as they explore number families and ways to decompose numbers to 10. They will also identify members of fact families. (A fact family is a set of three [or two] numbers that can be related by addition and subtraction, for example: 7 = 4 + 3, 7 = 3 + 4, 7 - 4 = 3, and 7 - 3 = 4. When the number is a double, there are only two members of the fact family. An example would be 10 - 5 = 5, and 5 + 5 = 10.)
LostButtons ICON
Number and Operations

Lost Buttons

In this lesson and the following one, students investigate subtraction more directly, beginning with the easier “take away” mode. They model “take away” subtraction with buttons and write subtraction sentences. They also work with the additive identity (0) as an addend and as a difference and find missing addends.
Number and Operations

Shirts Full of Buttons

Students explore subtraction in the comparative mode by answering questions of “How many more?” and “How many less?” as they match sets of buttons. They also make and discuss bar graphs based on the number of buttons they are wearing.
Number and Operations

Looking Back and Moving Forward

This final lesson of the unit reviews the work of the previous lessons through a variety of activity stations, one of which involves using an interactive graphing tool. Students model with buttons and record addition and subtraction.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Identify positions using the terms before, after, and between.
  • Name positions using ordinal numbers.
  • Create a set that corresponds to a given number less than 10.
  • Count the elements in a set of less than 10 members.

NCTM Standards and Expectations

  • Count with understanding and recognize "how many" in sets of objects.
  • Develop a sense of whole numbers and represent and use them in flexible ways, including relating, composing, and decomposing numbers.
  • Develop understanding of the relative position and magnitude of whole numbers and of ordinal and cardinal numbers and their connections.
  • Use multiple models to develop initial understandings of place value and the base-ten number system

Common Core State Standards – Mathematics

-Kindergarten, Geometry

  • CCSS.Math.Content.K.G.A.1
    Describe objects in the environment using names of shapes, and describe the relative positions of these objects using terms such as above, below, beside, in front of, behind, and next to.

Common Core State Standards – Practice

  • CCSS.Math.Practice.MP4
    Model with mathematics.
  • CCSS.Math.Practice.MP5
    Use appropriate tools strategically.
  • CCSS.Math.Practice.MP7
    Look for and make use of structure.
  • CCSS.Math.Practice.MP8
    Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.