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Activities For Ordinal Numbers

Stimulating practice for “first”, “second”, “twenty third” etc.

Ordinal numbers can involve pronunciation problems like consonant clusters, syllables added or not (e.g. to 13th and 30th) and pronouncing th, and can also be used as a way of introducing those pronunciation points. In addition, students have to remember the forms. Most of the following activities for practising ordinal numbers are suitable for both adults and young learners.

1. Guess Your Position

Tell students how you are going to ask them to line up in a couple of minutes (e.g. by date of birth, date of their birthday, height, shoe size, number of brothers and sisters, number of times they have been to Disneyland, how long they have spent abroad in their life), and ask each student to guess where they will be in that line, e.g. “I think I will be (joint) third.” They then ask each other the question to find out that information (e.g. “When is your birthday?”), line up in that order, and get points if they are in the position they said they would be.

2. Ordinals Buzz Fizz

Buzz Fizz is a common numbers game that even native speakers play and find fun, and it can be played with ordinal numbers as easily as with cardinal numbers. Students take turns counting up one number at a time, but instead of any multiple of three they have to say “Buzz”, so going around the class or a group you get “First” “Second” “Buzz” “Fourth” “Fifth” “Buzz” “Seventh” etc. People who make a mistake can be made to sit out that round if you like. Once they have got the hang of that, you can also add “Fizz” for all multiples of five, making fifteenth, thirtieth etc “Buzz fizz”.

3. All Kinds Of Counting

An easier counting game is to get students to count up in different steps, starting with just “First” “Second” “Third” etc and then going to steps of two, three, five, ten etc.

4. Awareness Of Rank

Get students to guess the position of things in world or local rankings, e.g. “Where is the Thames in a list of Europe’s longest rivers?” This takes quite a lot of research, but if you have access to computers with the internet in class students can research and make the questions for each other.

5. Rank Trumps

Produce a set of cards with a category of things that are similar to each other, e.g. one famous building on each. Each card should have some appropriate data about those things on it, e.g. speed and acceleration for cars or number of young and average lifespan for animals. Split the students into groups of between three and five and give them three or four cards each. One student should choose one of the pieces of data and say its name, e.g. “Height”. Each student should then guess where one of their cards could go in a ranking of all the cards in their group, e.g. “I think this card here will be first.” They then tell each other all the information and check the positions of the cards they chose, getting one point for each correct guess. This can also be played as a team game with between three and five cards per team.

6. Which Time?

The teacher or a student does the same thing many times, with one time being subtly different. The other students then say which time they think was different, e.g. “The tenth time was ‘sheet’ instead of ‘seat’”, “The sixth time you said ‘Can I help you?’ wasn’t polite” or “The sixth word wasn’t a vegetable”. As with these examples, this works well for pronunciation points and lexical sets.

7. Instant Sequences

Students are asked a question about where in a well-known sequence someone or something is and race to say the right ordinal number, e.g. “Which position is February in months/Bill Clinton in the Presidents of the United States/‘Thou shalt not kill’ in the Ten Commandments?”

8. Ordering Ordinals Storytime

Give students between 10 and 20 cards with pictures or vocabulary on that they can use to tell a story. They work in pairs to decide on a story and put the cards in order, then change pairs and tell their stories one picture at a time to someone else. After each sentence, that person has to guess which picture the person telling the story put at that point and tell them using ordinal numbers, e.g. “I think this was your fifth picture”.

Written by Alex Case for EnglishClub | January 2012
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic blog.