Ordinal Number Sort with the Hungry Caterpillar

In this lesson, children will follow the eating patterns of the hungry caterpillar and sort the caterpillar's snacks according to the sequence in which they are eaten.

Math Lesson for:

Toddlers/Preschoolers
(See Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.)

Content Area:

Numbers and Operations

Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Understand numbers, ways of representing numbers, relationships among numbers and number systems

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Counting with understanding and recognizing “how many” in sets of objects
  • Developing understanding of the relative position and magnitude of whole numbers and of ordinal and cardinal numbers and their connections

Ordinal Number Sort with the Hungry Caterpillar

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  • The book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • Chart paper on an easel and markers
  • Strips that have seven boxes can be made out of sentence strips (the boxes should be evenly spaced horizontally, with the ordinal number represented numerically and spelled out under each box)

There should be a strip similar to this for each child.

  • Cards that are the same size as the boxes on the strips (There will be seven cards in each set. On each of the cards, there should be pictures of what the caterpillar eats: 1 apple, 2 pears, 3 plums, 4 strawberries, 5 oranges, all 10 items that the caterpillar eats (watermelon, cupcake…..) and 1 leaf. If at all possible, try to laminate the strip and the playing cards so that the game can be used over and over again.

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. Introduce the book, The Very Hungry CaterpillarAsk if any of the children have read the book before. If so, ask those children to recount the events of the book. (The caterpillar eats a lot of food and becomes a big, beautiful butterfly.) Say: “Yes, that’s right. But does anyone remember the 1st snack that the caterpillar ate? How about the 3rd snack the caterpillar ate? The last snack the caterpillar ate?”
  2. Explain that today you will read The Very Hungry Caterpillar together as a group. Tell the children that while we are reading the book, we are going to keep track of what the caterpillar eats and in what order. Say: “We want to know what is the first piece of food the caterpillar eats, the third food item he eats and the last thing he eats before he becomes a big, beautiful butterfly. We will keep track of the order on our chart paper. Are you ready?”
  3. Read: “He started to look for some food. On Monday, he ate through one apple.” Ask: “So what is the first food item the caterpillar eats?” (One apple) On the chart paper, write 1st /first and then draw a picture of one apple.
  4. Continue reading and charting the caterpillar’s eating sequence. When you have finished reading the book, the chart paper should be numbered 1st-7th and have corresponding food items drawn next to the ordinal number. Using the information on the chart, ask the children questions using ordinal numbers as a point of reference. Ask: “What was the second thing the caterpillar ate?” (2 pears) Ask: “Who can list all of the food that the caterpillar ate on the 7th day?” (Watermelon, cupcake…) Ask: “What was the last thing the caterpillar ate before he turned into a big, beautiful butterfly?” (One green leaf)

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Introduce the sequencing game. Show the children the ordinal number strip and the food cards. Say: “On this strip, we have the order and the sequence in which the caterpillar ate his food. And on these cards are the foods the caterpillar ate. Your job is to put the food in the same order in which the caterpillar ate them.”
  2. Model the first turn of the game. Say: “Let’s start playing. What food did the caterpillar eat first?” (The apple) Ask: “Can you find the apple card?” After the children answer, say: “Good. We will put the apple card on the first square on the strip right above where it says first. You can use the chart to help you remember what the caterpillar ate when. Your job is to now put the remaining food cards in the correct order. Are there any questions?” Hand out the cards and the strips to the children and have them begin placing their food cards in the correct order.
  3. Once all of the children have placed their cards, go over the placement together. Using the chart as a guide, ask questions that reinforce that the children have successfully placed their cards in the correct positions. Say: “So we know that the caterpillar ate an apple first. Therefore, we should all have the apple cards in the first position. Let’s move on to the second position.” Ask: “What did the hungry caterpillar eat on the second day?” (Two pears) Say: “That is right. The second thing the caterpillar ate was two pears. So we should all have the two pears card on the second position.” Allow time for the children to change their card position if necessary. Move down the chart, asking about each of the seven positions.

Additional Extensions

  • Once the children have all of their cards in the correct positions on the strip, work backwards or ask positioning questions that are out of order. For example, say: “Let’s work backwards. Looking at our strip, what was the last thing the hungry caterpillar ate? What was the third thing the caterpillar ate?”
  • Extend the strip past a seventh position and have the children make up the meals that the caterpillar would eat now that he is a butterfly. Have some indication that on the eighth day, the caterpillar turns into a butterfly and then continue the sequencing after that. You can start at first again and ask the question: “On his first day as a butterfly, what did he eat?” Or you can continue the sequencing and ask: “What did the new butterfly eat on the ninth day? What was butterfly’s ninth meal?”

Step 4: Teach math vocabulary.

  • First: Coming before all others in time or order (e.g.,“What did the caterpillar eat first?”)
  • Second: Constituting number two in a sequence; coming after the first in time or order (e.g.,“What did caterpillar eat on the second day?”)
  • Sequence: A particular order in which related events, movements or things follow each other (e.g.,“On this strip, we have the order, the sequence in which caterpillar ate his food.”)

Glossary of MATH vocabulary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Have difficulty remembering the sequence of events in the book
  • Have difficulty with the one-to-one correspondence needed to match up the food cards with the ordinal numbers on the strip
Home child care providers may:
  • Point out the sequence of events on the chart paper to remind the children of what happened when
  • Help the children place the food cards on the correct ordinal numbers (work side by side with the children to help reinforce the ordinal numbers in relation to the position in the sequence)
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Easily understand the concept and relationship between sequencing and ordinal number
  • Extend beyond the given ordinal numbers and can grasp the concept of ordinal numbers in relation to positioning and numerical order
Home child care providers may:
  • Once the children have all of their cards in the correct positions on the strip, work backwards or ask positioning questions that are out of order (For example: “Let’s work backwards. Looking at our strip, what was the last thing the caterpillar ate? What was the third thing the caterpillar ate?”)
  • Extend the strip past a seventh position and have the children make up the meals that a caterpillar would eat now that he is a butterfly. Have some indication that on the eight day, the caterpillar turns into a butterfly and then continue the sequencing after that. You can start at first again and ask the question: “On his first day as a butterfly, what did he eat?” Or you can continue the sequencing and ask: “What did the now butterfly eat on the ninth day? What was butterfly’s ninth meal?”

Suggested Books

  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (New York: Penguin Young Readers Group, 1969)

Music and Movement

Outdoor Connections

There are a number of outdoor games that can be played that involve ordinal numbers. Races that announce a first-place, second-place and third-place finisher; a parade of animals that has a lineup with the lion going first, the elephant going second, and so forth. Try calling children to get in line. Say: “I’d like Sally to get in line first, Teddy to get in line second, etc.”

Web Resources

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