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First, Next, Last: Teaching Story Sequencing to Preschoolers

written by: Kara Bietz • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 9/25/2012

Story sequencing is a concept that may seem easy to you, but can be a challenge for some preschoolers to grasp. Before teaching important sequence connector words such as first, next, then, finally and last, you have to be sure that children understand ordinal numbers and their meanings.

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    Teaching Ordinal Numbers

    The first step to teaching children to sequence a story in preschool is to make sure they understand the concept of ordinal numbers. While many preschoolers will grasp this concept easily, others may struggle with the language. Use your morning circle time to talk about sequencing and ordinal numbers by applying these concepts to your daily plan. For example, explain to children that first you will have circle time, next you will eat apples and cheese cubes for a snack, and last you will play outdoors on the playground. Keep it simple when you first begin using sequence words and keep your sequence story to three very basic steps. As children begin to grasp the sequence of the days events, begin to use ordinal numbers such as first, second and third. Encourage the children to use these numbers when talking about the day's events or recalling an activity.

    To ensure that the children are using ordinal numbers correctly, allow them to practice these new skills frequently. For example, place several construction paper circles on the floor with ordinal numbers one through five. Play a simple movement game by asking children to hop or skip through the numbers in order. For another challenge, hide the circles throughout the room and ask children to find them in and put them in order. Allow children to work in small groups to accomplish this task.

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    Simple Sequencing Stories

    JGS Reading Luckily, there are several very popular children's stories that lend themselves to teaching sequencing. Remember the rule of three: try to break the story into three very distinct sections when attempting to teach sequencing. Be sure the story can be broken easily into sections you can label first, next and last.

    The Three Little Pigs: This classic tale of the three pigs and the big bad wolf is very easy to break into a sequencing activity. First, the pigs move away from their mother. Next, all three pigs build their own homes from straw, wood and bricks. Last, the big bad wolf attempts to blow their houses down and is not successful in blowing down the brick house. While this story easily breaks into three pieces, it can be broken down even further once children understand the concept of sequencing. For example, as children become confident in their sequencing skills, break the story down in this way:

    • First, the pigs move away from their mother.
    • Next, the first pig builds his house of straw.
    • Next, the second pig builds his house with wood.
    • Next, the third pig builds his house of bricks.
    • Next, the wolf blows down the straw house.
    • Next, the wolf blows down the wood house.
    • Last, the wolf attempts to blow down the brick house but cannot.

    The Tortoise and The Hare: Another classic story that can easily be broken into three distinct parts is The Tortoise and the Hare. Try presenting it to children in this manner. First, the tortoise and the hare begin a race. Then, the hare decides to take a nap by a tree since he is so far ahead of the tortoise. Last, the tortoise wins the race because the hare has fallen asleep. One of the easiest ways to show children the sequence of events is to allow them to act out the story of the tortoise and the hare. Allow the children each a chance to be the tortoise or the hare while the rest of the class reminds the actors of the sequence of events. Keep the children involved by asking them to remember what comes next.

    Some other suggestions for picture books that work well as simple sequencing stories include Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems.

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    Other Ways To Teach Sequencing

    Beyond introducing picture books with a distinct first, next, last sequence of events, there are many other ways to introduce sequencing to your preschool class. Try some of these simple creative activities to help children understand the concept and importance of sequencing and order.

    Recipe Cards: Create large recipe cards using poster board and allow children to help you prepare a snack using the cards. Be sure the recipe cards contain mostly pictures, and try to keep the recipe to three easy-to-follow steps when introducing sequencing. For example, allow children to help you make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches using three recipe cards. First, spread peanut butter on one slice of bread. Next, spread jelly on another slice of bread. Last, put the two pieces of bread together. Have children recall the sequence of the recipe while eating their snack.

    What Happened Today? Drawings: Fold a large piece of construction paper in thirds and ask children to recall three things, in order, that happened during their day at preschool. The events each child recalls are not important, as children will all remember different things, but stress the importance of being able to recall these activities or events in order. Explain to children that they will be telling their parents a story using these pictures and should be able to explain what happened first, next and last.

    Out of Order!: Use pictures from magazines or draw your own to create simple sequence puzzles. For example, draw a child waking up in the morning, eating breakfast and getting on the school bus. Mix the pictures up and ask children to put them in order and tell you about them using the words first, next and last. For older children, create more challenging puzzles. For example, draw three trees. One with green leaves, one with leaves changing colors, and one with no leaves. Ask children to explain to you which picture comes first, next and last. The answers may vary, and as children explain their reasoning for putting the pictures in each order, you may be surprised at their understanding of sequencing!

    There are countless ways to demonstrate the sequence of a story for a preschool classroom. Learning to sequence will help children with reading comprehension, recognizing patterns and memory recall. Exercising and learning to perfect these skills will serve children well during their school years.

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