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Using Sorting Activities with Elementary Students

October 24, 2018 No Comments
Ideas and tips for using sorts with your students in the elementary classroom!

Sorting activities are one of my favorite go-to activities to use in the elementary classroom! They work great as review activities in a center or station, and they also work well for assessment. Whether you’re using them to introduce new content or review concepts you’ve previously taught, kids love using them in every subject. Here are some tips for using sorting activities with your class!

What Is a Sorting Activity?

To complete a sorting activity, students move sorting cards into different groups. Cards generally have words, pictures, definitions, descriptions, and/or examples.

There are two main kinds of sorts. In a closed sort, you choose the categories and ask your students to sort the cards accordingly. In an open sort, students create their own categories by deciding how to group the sorting cards.

Why Use Sorting Activities in the Upper Grades?

It’s a hands-on activity that gets students actively manipulating information. It lets them interact with vocabulary and other content in a different way than reading about it or taking notes.

It’s versatile. It works across subject areas and grades. Students can sort alone, in partners, and in small groups. You can use it as a pre-assessment, classroom activity, review activity, or assessment!

It’s a great way to get students using creative and critical thinking skills, especially when they do an open sort. This gives students an opportunity to come up with their own connections. It really lets you see a student’s thought process!

It’s a low-stakes activity that’s perfect for kids who do better with non-traditional assessment, especially if they can work collaboratively to complete the sort.

It’s an easy and quick way to assess student thinking.

I also like that you can use the sorting cards in more ways than just classification. Students can match the cards and play memory games, too!

I love these ideas and tips for using sorting activities with students in the elementary classroom!

Which Subjects Can I Use Sorts In?

Any! All! Read on for some ideas!


  • review similar vocabulary terms in a unit, like types of angles or polygons
  • categorize word problems by the skill required
  • sort ways to represent different numbers
Probability vocabulary is great to practice with a sorting activity during math workshop.

Language Arts

  • introduce vocabulary for a new read-aloud or guided reading group/literature circle book
  • match parts of speech to definitions and examples
  • sort examples of figurative language by type
  • differentiate among nonfiction text structures
I love this word reference materials sorting activity to help students review using a dictionary, glossary, and thesaurus.


  • categorize pictures by concepts like living and non-living, adaptations, and cloud types
  • sequence images like the phases of the moon
  • review vocabulary for topics like weather tools
If students are mixing up science concepts or vocabulary, a sort can help them practice differentiating, like with this ecosystems sort.


  • match names of battles to locations and outcomes
  • sort historical figures and contributions
  • match regions to geographical characteristics, products, and industries
  • sequence events by timelines or cause-and-effect relationships
I love using sorts for social studies activities. This sort helps students review the 5 regions of Virginia.

If you teach Virginia Studies, grab a free sort for important Virginia documents here.

Tips for Using Sorting Activities

  • If you want students to keep their sorts, have them glue the cards on paper when they finish.
  • Print sorting activities full-page for partners or small groups to use together or for students to keep in binders or folders.
  • Print the pages at a reduced size if you want students to glue the sort into an interactive notebook (I like 65%).
  • Laminate materials for long-term use in a center or station. (I recommend printing on card stock or construction paper, too.)
  • Differentiate by providing sort headings.
  • Include visuals where you can.
  • Save time by asking students to cut apart the sorting cards themselves!
  • Store the sorting cards in sandwich bags or sealable envelopes.
  • If you’re printing multiple sets, number the backs of the cards (or draw colored dots/shapes on them) so it’s easy to match a missing card with its set.
  • Try going digital! You can have students complete sorting activities online in Google Slides™ or Boom Cards™!

As you can see, there are tons of ways to use sorting activities with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders – and lots of benefits!

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