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Using Sorts in the Elementary Classroom

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

Sorting activities are one of my fave go-to activities to use in the elementary classroom! I love that they’re hands-on, great for collaborative group work, and have so many applications. Not only do they work well as review activities in a center or station, but they’re also nice to use for an engaging 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!

Ideas and tips for using sorts with your students in the elementary classroom!

What Is a Sort?

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 a Sort?

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!

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

Ideas and tips for using sorts with your students in the elementary classroom!

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

Ideas and tips for using sorts with your students in the elementary classroom!


  • 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

Ideas and tips for using sorts with your students in the elementary classroom!


  • 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

Ideas and tips for using sorts with your students in the elementary classroom!

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! Whole-class sorts are great to use with an interactive whiteboard!

As you can see, there are tons of ways to use sorts, and lots of benefits. I’d love to hear how you sorting activities to teach and review content in your classroom!

If you’re interested in any of the sorts pictured above, you can find them here.

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Alyssa Teaches

Alyssa Teaches


I'm Alyssa! I've taught first and fourth grade and am now an elementary school librarian in Virginia. I have a teacher husband, three kids (6, 5, and 2), and a new pup! I love creating resources, Coca-Cola, and chocolate!


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