Sorting activities are surprisingly crucial for students, and I wished I realized their true value earlier in my career. Examining and comparing items sharpens their observation skills, which will help in all the subject areas. Reading, in particular, relies on continually studying letter order to decode the words.

I especially enjoy introducing this skill in math class for one reason. Many kids who struggle with math perk up a bit when they listen to a sorting lesson. This, they can do! I love seeing the pride on their faces when they offer ideas about the sorting rule.

Be prepared for some fascinating answers. Kids surprise me each and every time I work on sorting, but I had to learn to be open to unusual ideas. Listen carefully to all of their responses, and you may hear some new and creative sorting rules.

Getting Started


CLIO Lesson Sorting Learning Video (You can find the Sorting Video under the Language Skills tab.)
CLIO Lesson Card, 1 per student or pair of students
CLIO Lesson Knowledge Check, 1 per class

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Guided Learning


I like to gather several manipulatives from our math bins to start a sorting lesson. I start with two different colors or shapes, similar to this CLIO Lesson. I first spread out the handful of pieces and mention that we use these for counting. Today, we will use them in a new way. This short statement is an effortless way to get the students excited. I like starting with colors because my ELL and special needs students are usually able to participate with that sorting rule very easily.

The next step is to ask them questions.
What do you notice?
What is different?
What is the same?

Give ample wait time for all of those brains to get started! As they share their ideas, stress that all of the pieces need to have a description and a grouping. They can’t just slide five of them to the side and group three. It has happened countless times to me!

Tip: Do take time to label the groupings. If it is a whole class activity, write the label on an index card or on the board. Skipping this step can cause confusion for the students that are not entirely clear on the concept.

Guided Practice with the CLIO Lesson Learning Video

Explain they will move to another CLIO video now! While watching the video, use the stopping points to reinforce the ideas and allow the students to consider the sorting rule.

After viewing, pass out the Lesson Cards. Give them time to cut apart the boxes. These fun pictures of fruits and vegetables offer a wide variety of ideas for their groups. Allow them time to form one sort. Next, challenge them to move the pieces into a different sorting method.



Work with what the child does know. Colors are often the easiest for children, so encourage them to sort by color multiple times. Continue including colors so that three, four, or more colors are involved. Build up their confidence by showing them how they can do this.

Next, move to shapes, sticking to your basic forms that clearly have straight lines and curved lines, like the ones shown in this lesson. Once this is mastered sorting squares and circles, add a third shape. Emphasize the differences between these shapes.


The possibilities are endless! Sort words, starting with two distinct word families as -at and ig. Ask the kids to sort a list of words (cat, mat, hat, pig, jig, wig) into two groups.

If a child is really intrigued by this idea, keep going. Sort words into the number of letters, the beginning letter, ending letter, or by similar word families, such as -ap and -ag.

Try sorting pictures of toys or animals for an added level of interest. Which animals have a tail? Which toys do you play with outside?

Practice is Key

Supporting Activities for Sortin

1. Study letters. Start with just a few of the uppercase letters. Which ones have curved lines, and which have straight ones? This is especially fun if the students have a set of magnetic letters to move around. If you don’t, write several letters on paper and copy it. They can cut them out during the lesson. Which ones dip below the lines? Try the same thing with a handful of lowercase letters.

2. If you have centers or stations in your classroom, enjoy creating this open-ended activity. Pull out some of those leftover stickers from your closet. Put each one on an index card and store in a plastic bag. During center time, the students take the bag and spread out the pieces. Then, they sort the pictures into groups. This can be done on their own or with a partner. I have found that three or more students tend to lead to disagreements on this topic! You can use a sorting mat with boxes on it that are pre-labeled or just ask the kids what they found afterward.

3. Kids love to sort on their own! Using plastic bags, envelopes, or pencil boxes, quickly assemble a variety of small items such as paper clips, crayons, erasers, buttons, craft supplies or whatever other pieces you already have floating around in your room. Let them sort these on their own when they are done with an activity.

4. Make a black and white copy of the CLIO Knowledge Check cards and hand out to each child. After using the original as an assessment, use these shapes to create their own custom set. Allow them to pick two or three colors, depending on ability, and color each shape. Then, they can cut them out on the lines and tuck into an envelope. Keep this in their desk and let them sort when time allows.



Knowledge Check

Check for Understanding

Using the CLIO Knowledge Check Cards, instruct the students to cut out the shapes on the dotted lines. Then ask them to sort into groups. Check in with the students to hear their ideas.

Miranda Perloff

Miranda Perloff

Miranda fell in love with school supplies, worksheets, and learning when she entered kindergarten. She strives to bring that same excitement to her students. Books are a huge part of her lessons and she introduces the children to as many titles and authors as possible. Miranda now combines her passion for education with her joy of writing. In her free time, she enjoys the company of her supportive husband, her humorous son, and the feminine magic of her stepdaughters.