Providing students with word sort activities supports their critical thinking when reading and builds an understanding of how words work. Until you see it for your own eyes, it is hard to imagine all the different sounds letters and blends can make.
What elements to include in a word sort
When you are working with students that struggle, you may want to only sort for initial sound, or letter blends. As their reading progresses you can sort for rhyming or spelling patterns. I like to include two elements at a time to engage the student’s higher order thinking skill. It takes more thought after the word is read to decide which rule it fits with. Maybe one, maybe both, maybe neither. Yes, I will throw in distracter words. I have found too often students look at how many empty spots there are and just put in cards to make it look done. And that, is just a waste of everyone’s time.
I had a student that believed he couldn’t read. It had become part of his identity. So, I broke out the word sort game. I explained it was ok he couldn’t read; we were going to just do some letter matching.
Of course, as he pulled a card, I read it, asked him to repeat it. When he was done, we checked all the cards. I read, he repeated. After a week of playing for about 10 minutes a day, I was busy and couldn’t sit next to him. As he sorted, I asked him which card it was and he was reading most of them no problem without noticing. The next week we added in the rhyming, where he only had to listen – using the same deck. I waited a whole other week before I began the conversation about he was now a reader.
How do you set up a word sort in your classroom?
It really doesn’t matter if you have sorting mats and words prepared on fancy cards or if you draw a t-chart on the board and make a list. It is the engagement with the words that creates the learning. Certainly, having words the students are or will be using can be beneficial. Having the word lists include the phonics you are working on is a great idea. I have even word sorts with social studies vocabulary. And that my friend is the beauty of a word sort. It can be whatever your students need it to be. What are some ways I enjoy using word sorts?
- Beginning sounds/letters
- Medial sounds/letters
- Ending sounds/letters
- Rhyming words
- Parts of speech
- Root words
- Known words/unknown
- How many consonants/vowels
How I Make and Store the Lists I Use Year after Year
- To start I make sure the paper is colored. Sometimes I print on scrapbook paper or colored cardstock.
- I trim the student word mat so it will fit in a plastic page protector. I have the students leave them in page protector so I don’t have to pay for lamination.
- Then laminate the individual word cards and cut them apart.
- The words just get dropped in the plastic page protector with the sort they work with.
If there is a collection that will generally be played as a game, all student mats and words will be in one page protector.
For center work or morning work students might work alone or in pairs using just one sorting mat.
Sometimes I do need to have the students write down their answers when working on a word sort alone. This is rare but I do have a worksheet for that.
Recently I created little exit tickets. These are nice to have. I can save time and materials by projecting the sorting rules and word lists.
However, in my resource room, we don’t do that often. As you can imagine. There are issues copying the words, spelling them correctly, printing the words neatly. All those headaches really have nothing to do with reading, so I avoid them when possible.
How to extend a word sort activity?
The most common way to extend their thinking after they have sorted their words is to have them use one, some or all of the words in a sentence. If I do this, I will aim to have the sentences shared orally. This avoids all the problems listed above.
More challenging and my favorite is to give students a collection of words and have them find similarities, create a rule and share their word sort with a friend. B loom would be proud with all the evaluation and synthesis going on.
A Quick Way to Get Started
Here is a link to a word sort I recently updated.
Let Me Know How it Goes
If you decide to try them again, or maybe for the first time, let me know how it goes. If you haven’t already joined my facebook group hop on over and do that. I go live every school morning with thoughts, tips and hacks. Right now, I am thinking it is time to share where I get the words to use in my lists, sorts and activities.
Want to try for FREE?
If you subscribe to my newsletter, you will get freebies right to your inbox. Below is the freebie for this week. A mini-set of word sort mats and words to try.