Word Sort

Instructional Practice, Learning Strategy
Tier I,II
  • Appropriate text
  • predetermined word cards to be sorted
  • category cards (optional)
Target Student

Students who struggle with content related vocabulary words. 


The Word Sort strategy increases students’ understanding of content related vocabulary words by allowing the students to sort predetermined words into categories (closed sort) or sorting the words that they decide are related into groups (open sort). Students can more familiar with new vocabulary through a word sort or students can gain extra practice with previously learned vocabulary through word sorts.


Learning strategies aid students in understanding information and are to be used by students independently.  Use explicit instruction (explanation, modeling, guided practice, independent practice) to teach learning strategies to students.
Explain the strategy. Provide students with an explanation of the strategy: what it is and when it should be used.
Model the strategy.  Model how to use the strategy.  Using a think aloud procedure, voice out the thought process behind each stage of the strategy. This may need to occur over the course of several days based on the needs of the students.
Guided practice.  Guide students in performing the strategy in small groups or in pairs.  During this time, scaffold the learning and support students who need assistance in using the strategy.  They can also model the think aloud strategy (when in pairs) to strengthen comprehension and learning of the steps involved.
Independent practice. After guided practice, students should only use the strategy independently, once they have shown they have mastered the strategy. Students can also be given the opportunity to reflect on the strategy.

How To

1. Select a content related text that is appropriate for the student. Identify 15-20 critical terms related to the chosen topic.
2. Choose terms that can be categorized based on a shared relationship among the words. Use a 3x5 card or print the words on a business card sized paper. Make enough sets of cards so that multiple pairs of students can have cards to sort. If a closed sort is being done, write the categories on separate cards in capital letters on however many cards are needed.
3. Familiarize the students with the Word Sort before and after the reading.
4. Each pair of students should now receive a set of cards. Prompt the students to discuss the meaning of each word after reading the cards to them. Be sure to scramble or alphabetize the words before they are given to the students.
5. If the sort is closed, write the categories on the board so that the students can see them. If an open sort Is being completed, have the students group the words that are related to one another and ask the students to label those words with a category name card.
6. Check on each pairs' progress by monitoring the classroom. Ask students to explain their reasoning on how they categorized and why. 

Adapted from 40 Strategies for Guiding Readers through Informational Texts
(Moss, B., & Loh-Hagan, V. (2016). 40 strategies for guiding readers through informational texts. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.)


Arnold, C. (2000). On the brink of extinction: The California condor (Houghton Mifflin Soar to Success).Boston: Houghton Mifflin. (I, M)

Gillet, J., & Kita, M. (1979). Words, kids, and categories. The Reading Teachers, 32, 538-542.

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