I love using word sorts to teaching vocabulary because they’re an extremely effective strategy to teach vocabulary and very engaging to students. Word sorting is a research based method that allows students to build their knowledge around a set of vocabulary words by sorting and classifying them into groups depending on certain characteristics.
To start a word sort, students are given a set of words to analyze. I would say 10 to 20 words is a good number to use. Then, either the students or the teacher will chose categories (usually 3) to try to place all of the words into. The reason word sorting is so powerful is because it allows students to really analyze the vocabulary using their prior knowledge as well as looking at similarities and differences between the words. It gives students a chance to look at the words a variety of different ways which helps them develop a deep knowledge of the vocabulary that they might not get from just reading the words in a text.
Here is a sample word sorting lesson plan. You can do this by giving students a list of vocabulary words to cut out and move around their desk. In this example my vocabulary was centered around outer space and I made a set of trading cards that not only had the words but a picture, definition and sentence to go along with them. They are very helpful for my ELL students! Click here to get a set of reading and math vocabulary trading cards for free.
1 Have students make 3 columns on a piece of paper.
2. Next, have them move their trading cards around on their desk until they find a way they can classify them into two or three groups.
3. Ask student to label the tops of the columns with the categories they came up with and write the vocabulary words in each column.
4. Finally, allow students to share how they sorted their words with the class until all the different ways to sort/classify them have been shared. As students share you can make a list of the ways they sorted their words on a piece of chart paper that you can add and refer to each time you do this activity. This is a great activity for students to do with partners and you’ll find that the categories become more and more creative each time you sort words with your class!