Word sorting games

Investigating, exploring and understanding spelling conventions, often involves sorting words into categories. Therefore learning these conventions often involves sorting games.

Interactive sorting games

Some of the interactive resources on the site involve sorting activities that allow words to be dragged into columns. With these interactive versions, think very carefully about how to ensure that all children are thinking about and making decisions about the categories that each word should belong to. Consider asking children to show with actions which category each word belongs to or number the columns and ask them to hold up the right number of fingers or ask them to write or draw a symbol for the category on their whiteboards and hold that up. If children just watch and wait while other children decide where the words should go they will quickly get bored and learn very little.

Printable sorting games

There are also printable word cards and sorting grids available in many units to allow the sorting to be done in a paper-based way which can allow children to play in pairs or small groups and get more hands-on chances to sort words. In my experience, asking the children to cut up the word cards themselves before sorting them is the most efficient way to play these games but it is worth being very clear about how you want the words cut up. E.g. Cut the edges off the page, cut vertically down the lines then share these columns out so everyone in the group can cut along the horizontal lines, scrumple the off-cuts up and put them in the middle of the table ready to go in the bin later. This might seem a bit like overkill but it can get the job done in under a minute. Without clear expectations, it is easy to lose the whole lesson to the cutting up process and be left with words that have been trimmed so many times and so tightly that they are barely legible and a classroom floor that has a light snow-like dusting of paper snippings all over it.

Alternative sorting game ideas

In addition to interactive and paper-based versions, it is sometimes nice to shake things up a bit and play different sorting games. Here are a selection of alternative ideas.

Follow the leader

Give some children cards showing the categories that the words need to be sorted into (the column headings from the sorting grids). Give the rest of the class word cards and ask children to line up behind the child who represents the category that their word falls into.

PE warm up

Place large category cards around the hall or playground. Show and read out an example word and ask children to race to the category card as quickly as they can. Repeat for a number of words.

Pick up

Shuffle and deal out seven word cards to each player and place the remaining cards in a face down pile. These will be the 'pick up' cards. Children can lay down (face up) sets of cards when they have at least three that all belong to the same category. If they don't have any cards that they can put down, they have to take a card from the 'pick up' pile. If a child puts cards down and the rest of the group spot that they aren't actually in the same category, that child has to take those cards back and pick up the same number of cards from the pick up pile. The first child to get rid of all their cards wins. If the 'pick up' pile runs out of cards before anyone has put all their cards down then no-one wins and the game starts again.

Mime it

Agree as a class on actions for each of the categories. For example if root words are being sorted based on what has to happen to the root word before a suffix is added, you would need a doubling action (tapping one hand twice with the other hand)for doubling the final consonant, a dropping action (holding up a fist and opening it) for dropping the final e, a doing nothing action (folding arms) for words that don't need any change to the root word and an action related to the letter y and i (hold one arm straight up to make a letter i and use the fist of the other arm to make the dot on the i) for words that need to have the y changed into an i.

You can then look at each word as a whole class and ask all children to show the correct action for each category. It can be handy to use these actions when doing interactive whole class sorting activities on the whiteboard as it ensures that every child is thinking about and making decisions about each word. However, it is often a good idea to give a little bit of thinking time first and only get children to show their action when you say 'Show me'. Otherwise, some children will be tempted to just copy whatever the majority are doing rather than trying to think it out for themselves.