Sorting is a popular activity in preschool classrooms, and with good reason, too. The ability to sort, to define attributes and organize materials or objects according to those likes and differences is a beginning algebraic skill. It is a foundational concept that should be included in any preschool or home schooling program.
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What does it mean to sort?
Sorting is the act of organizing objects according to the relationships they have with one another, specifically their similarities and differences. Sorting activities supports algebraic development by requires analytical thinking. It also builds and encourages the use of new vocabulary. For these reasons, sorting is incredibly popular in play based preschool education, but also has it’s place in academic preschool programs as well.
What are different ways to sort?
As you can imagine, there are many way you can sort. Most commonly, teachers and parents begin with sorting by color, but there are many ways to sort. Here are just a few:
A lesson on sorting by type
Each month I focus on one color to teach my 3-4’s class in preschool. While this does not mean that we only learn about that one color, it does mean that I create extra activities that are specific to that color. Combine that idea with the week we are focusing on sorting activities in math, and we end up with a sorting by type activity.
To prepare this activity I simply went through my preschool supplies to gather materials in our focus color: yellow. Included were:
Learning Resources Friendly Farm Animal Counters
Learning Resources Hos Color Cubes
Melissa & Doug Deluxe Magnetic Letters & Numbers in a Box Bundle
Really Big Buttons
100 Yellow Craft Pom Poms
Eureka Tub Of Linking Shapes
I pulled out the color yellow from each of these manipulative sets and scattered them in a tray.
I invited my preschoolers to sit in a circle on the floor around the tray. Before beginning the actual lesson, I allowed the students to take some of the items and play with them for a few minutes. It’s always a good idea to allow a few minutes of play before beginning any direct instruction.
After a few minutes of play, I asked the students to return their items to the tray, and then invited them to name some of the things they found in the tray. I also asked about the color. Then, I asked the students how I might go about sorting the objects. Since we had previously bee focusing on sorting by color, my students were initially stumped, so I led them through sorting by type.
I help up each different kind of object and asked the students to name it. I would then separate it from the objects in the tray by placing it on the floor by itself, thus making a group for it. I was sure to repeat this model for each type of object in the tray. Then, I selected a second of any one object and asked the students where they thought that manipulative would belong. The students guided me through a few more items.
Finally, I gave each student a pile of items from the tray to sort on their own.
As students began to finish with their piles of yellow manipulatives, we waited until all were finished.
I followed up this sorting activity by asking students about each of the groups we had created. This was mostly to teach the students to defend their mathematical actions, but also to teach them how to describe the different groups. Pom poms were fuzzy little balls, and foam cubes were soft blocks, and so on.
As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, this sorting by type activity can do done with any color, not just yellow, but it was an excellent way to support our study of the color yellow.
To make this activity more challenging, if your students or preschoolers is already rather familiar with sorting, you can also just invite them to sort the objects in the tray according to how they best see fit. Kathryn at Kindergarten Kindergarten did that for several math lessons in this post, which gives even more ideas for teaching sorting.
Other sorting activities by Stay At Home Educator
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I am Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home mama of five! I am the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught range of levels, including preschool and college, and a little bit of just about everything in between. Right now, my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction