Word Sort Activities

Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

Do you teach beginning readers? Help your readers gain confidence by practicing word sorting. These word sort activities include both closed and open sorts, group work, and active participation.

Sorting Words

When students are learning to read, there are numerous ways they can sort words in order to better understand the composition of words. For example, students can sort words by initial sound, rhyme, number of syllables, ending sounds, affixes, or vowel sounds. Frequent and varied practice at sorting words is beneficial to beginning readers. These activities are suitable for young elementary students as they practice beginning reading skills.

Activity: Name Sort

Objective: Sort the names of the students in the class.

Materials: Name cards

Version 1:

  • Put students in small groups.
  • Give each student a set of cards. On each card is written the name of one of the students in the class.
  • Students sort the names by initial sound.

Version 2:

  • Students sort the names by number of syllables.

Activity: Ball Toss Word Sort

Objective: Sort words into categories designated by the teacher.

Materials: Four containers, small ball, word cards, pocket chart


  • Choose two to four categories of words. For example: prefixes/suffixes/no affixes, long e/short e, or initial d/initial r/initial b.
  • Write words from each category on index cards. Arrange the index cards in random order in a pocket chart.
  • Label shallow boxes with each category (prefix/suffix/no affix, etc.).


  • Students line up in front of the boxes, several steps back.
  • One student throws a small ball at the boxes.
  • When the ball lands in a box, the student selects a word that fits in the same category as the box's label. (For example, the ball lands in the box marked ''short e'' so the student selects the word card ''egg.'')
  • The student puts the word card in the box where the ball landed.
  • Continue until each student has had a turn or until all the word cards are gone.

Activity: Choose, Switch, and Sort

Objective: Find words in designated categories then sort words into designated categories.

Materials: Small index cards, pencils

  • Put students in small groups or pairs.
  • Give each group two categories (such as -ing ending/-ed ending or rhymes with ''bee''/rhymes with ''cat'').
  • Each group is responsible for coming up with five words in each of their categories.
  • Groups write each of their words on a separate card (so each group makes ten cards).
  • Groups exchange cards with another group and sort their words by category.

Activity: Open Ended Sort

Objective: Choose categories that are appropriate to a group of words and sort the words.

Materials: Various sets of word cards

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