Using Math Sorts to Improve Instruction

I've been getting so many questions about how I use my math concept sorts in my class, so I thought I'd make it easy by sharing some of my thoughts with you here.
Using math concept sorts is a great way to incorporate standards for mathematical practice, deep math thinking, math talk, and conceptual understanding.  Learn how to use math sorts into your curriculum, learn how to guide instruction, and how to differentiate math instruction.  Geometry sorts, algebraic thinking sorts, fraction sorts, angle sorts, multiplication sorts, Grade 3 math activities, grade 4 math, grade 5 math, math activities, math lessons

"How do you work these sorts into your planning and curriculum?"  

That's easy...I use them in a few main ways.

1.  As a full class warm up BEFORE teaching a skill.  This helps me see what they know and what they do not know.

2. As a full class warm up AFTER teaching a skill.  This helps me see what they learned and find any students who may still have misconceptions or superficial understanding.

3.  As a replacement lesson for an overly "computation-based" lesson in our program.  When I want students to be constructing their own understanding rather than being TOLD, I will often pull out a math concept sort.

4.  As an "intervention" lesson when I feel students might have misunderstandings that have surfaced.

"How much coaching do you do when you do these lessons?"  


That's a fantastic question...because it all depends on what my purpose is in doing the lesson!  If I am trying to collect information about my class...I do far more observing than coaching.  If I am reteaching or supplementing--I am an active member of their cooperative groups.  I think, as teachers, we need to consistently be mindful of our role; we often teach too much and don't listen enough!  These lessons are the perfect time to back off a bit and truly listen to students.

"How do these sorts help teach the Standards for Mathematical Practice"?

This is a HUGE reason why I am in favor of using math sorts...I honestly believe they are the perfect vehicle to tackle each and every one of the 8 math practice standards.  From using reasoning to working and explaining precisely, to modeling with math--sorts get students thinking deeply and talking mathematically about important math concepts.  What I think I like the best, is all these standards are intertwined--not isolated.
 I also love that there are "fuzzy" answers in my sorts...students SO often are looking for "The. Right. Answer."...and these sorts give students the freedom to say, "maybe..." or even, "I'm just not sure."  This is how math discourse, critiquing reasoning, and great math talk happen!

"How can these be used for differentiating math instruction?"


Another question people ask centers around differentiation.  As I noted at the beginning, I use these sorts for different purposes--but even when I use these "whole class", there are ways to differentiate and meet the needs of all learners.  Here are a few.
  • Blank cards for students to create their own representations of the concepts
  • Ability to group students selectively--by ability, in mixed-ability groups, or for other strategic reasons (perfect to help provide students with the support and modeling they need)
  • Use in intervention groups...either use sorts that haven't been used in the past OR re-do a sort and really help coach
  • Remove some of the more challenging cards to make the sort a little bit easier

"What changes have you seen in your students after using math sorts?"

I feel I've blogged about the benefits of using sorts a bunch of times...so I thought I'd link to a few of them here.  I also thought I'd share some of the "truths" I believe about using them--and a little bit of feedback from some others who have dug in and used them too!

Click here to read a post about fraction sorts.
Click here to read a post about multiplication sorts.
Click here to read a post about algebraic thinking sorts.
Click here to read a post about geometry sorts.
Click here to read a great "HOW TO" post about using sorts.

Now...here are a few other things I have found to be true about using concept sorts.

We want students thinking about math and being curious about math--filling in the blank is so limiting.


So many math programs present problems in the same way over and over...and simply want students to fill in the blank (literally and figuratively).  Often the problems that get students thinking STILL only have one correct answer.  Students begin to see math as a quest to get all the right answers and don't see the creativity and wonder of math.

We want students talking about math.  Using math discourse can accomplish a few things...

  • It gets students thinking deeply as they have to explain ideas to others.
  • It helps students who are not understanding hear explanations in new ways.
  • It helps me--as a coach--hear what students are thinking, how deeply they are understanding, and where they may have misunderstandings and math misconceptions.


We want students "doing" math and being able to interact with manipulatives, diagrams, and models.


I love that when students are working on their sorts they often jump up to look for other resources to help them...the corner of a sticky note to "prove" something is a right angle...a handful of counters to work on an algebra thinking problem...their notebook to check their notes about geometric shapes.  Students write all over the cards and fold them and highlight things...they INTERACT and explore.

We want students to encounter productive struggle.
By giving students challenging work, we carve out opportunities for assessment, intervention, critiquing reasoning, and feedback.


Our textbooks and resources typically don't provide enough of this kind of learning--and our limited professional development tells us we NEED to be doing more...but we don't have the tools or support.
One thing I always try to do is find ways to help teachers find new and interesting ways to engage students...so I hope the photos and directions I give in the resources help and inspire you.  

Hope this gives you a little background--and maybe a little curiosity about using math sorts in YOUR classroom!  I have included the links below to the main sort sets in my store.  I have a few "single sorts" as well on different topics--but each of these resources is a set of FIVE sorts on one topic.  Just click on any image below to see more!

Rather pin this for later?  Here you go!
Using math concept sorts is a great way to incorporate standards for mathematical practice, deep math thinking, math talk, and conceptual understanding.  Learn how to use math sorts into your curriculum, learn how to guide instruction, and how to differentiate math instruction.  Geometry sorts, algebraic thinking sorts, fraction sorts, angle sorts, multiplication sorts, Grade 3 math activities, grade 4 math, grade 5 math, math activities, math lessons



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