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Word Sorts in teaching ocabulary

Word Sorts help students analyze words by looking for patterns. Grouping words according to
similar attributes is an effective Before Reading strategy that activates prior knowledge of
vocabulary words or phrases. It is especially useful for nonfiction material.
The classifying or sorting can be done as an open or closed sort. In a closed sort students
organize vocabulary words into predetermined categories developed by the teacher. In an open
sort, students determine the categories. Robert J. Marzano lists classifying as one way to provide
students with multiple exposures to words to help shape word meanings.
Steps:
1. Select words that are important to a unit or topic of study.
2. Prepare cards with identified words. Older students can make their own cards and
write the words given from a list.
3. Direct students to sort or classify the words according to the closed sort determined by the
teacher or an open sort where students sort the words into categories that make sense to
them.
4. Allow students to work in small groups or pairs.
Adaptations:
• Words can be categorized into story elements: character, setting, problem solution, etc.
• See “Talk Fast” for turning the categorizing into game formats similar to popular parlor
games of TABOO, OUTBURST, and SCATTERGORIES.
• Wordstorming – brainstorming words to sort related to a topic.
• Categorize words into “I know,” I sort of know,” and “I don’t have a clue.” Students assist
each other if they know the definition of some of the words team members place in their
last two columns.
• Select a list of words and/or phrases that are important to understand. Include some familiar
words to ensure success. Make cards with a word or phrase on each one. In pairs, students
pair the cards that seem to go together and then write a sentence using the vocabulary pair.
As students become comfortable with the process, sorting can increase to a three-card
match. As students read the selection, they have some background knowledge of the
vocabulary they will encounter.
• Prior to reading, ask students to predict what the selection is going to be about and write a
prediction statement or write questions they have about the topic based on the list of words.
• Ask students to rearrange words following the reading as their understanding of the meaning
of the word(s) may have changed

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