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Word Sort

This support material is incorporated into critical challenges at grade 12, however, it can be adapted for use at all grade levels.

The Word Sort activity is a pre-reading strategy that prepares students for reading by inviting them to sort a variety of words drawn from the text. Students should be able to identify the central issue or topic, and the author’s perspective on the issue or topic, by examining the words or phrases identified and clustered in the word sort.

To use this strategy:

  • divide the class into partners or groups of three
  • provide a reading passage about an issue or concept being addressed
  • ask groups to review all of the words in the passage and identify any words or phrases that they are uncertain of (target 15 to 30 words)
  • develop understanding of the words/phrases through discussion, use of context or by searching for definitions
  • ask groups to sort and cluster the words; reassure students that it is okay if they are unable to fit a few of the words into a cluster
    • open sort: students are invited to cluster words in any groupings they would like so long as they can explain the clusters and why each word belongs in a cluster
    • closed sort: students are invited to cluster the words under categories provided by the teacher; for example, they may be required to cluster words by parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adverbs) or by concepts (liberal, conservative)
  • display the clusters and invite students to do a walkabout to see how other groups have clustered the words
  • provide an opportunity for students to return to their own clusters and make revisions after having viewed the clusters of others
  • invite students to speculate on the central issue or the perspective/position that will likely be taken on the issue in the piece they are about to read by considering the clusters of words and what they seem to suggest.

Possible Variations

  • preselect 15 to 30 words or phrases from the passage that are likely to be new or problematic for the students
  • have students create and label the clusters using technology applications
  • print/type each word or phrase on a separate card, sticky note or slip of paper to facilitate manual sorting


Adapted from Critical Challenges Across the Curriculum series.  Permission granted by The Critical Thinking Consortium for use by Alberta teachers.

Last updated: July 1, 2014 | (Revision History)
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