5 Ways I Use Card Sorts with My High Schoolers

Teaching high school is no walk in the park. Especially when it comes to keeping students engaged for an entire 45 minute class period. In fact, I’ve discovered that my students gain more from my instruction when I don’t spend more than 15 minutes on one thing (labs are a different story).   One easy way I’ve found to give my students a quick change of pace is by integrating card sorts into my lessons.

My students do card sorts multiple times a week (I literally have a card sort for just about everything). So, once I establish our card sort procedures the first week of school, it takes less than 5 minutes of class time, but ends up making a huge difference.

In my classroom, I use card sorts in a multitude of ways and during all points of a lesson.  Keep reading to learn how and when I use card sorts, and what purpose they serve my students.

1. Before a lesson

Card sorts used before a lesson encourage student inquiry and discussion.  Sometimes, I will give students a card sort and no other directions.  Then, it is up to them to sort the cards based on their own thinking and discussion with their group mates.  During this time, I remind students not to worry about figuring out the “right” answer, but rather use this time to try and connect their prior knowledge to the task before them.  By the end of the card sort time, not only have my students had the opportunity to think about the material before we discuss it together, but I have had the chance to gauge their level of understanding before we begin the lesson, which in turn allows me to better tailor the discussion to fit their needs.

2. During a lesson

If the concept we will be discussing is something in which they have no background knowledge, I tend to wait until midway through the class discussion to do a card sort.  About halfway through the lesson, I have students complete a card sort in order to demonstrate their understanding so far, as well as, allow them an opportunity to inquire about the remaining information we have not yet discussed.   In this way, students are processing the information we have just discussed and inquiring about the information we have yet to cover.

3. End of the class

Another time to use a card sort is at the end of the class.  At this time, I have usually completed the lesson and this is a great way to allow students to manipulate the information.   I like to use this as a way to assess how much of the new material my students retained from the lesson.  To do this, I will ask them to complete the card sort as best they can using the information they remember from the lesson without using their notes.  As I move around the room, I assess students on their comprehension without indicating whether they are right or wrong.  Then, I allow students a few minutes to use their notes and make any corrections.  Through this method, students are encouraged to rely on their own thinking rather than their notes and I am given a good idea of what areas I need to reinforce during the next class period.

4. Next day

One of my favorite ways to use a card sort is as a refresher at the beginning of the next class period.  After our daily warm-up (bell ringer), I pass out the card sorts to students and ask them to complete the activity without using their notes.  As students complete the activity, I walk around the room and assess how much students retained from the previous day’s lesson.  This gives me a starting point for our class discussion, and allows me to easily identify areas in which students have struggled to grasp.

5. Test review

The final way I utilize card sorts is during test review.  As opposed to other times when I use card sorts, during test review I have students complete them individually.  Typically, for test review I set up stations and have students rotate through each station.  At one station, I provide four sets of the card sorts for individual students to complete.  Once they have it completed, students must have it checked by me before moving on to the next station.  Through this method, I am able to talk to each individual student and address their own areas of weakness.

Card sorts can truly revolutionize the way you assess your students and are an easy way to get them more involved in their learning.

Have questions? Leave a comment below.  I’d love to hear from you!

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