Sort it, Group it, File it

sorting swim ribbons

Some of the 11-year old girls waiting to start their swim practice sat with another mom and me and helped us file swim meet ribbons. The ribbons are filed by last name into a folder for each swim team family. Filing was going well until we got to the Smiths. There are 3 Smith families on our team. The helpers were momentarily stumped until they realized they needed to refer to the first names (the sub-category) to file correctly.

Ordering information alphabetically requires multiple thinking steps. First, the child must compare a letter to the alphabet as a whole to figure out where its place should be. Typically, a kid will jump to the beginning, middle, or end of the alphabet and then get more specific. That is a great skill because you are generalizing first.

The next step is to determine an exact location. The child recalls the alphabet order and matches letters. If there are multiple choices like the 3 Smith families in our swim box, then the child has to move to a sub-level and process the steps again.

Ordering information is an essential skill for successful students. We need to constantly rate or qualify information and then prioritize to complete tasks. Children begin learning different strategies for grouping information at a young age. In my experience, students who can organize information in a logical order well tend to finish homework and classwork more easily, are less likely to lose or forget information (both hard copy and information stored in their brains), need fewer reminders from parents, and can more easily problem solve.

sorting books

3 Basic Ways to Sort Information

  • ABC Order: Put information in an order that follows a standardized system like alphabetical order (or numerical order). Children will know to look for information at the beginning, middle, or end of a list. When there are a group of items that all start with the same letter, moving to the next letter helps students practice a system of sub-categorizing and learning to organize items as a whole then break the whole into smaller parts.
  • Grouping: Identify similarities and differences among items and sort and separate. This helps focus attention on the key idea and eliminate distractions.
  • Ranking: Qualify information in an order of importance. This allows children to prioritize a list from high (important) to low (least important). Kids will develop the ability to recognize if something is bigger or smaller, slower or faster, weaker or stronger…

Everyday Activities that Involve Sorting

  • On laundry day, have the kids sort the laundry by creating piles of white, light, and dark to help you get the loads into the washer.
  • Organize a bookshelf  by author’s last name, series in numerical order, size of the books, chapter books in one area and picture books in another (and board books in their own area), or paperback versus hardback books.
  • Have kids pick up their toys and store by type. Put all the cars together in a box or basket, all of the Lego people together, all of the Barbie clothes together…
  • Ask your children to put clean laundry away in the drawers. Kids can put all socks together in one part of the drawer, all of the shirts in one area, and all of the pants and shorts together.
  • Organize a collection. Sort and store swim ribbons by color, rocks by size, or stuffed animals by size or “species”.
  • Put groceries away by type. Separate fruits and vegetables and put them in a designated spot. Group chips and/or snacks together in the pantry. Determine non-food items like detergents and put those away in the appropriate area.
  • Group topics and facts when completing homework assignments. This is particularly helpful when completing textbook reading assignments and will double as a good study skill. List similarities for the main ideas in the reading assignments– something like noting all Pilgrim clothing details, all Pilgrim food details, and all Pilgrim shelter details on separate lists.

Children today have information thrown at them at a much higher rate than I did growing up. When a child researches polar bears, chances are they will not look up “polar bear” in a big heavy (paper) Encyclopedia Britannica and locate one page of organized facts. They will Google the animal and get thousands of text and image responses. How does the child choose? Having a variety of systems for sorting information is essential, so kids can eliminate unnecessary data and retain what they really need to succeed. What are other good sorting activities that are already built into your daily life?

sorting toys

5 thoughts on “Sort it, Group it, File it

    • OK– I am not sure if I should be admitting this or not, but I had no idea what Metis was and had to do a quick search! If I understand correctly, Metis sorts books by common words that kids will instinctively use to find a book (transportation or magic or food).

      I think it is easier to locate one specific book by using a number system like Dewey, but with Dewey, kids will always have to start at a master catalog to locate the specific number/tag (because nobody ever remembers the general number coding with Dewey).

      I think Metis would work better for browsing. If a kid does not have a specific title in mind but knows he needs books about magic, he could head to the “magic” book section and more easily find several choices.

      What is your experience? I would like to let me kids loose in a library using Metis to see what they do.

      • Our library does a combo. Adult and juvie non-fiction is Dewey; picture books are more Metis (fairy tales, animals, things that work etc). It drives me mad because if I like a particular author it won’t be alphabetical. And I feel the groupings are too subjective from library to library. Dewey is Dewey all over the world.

      • OK. I vote for Dewey. If the Metis system isn’t standardized then it will be like finding a book on my personal book shelf at home. It worked really well when I organized it myself, but if I am using someone’s else’s bookshelf, it will confuse me.

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