6 Sorting and Categorizing Activities to Try

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What is the Purpose of Categorizing?

The purpose of categorizing is simply to put items into groups with the same features. You group items in classes based on characteristics and features that distinguish one class from another. Sometimes these characteristics and features may be obvious; sometimes not. Therefore, categorizing actually enables abstract thought. This is one of the reasons that incorporating sorting and categorizing activities into my special education classroom has always been important to me.

Did You Know that Categorizing is a Math Skill?

Did you know that categorizing and sorting items and people is actually considered a math skill? Even from a very early age, infants do this by showing us they know the difference between familiar and unfamiliar adults! Sorting and categorizing are typically part of the general education curriculum in most states. One thing that I really love about sorting and categorizing activities is that they actually promote students working on their basic concepts.

Below let’s look at 6 sorting and categorizing activities to try in your special education classroom!

1. Category Sorting Mats

Category sorting mats are really great for using in independent work stations. You can differentiate them easily from student to student by choosing the increasing difficulty level of the task. You could give them one task card along with the 4 corresponding answers if you needed to use errorless work tasks with certain students. In addition, you can give student as many sorting mats and answer cards as they can complete (even sorting between 2 categories, 3 categories, etc).

There are 24 different categories for sorting:

  • Foods
  • Drinks
  • Tools
  • Shapes
  • Colors
  • Vehicles
  • Animals
  • Clothes
  • Treats
  • Toys
  • Instruments
  • Technology
  • Art Supplies
  • Body Parts
  • Bugs
  • Sports
  • Places
  • People
  • Feelings
  • Furniture
  • Plants
  • Cleaning
  • Hygiene
  • Coins


2. Sorting Basic Concepts File Folders

If you have been around for awhile, you know that I love file folder activities for so many reasons! Once file folders are prepped, they are ready to use FOREVER (especially if they are laminated properly). They are easy to pull out for morning work, small groups, early finishers, 1:1 work or for a paraprofessional to grab. I could go on and on…seriously! I love them so very much that I even created a monthly file folder subscription so that teachers could have brand new file folders to use every single month in their classroom.

Using file folders for sorting and categorizing activities works really well. File folders are already set up in 2 pages when opened, which is perfect for using one side to sort and one side to hold the answers. I use Velcro strips like this to hold the answers for sorting. These are simple sorts with 8 or 9 answer choices good for introducing sorting or for independent work. Even included with the Sorting Basic Concepts File Folders is a label for the folder to keep yourself organized! This file folder set works on basic concepts only-which are super important for our students to know at an early age.


3. Sorting Categories File Folders

Just like the Basic Concepts File Folders, these Sorting Categories File Folders are perfect for small groups or independent work! Sorting mats are included for an alternative task format (and less prep!).

Categories Included:

  • Letters or numbers
  • 2D or 3D shapes
  • Winter or summer clothes
  • Winter or summer activities
  • Cleans body or cleans house
  • Body parts or clothes
  • Person or pet
  • Furniture or building
  • House room or school room
  • Eating utensils or art supplies
  • Kitchen items or classroom items
  • Drinks or foods
  • Plants or animals
  • Technology or appliance
  • Living or non-living
  • Ocean or farm animal
  • Recycle or garbage
  • Tools or instruments
  • Animal locomotion (walk, fly, swim)
  • Room sort
  • Food sort (x2)
  • Vehicles
  • People, places or things


4. Category Sorting Cut and Paste Worksheets

If you are at all like me, you like to target fine motor skills in an academic activity when possible. That’s why these Category Sorting Cut and Paste Worksheets come in perfectly for this. You can target fine motor skills while working on categorizing groups like animals, bugs, feelings, clothes, vehicles, plants and more. There are 24 worksheets total to use and they are NO PREP!

There are 2 levels to these:

  • Level 1 – picture to picture match
  • Level 2 – sort independently between two categories


5. Basic Concepts Task Cards

Task Cards are another fun way to practice categorizing and sorting in your special education classroom. This particular set works on more basic concepts. This packet of Basic Concepts Task Cards covers 10 different basic skills your special education students should be practicing every day! Each concept has 2 levels of differentiation for a total of 200 task cards. These differentiated task cards are perfect for task boxes, independent work stations, direct instruction, morning work and warm-ups. They are also perfect for any time of the year! In addition, there are 3 levels of student response worksheets and data sheets for tracking IEP goals.


6. School Cut and Paste Sorting

These school cut and paste sorting worksheets give students practice with several skills – school supplies, picture matching, vocabulary, sorting and fine motor. Put these cut and paste worksheets in your independent work stations or centers in your special education classrooms use them during small group time. I even use these for errorless work tasks, picture to picture matching and independent sorting.


What are your favorite sorting and categorizing activities?

6 Sorting and Categorizing Activities to Try
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