Word Work sorting activities

I love word work! My students loved word work! Word work activities are such valuable tools for teaching our young students. They help build the foundations for important reading and writing skills that will last a lifetime. I’m excited to share how I used word work sorting activities to help my students build strong phonemic awareness, reading and spelling skills.

Use these hands-on and engaging word work sorting activities to help your students master phonics and spelling

What Are Sorts?

word work sorting activities are a great way to get students working with sounds and spelling patterns

Sorts are word work activities using pictures or words that get students digging into the sounds and spelling patterns. Like other sorting activities, students will sort picture or word cards into groups that have similar characteristics. These categories give students opportunities to work with words as different levels and find connections between words.

Word work sorting activities are great to use when introducing new sounds or spelling patterns in your reading and writing lessons. Students can compare sounds and dig into different ways to make the same sound.

Types of word work sorting activities

Sorting activities can take a variety of forms. For word work, there are two types of sorts I like to use: Picture Sorts and Word Sorts. Both help students identify, practice and develop an understanding of important word skills in both reading and writing.

Picture sorts

A picture sort activity includes cards with images to represent words. What is great about this type of activity is that it requires no reading, so even our youngest primary students or struggling readers can be successful. Sometimes the use of letter cards or sound cards is also used to help students identify the sorting categories.

I would use picture sorts in my word work activities as a way to introduce or practice sounds. Since each card contains only a picture students focus on listening to the sounds in the word and segmenting.

When I first introduce picture sorts I do it as a whole class activity. Each student would receive a picture card. We work together as a class to identify each picture and the target sounds.

When it was time to sort the pictures. I would ask my class, “How can we put these pictures into groups that make sense?” Through guided discussion students were led to the pattern or categories for the sort. Using the whiteboard, a large sheet of paper, or a pocket chart, we would add the sorting categories to the top. Then, each student would take turns adding their picture card under the correct column for the target sound.

Once students were familiar with the process I would also add a word work sort to our center rotation. This gave students the opportunity to work on their own or with a partner to complete the sorting activity independently.

cut and past picture sort for word work is a great way to provide students with practice or assess their level of understanding.

And . . . if you’ve been teaching in a primary classroom for long then you know how much students love cutting and glueing. I created cut and paste picture sorts that students could complete independently. These are great to use towards the end of our focus on a particular sound as an informal assessment. I could quickly see each student’s level of mastery and who needed additional support.

word sorts

Word sorts are similar in process to picture sorts, except that they use the written words instead of pictures. This allows students opportunities to focus on the spelling and spelling patterns.

Prior to completing a word sort, I would select 10-12 words from the word bank for our target sound(s) and write them on index cards. Just like we did with the picture sort, I passed out the cards and asked my students to read them. Then we would complete the sorting activity as a class.

The word sort is an incredible tool that gets students working on both reading and spelling foundational skills. This dual focus gets them thinking at a higher level. Instead of just reading the word and moving on, they are challenged to read the word and then dig into the letters and sounds to determine why that word makes those sounds.

word sorts help students understand the phonics behind spelling

While it might be simplistic at the beginning with CVC words, it gets more and more complex as students learn new spelling patterns. These word sorts provide a great visual activity that allows students to see how different letter combinations make different sounds. They can see and experience different ways to create the same sound, or they can see how a vowel can change its sound depending on the letters around it.

using word work sorting activities during small group instruction is a great way for students to practice new sounds and spelling patterns

Similar to picture sorts, word sorts can be used as a class, during small group instruction, or independently through centers or seat work.

During our small group instruction, we would often complete a word sort together as a group. Once our group time was done, students would return to their desks to complete the word sort independently inside their word work notebook. This repetition allowed them the additional practice needed to gain a good understanding of the target sounds or spelling patterns. Additionally, I could easily check for understanding and identify areas that needed additional support.

the benefits of sorts

The reason that picture sorts and word sorts are some of my favorite word work activities is because they are so beneficial for students. To the average passerby they may seem simple, but there are so many language arts and thinking skills involved in these activities. While there are times that I provide students with the target categories, there are other times I have them determine the categories based on the provided words and pictures. This requires an extremely high level of analytical thinking.

make differentiation easy with word work sorting activities

Differentiating for the needs of each students can also be easily done with word work sorting activities. Whether through small groups or individually, it is so easy to provide students with a hands-on activity that meets them right at their level. By having all of the activities from the Word Work Bundle prepped before the year begins, I can quickly and easily pull just what I need!

prepped word work activities make it easy to grab for any skill or concept

Struggling student – no problem. I reach for my CVC word work binder. Advanced student – no problem. I grab long vowels or r controlled vowels. Whatever my students need is right at my finger tips. Inside each binder is everything I need – all I have to grab it!

Another great benefit of word work sorting activities is the ease of doing informal assessments. Sorting activities made a great way for me to quickly assess how well my students were understanding the target sound and spelling patterns. Through a hands-on sort I could quickly see students thinking process and address any misunderstandings. The cut and paste sorts allowed me to see students overall understanding of the skills we had been working on.

word work sorting activities

While you can easily create your own picture and word sorts for your classroom, I know that you might not have the time to do so. That is why I included everything you need for both of these sorting activities, and lots more, in my Engaging Word Work resource packs. You can find all of the ready to use resources in my store at Teachers Pay Teachers.

Word Work Activities and Centers for the entire year

This bundle includes each of these resources. Everything you need for work work instruction and practice for the entire school year!

short vowels, blends and digraph word work activities
long vowel, CVCe, vowel pairs and vowel team word work activities
word work activities for r controlled vowels, dipthongs and more advanced phonics skills

Try it out for free!

Grab this free digraph ‘ng’ word work set and try the picture and word sort activities that you will get for each and every sound and concept. You will also find more fun and engaging resources and activities for your word work block. This free set gives you the chance to see everything and try it out with your students too! Grab your free word work activities here!

free word work activities for the digraph ng

What’s next?

I hope you are loving all of the fun and engaging word work activity ideas so far. If you missed the first article, you can find it here.

Be sure to check back for the rest of this series too! Don’t miss any of posts by joining the Fun Times in First e-mails and get notified when each post is added.


Save These word work sorting activities

Be sure to pin this page to your favorite classroom Pinterest board so you can come back again and again for successful word work activities to last the whole year.

Word Work sorting activities are an excellent way to help students work on phonemic awareness, manipulating sounds and segmenting


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