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What’s My Rule for Sorting?

  • Lesson
Carol Midgett
Location: unknown

Students build on prior knowledge of sorting and classifying when they recognize sorts and name rules for sorting. They identify common properties in the classroom environment and make, explain, and defend conjectures to extend their knowledge.

To assess students' prior knowledge, gather the students in a circle around a set of objects that have been sorted. You might select blocks that are flat and round, pattern blocks that may be sorted by color, multicolored connecting cubes, or cubes connected in long and short trains.

Ask the students to name the rule that you used for sorting--such as big and little, round and flat, red and blue, or long and short--and provide labels for the various sorting rules the students name. These labels might be printed on index cards to make them easy to move about for different sorts.

Have the students return to their seats and record a picture that matches a rule you used in the sorting activity, such as big and little or round and flat, on the Student Learning Guide, Assessing Prior Knowledge activity sheet.

Depending on the age and ability of the students, you might have them label their drawings with a rule. For older students, you might provide labels printed on the paper and have the students draw a picture that matches the rule.

To begin the lesson, gather the students as a whole group and review the rules for sorting and classifying objects using the recordings that the students made during the previous lesson, "Finding Properties for Sorting".

Read the chart created in the previous lesson that lists the various properties used for sorting.

Compare the list with the properties used by the students in this lesson, and add new ideas if the students proposed properties not previously recorded.

The students might recognize properties in this lesson that were not apparent to them in the previous lesson. This indicates that they have learned new ways to sort.

Ask the students to stay in their seats and identify properties for sorting that are found around the room. Discuss the properties and the rules for identifying them.

To develop the students' skills in observing for a common property, ask certain students to come to the front of the class.

Select the students by choosing a common property, such as all wearing tennis shoes, all wearing clothing with stripes, all wearing clothing with writing, all having blue eyes, or all who are left-handed.

Once those with similar characteristics are standing, invite the other students to name the sorting rule that you used. When the students have correctly named your rule, discuss why other rules might also be accurate.

It is important to acknowledge the keen observation skills of young children because they will find unique patterns, such as the students wearing broken buttons or the students wearing black shoes with Velcro.

Ask the students to explain how they arrived at their rules.

Defending answers is essential for building reasoning skills. It also focuses on observation of multiple properties.

Model the above procedure several times so that the students fully understand how to look for and select a property common to all the students in the group.

Have different students take turns choosing the rule, selecting the students, calling on someone to identify the sorting rule, and so forth.

Engage the students in discussing how they developed strategies to identify the patterns.

The Key Questions might be used at appropriate points to focus on the mathematics inherent in this activity.

Have the students draw a picture of a group of students displaying a common property and write a one- or two-word title that describes the sorting rule--for example, "Stripes," "Wearing Red," "Wearing Plaid," or "Blue Eyes." If appropriate, have the students write a statement describing their picture.

Review these recordings to determine the students' current level of understanding.


The goal of this lesson is for the students to recognize rules for sorting. In order to determine the level of each student's understanding, it is important for you to document your observations as the students engage in the lesson and the students' recordings. You might wish to use the Class Notes Teacher Resource Sheet or add to the information collected on the sheet from the previous lesson.

Questions for Students 

  1. What properties might be used to sort and classify?
  2. What strategies did you use to identify the pattern?
  3. Show me how to sort using a different rule.
  4. How is your rule similar to, or different from, that of your neighbor?
  5. What is the difference between the sorts we made yesterday and the ones we are making today?
  6. Describe the properties you used in creating your sorting rule. What other properties could you have used?

Teacher Reflection 

  • Why is it important to model sorting and classifying?
  • What properties did the students use in sorting and classifying objects?
  • What other properties should have been obvious to the students? How will I teach the students to attend to the properties that were not noticed by the class?
  • What did I learn from the students' explanations about how they sorted and classified?
  • Do the students readily agree with other students' sorting rules? What aspects of patterns did these discussions clarify and extend?
  • What problem solving and reasoning strategies did the students use in this lesson? What additional ones do I need to teach?
  • What particular problems did the students have? In the next lesson, what mathematical focus will address these problems?
  • Do the students need additional experiences with the concepts and skills of this lesson before moving on to new concepts and skills? Could the skills with which the students need additional practice be addressed in other content areas?

Finding Properties for Sorting

Students sort objects and observe the properties others use for sorting. This activity helps students understand and connect many mathematical ideas. By labeling their sorts, students connect number with sets of objects that compose the pattern.

Making a Record of Pattern Cores

This lesson focuses on elements that constitute a pattern core or unit. Identifying the core element or unit that is repeated is a necessary early concept that students must understand to recognize and create repeating patterns.

Many Ways to Create Patterns

This lesson accommodates multiple learning styles by having students create patterns using different forms. Students use knowledge and skills in new situations to develop a solid understanding of the process for creating patterns, recognizing pattern sequences, and representing patterns in different ways.

Connecting Numbers and Patterns

This lesson accommodates multiple learning styles by having students create patterns using different forms. Students use knowledge and skills in new situations to develop a solid understanding of the process for creating patterns, recognizing pattern sequences, and representing patterns in different ways, and connecting numbers with patterns.

Sing and Show Patterns

This lesson accommodates multiple learning styles by engaging students in creating patterns with movement and translating the patterns into other forms.

Calculating Patterns

Students use an Internet-based calculator that is linked with an interactive hundred chart to create, extend, and record numerical patterns in different ways. By connecting the two representations, students observe the numerical patterns as they are created.

Looking Back and Moving Forward

This lesson assesses students' understanding of patterns. It measures their ability to create, extend, and interpret patterns in multiple ways.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Sort and classify objects using multiple properties to create patterns
  • Identify and name sorting rules

Common Core State Standards – Mathematics

-Kindergarten, Measurement & Data

  • CCSS.Math.Content.K.MD.B.3
    Classify objects into given categories; count the numbers of objects in each category and sort the categories by count.

Grade 1, Geometry

  • CCSS.Math.Content.1.G.A.1
    Distinguish between defining attributes (e.g., triangles are closed and three-sided) versus non-defining attributes (e.g., color, orientation, overall size) ; build and draw shapes to possess defining attributes.

Common Core State Standards – Practice

  • CCSS.Math.Practice.MP1
    Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • CCSS.Math.Practice.MP4
    Model with mathematics.