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Sorting Time

Grace M. Burton
Location: unknown

Students sort objects and symbols and make patterns with sorted objects. They make Venn diagrams and use their sortings to create linear patterns. They extend a pattern created by the teacher. Students will begin identifying pattern cores and reading patterns. A Social Studies connection is suggested as an extension.

Show the students a set of objects that can be sorted according to several criteria. Buttons, pretty pasta, and attribute blocks work especially well. Hold up two or three objects and ask the students to describe each one in as many ways as they can. Record the descriptive words on the board or chart paper.

583 RGB

Now choose two of the descriptive words that are mutually exclusive (for example, red and green), and write each on a separate index card. Next make a Venn Diagram by forming two non-overlapping circles with yarn, and place one index card in each yarn circle. Now hold up an object and ask where it should be placed. Repeat with several more objects. Then remove all the objects and the circles.

Then, choose two of the words that are not mutually exclusive (such as big and red), and write each one on a separate index card. This time, make a Venn Diagram with two overlapping circles with yarn and place one index card in each circle. Hold up an object and ask where it should be placed. Once the students are familiar with the process, give each student an object to place.

Next, remove the objects from the Venn Diagram. Now choose two index cards and place them upside down, one in each yarn circle. Without revealing the sorting rule, place several objects in the circles, then ask the students to try to place objects in the circle. If an object is correctly placed, leave it alone; if it is incorrectly placed, quietly remove it. When several objects have been correctly placed, ask for volunteers to tell how they knew where to place the objects.

When the students have correctly identified the sorting rule, turn over the index cards. Then, remove the items one at a time and create a pattern where all the students can see it. After you have repeated the pattern core (for example, small, big, big) three times, ask for volunteers to place the next object in the pattern. Continue the pattern until all the students are comfortable with the process. Ask a volunteer to read the pattern. Repeat with other patterns, using a different core each time. A selection of appropriate cores is listed below.

583 core 

Finally, give each student several buttons or attribute blocks or pieces of pretty pasta and ask them to make a pattern. You may wish to use color tiles for younger students. Call on a volunteer to read his or her pattern and ask if anyone else has a pattern that is like that one in some way. Encourage several students to read their patterns, encouraging them to use descriptive words and demonstrating how to use generic pattern descriptions such as AB.

As homework, have students look for patterns in their homes and on their clothing and be ready to describe them tomorrow.

  • Objects to sort (buttons, pasta, attribute blocks)
  • Yarn
  • Chart paper
  • Index cards
  •  Computer and Internet connection (for Extensions)

Assessment Options

  1. Ask students to choose one pattern that was shared with the class and record it with crayons for their portfolios. Ask them to label the patterns using a generic pattern description (AB, ABB, etc.).
  2. Record your observations as students are working. Next to each student’s name on a class roster, record the date, the pattern type, the number of iterations the student made, and a check or X to indicate whether the student made any mistakes. This brief scheme allows for easy recording of progress. For example, next to Lucy's name, you might write 3/6 ABB 2 X.Throughout the unit, continue to record students’ pattern types to assess whether students are able to create a variety of patterns.


  1. Put the students into pairs and have each student choose a pattern core such as AAB and make a pattern with three repeats. Then ask the students to look at their partner’s pattern and see if they can add a repeat to it. Encourage the students to read their patterns aloud using both descriptive words and generic pattern descriptions such as AAB.
  2. Use the web to take a look at the American flags throughout the country’s history. After finding an appropriate website for students to use, bookmark it for easy access. After the students have a chance to examine the flag, call on volunteers to describe any patterns they see. Then encourage the students to discuss why countries have flags. Suggest that they make a flag using the flag template available in the Pattern Templates Activity Sheet.
  3. Move on to the next lesson, What's Next?

Questions for Students 

1. Show me two buttons (or attribute blocks or pieces of pasta) that are alike in some way. How are they alike? How are they different?

[Both buttons are white, but one is a circle and one is a star.]

2. What labels could you use when you sort this set of (pretty pasta)?

[I could make a group of macaroni and a group of shells.]

3. How could you describe this pattern to a friend?

[AAB, because I made the first and second objects the same but the third one different. Then I did the same thing again.]

4. If you wanted to add to a friend’s pattern, how would you know what to do?

[I would look for what she keeps doing over and over again. If she has red and blue, then red and blue, then red and blue, I know I have to put red and blue.]

Teacher Reflection 

  • Can most of the students sort objects by a given criteria? Which students still find this challenging?
  • Can most of the students read a pattern? What activities are appropriate for those who cannot do this yet?
  • Can most of the students extend a pattern? What activities are appropriate for those who cannot do this yet?
  • Were the materials used for sorting appropriate?
  • What parts of the lesson went smoothly? Which parts should be modified the next time I teach this lesson?

Order, Order


In this lesson students seriate objects and review the meaning of ordinal numbers. They describe orderings in words and in pictures. [This lesson gives you an opportunity to review or teach vocabulary such as before, after, and next.] At the conclusion of the lesson, students make an entry in their portfolios. A Science extension is suggested.


What’s Next?

Pre-K-2, 3-5
In this lesson, students make patterns with objects, read patterns and find patterns in the environment. They should be encouraged to classify patterns by type (i.e. AAB, ABC). They continue learning about patterns by extending a given pattern, identifying missing elements in a pattern, and recording a pattern.

Playing With Patterns

Students use objects and symbols to make repeating linear patterns. They extend patterns and translate patterns from one modality (auditory, visual, and kinesthetic) to another. A Physical Education connection is suggested as an extension. This lesson is intended to take two class periods to ensure that all students have multiple opportunities to create original patterns.

More Patterns

Students extend their knowledge of linear patterns by recognizing and discussing familiar patterns. Students make auditory and visual patterns from names. An art activity is suggested as an extension.

Multiple Patterns

Students explore patterns which involve doubling. They use objects and numbers in their exploration and record them using a table.

Exploring Other Number Patterns

Pre-K-2, 3-5
Students make and extend numerical patterns using hundred charts. They also explore functions at an intuitive level. This lesson integrates technology.

Growing Patterns

Pre-K-2, 3-5
Students explore growing patterns. They analyze, describe, and justify their rules for naming patterns. Since students are likely to see growing patterns differently, this is an opportunity to engage them in communicating about mathematics.

Looking Back and Moving Forward

This final lesson reviews the work of the previous lessons. Students explore patterns in additional contexts and record their investigations. Students will rotate through center activities. Teachers may add other centers they feel will benefit the students.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Classify objects according to chosen criteria.
  • Create a linear pattern.
  • Name and read patterns.
  • Extend a pattern.

NCTM Standards and Expectations

  • Sort, classify, and order objects by size, number, and other properties.
  • Recognize, describe, and extend patterns such as sequences of sounds and shapes or simple numeric patterns and translate from one representation to another.

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.