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Wordsorts Activate Prior Knowledge

Okay, raise your hand if you like sorting laundry? I remember finding this pile of clothes after returning from a hospital stay and feeling overwhelmed. But sorting that mountain of laundry into a few piles made the task seem more manageable.

Students can feel overwhelmed at the beginning of a lesson. Wordsorts help students categorize words based on their personal experiences and prior knowledge. Wordsorts promote critical thinking skills and helps students see how words are related to each other on many levels.


An Open Wordsort allows the students the freedom to create their own categories. A Closed Wordsort is when the teacher will give the students the categories to sort words into. Students can work alone or in groups.

When creating a list of words I look at the lesson content and the chapter for about 30 vocabulary words then type them in a table format.

  • Students cut the words apart.

  • Then sort the words into categories

  • Glue words to colored paper.

  • Label each category.

  • Pair and share

Once you start the lesson the students will mentally check off the words as they learn or verify the definition.

Here are some examples of wordsorts I use.

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