Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Sorting Hat

I love the “Sorting Hat” from Harry Potter. Not only is it kind of charming and cute, but it determines your “house” at Hogwarts, which is sort of like your ... um... coed fraternity? 

But unlike the Sorting Hat scenes in Harry Potter, it’s hard (and a little dangerous) to sort people into one category. People are complicated. We never want to label people with one label (“overachiever”, “struggling student”, “athlete”, “future criminal”, ). 

Some kids could apply all four of the above labels to themselves.

People are complicated. While I might be sorted into a “teacher” category, I might also be sorted into a “Floridian” category, a “coach” category, a “mom” category, a “Lightning Fan” category. A “USF Alum” category. A “hip-hop music fan” category. A “karaoke queen” category. A “those district people” category. 

I think our students could benefit from some serious sorting-hat-type thinking. Maybe instead of sorting people, they can sort words and ideas. 

One of my favorite strategies is “Word Sort” -- also sometimes called “List-Group-Label”

Why would I use this strategy? It’s kind of a Swiss-Army Knife of strategies. It can do a LOT with one tool.

  • It has kids deepen their understanding of vocabulary terms
  • It has kids assess their own understanding.
  • It has kids make multiple connections between terms, (instead of learning them in isolation). It’s like learning vocab in in 3D instead of 2D
  • It helps kids create schema in their brains by connecting one idea to another. Schema = longer lasting knowledge.
  • It can take 10 minutes or 50. It’s pretty adaptable
  • It can be used for 6 terms or 40. Or any number in between.
  • It can be used as a pre-reading activity, a mid-reading checkpoint, or a review activity.
  • You can use it with one lesson or multiple lessons (or over multiple units) combined.
  • It’s active learning (not passive)
  • It’s student-centered learning (not teacher-directed)
  • It’s collaborative learning

Here’s how you do it.
  1. Choose around 10-20 (more or less) different terms or vocabulary words. You can print them in a formatted table or write them on sticky notes or notecards, but they need to have one-term-per-card/sticky note.
  2. Put your students in small groups. I find groups of three are best for this activity, but pairs would work, too.
  3. As a preview, a metacognition activity, and a formative assessment,  you MAY choose to have your students sort the word-cards or word-stickies into categories of “We know it well”, “We kind-of know it” and “We don't’ know it”.  
  4. Have your kids find the meaning of the terms they didn’t know and brush up on the terms they “Kind-of” know.
  5. Then, have your students sort the words into new categories. You can give them the categories, but it’s more powerful when the kids come up with their own categories. They might sort them into:
    1. people, places, events, things
    2. inventions, inventors, ideas
    3. Chapter 13, Ch 15, Ch 16
    4. Religion, Geography, Culture, History
    5. Causes of the Revolution, Events of the Revolution, Effects of the Revolution
    6. 1700s, 1800s, 1900s
    7. Legislative, Executive Judicial
    8. Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, Bill of Rights
6. Have them label each category and explain why each term goes in each category (this is how you check for understanding and make sure they’re not just putting words in categories randomly just to get the task done.) Have them defend where they put their terms!
7. THEN -- and this is the powerful part -- have the kids use the SAME terms but with another set of categories. If earlier they sorted the words by chapter, now maybe they need to sort the terms chronologically. If they earlier sorted the words by causes, events, effects -- maybe now they choose to sort the terms into “Colonists’ Actions” and “British Actions”. 

Let’s try it with a real set of Civics terms from Benchmark 3.3 (Yes, those are ALL the terms in one benchmark)

appellate jurisdiction
declaration of war
naturalization laws
armed forces
elastic clause
necessary and proper clause
U.S. Congress
enumerated or delegated powers
implied powers
original jurisdiction
U.S. House of Representatives
coining money
executive branch
judicial branch
presidential appointments
U.S. Senate
concurrent powers
foreign relations
legislative branch
U.S. Supreme Court

What categories could you sort those terms into?
  • Executive, judicial, legislative
  • powers, checks/balances, parts of government
  • Concurrent powers, implied powers, enumerated powers

What else? Can you come up with another set of labels for groups of those words?

I love the Word Sorts. I find it really effectively addresses multiple needs in the classroom, all with one activity. One activity that’s on the fun side. 

Like the Sorting Hat, it’s helpful to look at people -- and words -- from multiple angles. It’s powerful for kids to learn to connect ideas and words. It’s even better when they can do it actively and collaboratively. 

PS -- don’t forget to use your expectations for collaboration! Mine are the Oh Groupwork rules!
  1. On task
  2. On topic
  3. On (in) your seat
  4. Only your group members
  5. One -level volume

Try it mid-lesson or as a review. And let me know how it goes!  What other categories did you come up with for the list above? As always, I love to hear from you!


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