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Create Interactive Sorting Activities

Create Interactive Sorting Activities

By Tess Porter, Education Support Specialist, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access

Sorting activities are not only a simple—and interactive—way to engage students with resources, the acts of sorting and classifying also develop skills essential to analytic thinking and problem solving. For young students, sorting teaches how to differentiate, notice patterns, and make connections between resources. As students get older, sorting with more complex resources and ideas helps deepen their relational thinking and problem solving skills so that they can more easily apply previously learned concepts to new situations. At all ages, sorting activities also provide valuable opportunities for class discussion.

Using the Learning Lab’s Sorting Tool is a simple way to create these types of activities right within the platform. The tool enables the creation of an interactive activity where students can sort resources into several categories (for example, animal habitats, coniferous vs. deciduous trees, etc.) or in linear order with labeled endpoints (for example, 1950 to 2000, largest to smallest, etc.). These activities can be completed by students independently, in small groups, or as a full class—it’s up to you! Here are effective examples created by teachers; look for the pink resource tile to find the sorting activity.

Categories Sorting
Jean-Marie Galing, an Art Resource Teacher at Fairfax County Public Schools, used the sorting tool to create Contemporary & Historic Architecture, an activity in which students compare architectural forms to better understand geometry, design, and the history of architecture. After exploring a diverse set of resources that span the ancient to the contemporary, students sort buildings by their dominant form: hemisphere, cube/rectangular prism, cylinder, and pyramid. Students then compare and contrast historic examples to the contemporary ones—how are they similar, and how are they different?

Linear Sorting
Kate Harris, a high-school social studies teacher and former Learning Lab coordinator, used the sorting tool in her collection Timeline: Causes of the Civil War to help students notice and analyze themes over time. The collection contains a variety of artifacts, political cartoons, portraits, and more. After studying each one, students organize the resources on a continuum from early American history to the beginning of the Civil War. Finally, students consider which themes seem to persist over time and what changes brought the United States closer to war. Ideas for extension activities can be found by clicking the Information (i) button.

Sorting activities can be completed independently, in small groups, or as a full class. If you’d like your students to save and submit their responses to you within the Learning Lab, you’ll want to use the Learning Lab’s Assignment & Roster feature. To learn how, check out this quick Assign video. Each student will need their own Learning Lab account.

Ready to create your own sorting activity?  While in the Edit mode of your collection, click “Add Resource,” then “Add Standalone Tool,” and finally “Sorting Activity.”  Then click the blue “Next” button and complete the prompts. 

Be sure to publish your collection to share what you’ve created!


Kimberley Diamond Sorter

Image: Kimberley Diamond Sorter (detail)
Photographic image of a man sitting behind a table with several groups of uncut diamonds on it. He is wearing a magnifying glass. Behind him the door to one of the safes where the diamonds are kept during closing hours. He is holding forceps in one hand. This man is a diamond sorter at the central sorting office in the De Beers Company's Consolidated Building. Sorters separate the uncut diamonds into different grades. Photograph by Constance Stuart Larrabee, 1948.
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art