“Girls and boys,” I begin,”We’ve been doing sorting for awhile. Have we sorted by color?”
“Yes!” they respond.
“Have we sorted by shape?”
“Yes!” they respond again.
“How about size?”
(If the students hesitate, I first point towards the “big screen” Promethean board. If a bigger hint is needed, I say, “How about the ‘big screen’ sort yesterday?”
“Ohh…” the students respond.
“Today, you won’t just be sorting one way. You will sort a bunch of stuff one way, and then you show your teacher, and then you will be challenged to sort a whole different way!!!”
“Oooh,” some friends utter. One impulsive student blurts, “I can’t do that!”
“Oh, yes you can,” I reassure. “And I am giving you a helper!”
Before my little guys start looking around for second grade buddies or something, I hold up my partner cards, one of my very favorite “teacher tools" free from TeachersPayTeachers.
I carefully give out the partner cards to students who will likely complement each other in terms of skills, personality, focus, and determination. Some students are really tough to pair up with others, let’s be honest, but I do my best to choose the most productive pairs possible.
As students circulate trying to find their partners, I get the baggies of plastic shapes ready, but I really enjoy teasing them about their attempts to work with their buddies.
“A cookie and SOCKS?!” I exclaim, like the biggest kid in the room.
As partners find each other, (and this occurs quickly), I point out the pairing. “Oh, I’m so relieved! The socks found the shoes! Whew!”
I direct the partners to sit together once they are linked up so that I can present the challenge.
I hold up a sandwich baggie full of plastic shapes and say something ominous, “This little baggie of mixed up shapes needs to be sorted by a team of smart kindergartners into groups or piles. What is that word for the thing we look at when we’re sorting?”
If a sea of blank stares is gaping back at me silently, I will do a little hint, “Att…” until someone begins to yell.
I silently gesture to raise their hands, and then I tend to call on a non-yeller, which is so mean, I know, but I’m really trying to establish excitement that doesn’t involve blurting answers.
“Attribute!” will be spoken, and I ask the entire group to repeat the word “Attribute!” What’s that?” I ask, and I help guide us to something similar to “the ‘thing’ we’re sorting by.
I restate the definition of attribute and get the kids to provide examples of attributes, like shape, size, and color.
Without explicitly modeling “how” to do this activity, I set some ground rules. “Should one person work and one person… sit? Or watch? Or goof off?”
“Noo!” they unanimously say, (including the little kiddos that will actually try to sit and do nothing in just a few minutes. Hilarious!)
“Should you argue about your teamwork? Sort in 2 different groups, like ‘I do my stuff, and you do your own separate stuff?”
“Noo!” they object.
“How should we work with our partners? I ask.
As students contribute ideas like “Work together!” or “Take turns!” I try to think of a sign or symbol that I can pair with the phrase, so students have a kinesthetic “move” to associate with the suggestion, and so I can use that sign without speaking and hopefully redirect students as needed.
I deliberately do not blatantly model how to sort the objects. They’ve been sorting for several lessons, and I want to see what they know.
“I want to see what you and your partner know about working together and sorting your objects into groups! When you have one sort finished, raise your hands, and I will come check! Really good sorts will get projected on the ‘big screen’ so everyone can see your great work!”
As baggies are distributed and sorting begins, I circulate around the room, making sure that partners are working well together and being productive. I filmed a clip about how I use the partner cards to get all students participating.
The fun comes when they start getting some completed sorts. I take the camera on my iPad and I take a quick picture of a completed sort, have it linked to my DropBox, and then I project on my laptop to the Promethean board. (You can also accomplish the same task with AirServer. If you have AirServer on your computer, you can instantly project the contents of your iPad on your Promethean board.)
The students stop almost immediately—the Promethean Effect—and I ask a different pair of students to figure out the sorting rule or the attribute and announce it to the class. There is an unspoken rule about the Promethean—when someone’s work is on the “big screen,” we need to stop our work so we can see, but most kids are excited to see what’s up there and to check if it is similar to a sort that they’ve made.
This continues for some time, pointing out similarities in different sorts while partners actually try to get one of their sorts projected on the “big screen.” (It’s a great incentive.)
Some of the kiddos get really creative, which is exciting, as this is one of those "no right answers" type of activities. One little guy, (who I will likely refer for gifted testing!), made a bunch of piles. I was a little skeptical as I approached, but he explained how he sorted--by the number of sides, complete with rectangles & squares--the 4-sided objects--together! His partner announced triumphantly, "And circles have NO sides." It was one of those rare moments when you feel your students soar, and you just have to smile.
After everyone has had many opportunities to sort their objects in different ways, a two-minute warning is called and pairs are instructed to put their shapes back into their bags. The helper of the day collects the baggies.
The images of different sorts are projected again, with students describing each sort.
I ask a couple of questions to wrap it all up. “Did we sort our objects in different ways?” to which the students respond a resounding, “Yes!”
“Hmm… so we traded our baggies each time we sorted differently?” “No!” the students protest.
“Okay, so we kept the same things and sorted them differently… what was important to know how to do?”
Finding an articulate answer can get tricky, so I’m ready to restate answers as needed. Kids repeat the ways we sorted, which is a great start. Eventually, with some hints and scaffolding, someone will get to something along the lines of, “You need to know how to find things that are the same about the objects—and then look at them in a different way for something different.”