I See Colors!--Singe Attribute Sorting by Color

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Students will be able to sort objects by colors.

Big Idea

Every kindergarten student learns about colors. This introductory lesson on sorting objects by colors is a great way to learn important mathematical concepts.


5 minutes

This is not my students first exposure to colors.  We have learned a great deal about each color including identifying colors, brainstorming what objects are a certain color and also some work with color words.  This is the students' first exposure to colors in a mathematical context.  Sorting by color develops important foundational math skills.  It supports Mathematical Practice standards of Attend to Precision (MP6) and Look for and Make Use of Structure (MP7).  Students need to learn how to describe their actions and reasoning accurately ("I put these objects together because they are blue.")  They also need foundational skills in sorting that will help them be able to look for structure ("Even though these objects are different colors, I put them together because they are circles.")  These rudimentary concepts can then be generalized to the number system ("All of the numbers end in a zero when I count to ten.") and other mathematical areas.

For this lesson, you will need a book about colors.  Whenever possible, I like to bring literature into my math units to show reading across curriculum areas and also to emphasize that reading is used in all aspects of our life, not just during our Language Arts block and it allows for valuable practice of literary skills. 

I select the book I See Colors by Rozanne Lanczak Williams.  It is a very simple book that the students will be able to read on their own.  It shows groups of objects that are a certain color, and uses simple sight words for the text ("I see green."). It is a very inexpensive book (less than $4.00).  If you would like, you could use a book that you have about colors and adjust the conversation below accordingly.

I gather the students around my big chair and I show them the book.  I say to the students, We are going to read a book today.  It is called, I See Colors.  What do we call this name at the top of the book?  That's right.  It is the title.  I See Colors is the title of my story.  The author is Rozanne Lanczak Williams.  What does the author do?  Your correct.  An author writes the words.  Instead of illustrations or pictures in this book, there is photographs.  Keither Bergher took the pictures for this story.  

I begin reading the story, to the students.  As I read each page, I point out some of the things on the pages, saying the item with the color (I see an orange scissors.  There is a brown pine cone on this page.)  When I get done with the book, I say to the students, "I noticed something about this book.  It took things that were different colors and grouped them together.  This is called "sorting".  The photographer maybe had a big box of things and he took and put all the blue things in one pile and all the red things in another.  This is how we sort.  This book shows things that are sorted by color.  I turn to the last page of the book.  I ask the students, "Have the objects on this page been sorted by color?"  How do you know?  That's right.  This group has things that are all different colors so they have not been sorted by color.  Let's move over to the SMARTBoard and learn more about sorting."


15 minutes

For this portion of the lesson, I use Sort by Color on the SMARTBoard.  If you have a SMARTBoard, the file can easily be downloaded and opened.  If you have a different type of interactive whiteboard, you can still use this lesson by opening the file in Smart Notebook Express.  There is also a pdf of the slides so you can recreate this part of the lesson.

I gather my students in front of the SMARTBoard.  I have cards with each student's name printed on.  These cards are used for selecting who will come up to the SMARTBoard.

I open the first slide (SMARTBoard Slide 1) with the lesson objective written in "student friendly" terms.  There is a content objective and a language objective to help focus on vocabulary expansion for my English Learners (ELs) to be congruent with SIOP instructional techniques I read these objectives aloud for my students and then continue with the slides.

Content Objective:

I can sort a group of objects by color.

Language Objective: 

I can tell a friend what objects do not belong in a group that was sorted.


Slide 2: When I sort objects, I put them in groups by a way they are the same or alike.
I can sort a group by color.  I put the shapes in groups by their color. 
I point out for the students how there is a group of green objects and a group of red objects.

Slide 3:  Can you sort shapes by color items by color?  Then we will count how many of each.  I invite one student to come up to the board and move the orange objects into the the correct box and another student to move the purple.  I have done where a student moves one shape, but with this number of objects, it can get quite chaotic having so many students come up.  Another student counts and writes down how many in each group.  I also have a student circle which group has more.  This lesson provides a review of counting objects.  Make sure the students are counting and pointing to each object to reinforce one-to-one correspondence.  We also get to review comparing groups.

Slide 4:  Let's sort these shapes into three groups and then count how many are in each group.  So this is a little more challenging.  Now instead of looking for just two colors, we are looking for three.  Again I invite one student to come up to the board and move each color.  I invite another student to write the quantity in each group.  Finally, I ask a student to come up and circle the group that has more.  This is a great review of the concept of equal.  Two groups have 5 in them, so we discuss that in more depth.  I make sure to use the term equal in a sentence for the students, "These two groups are equal.  They have the some number of objects."

Slide 5:  We have sorted shapes, let's sort some real world things.  I repeat the same procedure as above inviting students to come up and sort the objects and write the quantity.  This time I ask the students, Which group has least number of objects?  The word least might throw them because prior to this we have only compared two groups and used the word "less".  I explain to them, The word least is like the word less.  When I have two groups I say "less", such as there are less black then red, but when I have three or more groups, I can say the word "least".  The black group has the least number of objects (I do not spend a lot of time on this as it will continually be reinforced throughout our sorting of objects.  They will also receive a formal lesson on it when we compare numbers 11-20).

Slide 6:  Now it is Turn and Talk Time.  The students have an assigned Turn and Talk partner.  This is a chance for us to talk about our math concepts with a friend and practice using our math vocabulary.  I say to the students, My friend sorted these objects.  Did he do it correctly?  What mistake did he make?  I want you to talk about it with your turn and talk partner.  When they are done, I call on a student to share what was discussed in their group.  I then say to the students.  This person did not sort the objects correctly.  The blue plate was not sorted into the correct group.  I have the students repeat the final sentence.  I want them to practice using the word sort.  

Guided Practice

10 minutes

For this portion of the lesson, you will need the manipulative color sorting mats.  There are two different mats.  You will need one of each mat for each group of students (depending on how you divide your class). I divide my class into four groups.  I print the mat on a color printer and I laminate it so it can be used in future years.

You will also need manipulatives.  I usually divide the class into four groups for this part of the lesson, so I have four bowls with bear manipulatives in.  I include the four colors that are on the mat (red, yellow, green, blue).  I make sure there are various numbers of each color (in different sizes if possible) and about 2-3 bears for each student.  So with groups of 5 students, each bowl has 15 bears in four different colors.

I have the students clear their tables and I place the mat with the colored squares in the center of each table.  I tell the students, we are going to be sorting bears by color today.  I put a color mat in the center of your table to help you sort.  Each table will get a bowl of bears.  I want you to reach into the bowl without peeking and pull out a bear.  You are then going to place the bear on the correct color on the mat.  You will pass the bowl on to your neighbor and he or she will do the same thing.  I want you to continue until all the bears are sorted. Raise your hand when your table is done. 

I have the students begin and I then circulate around the room to monitor their progress.  There is usually no problem sorting the bears with the use of the colored mat.  When a group is done, I check their work and then I ask them some questions, which group has more, least, etc.  I then have them put the bears back in the bowl and I switch their mat for the one that does not have colors.  I tell them to do the same thing, but this time they get to pick where each color will go.

I continue to monitor their work.  This time I do observe some errors that we need to talk through:

"I wanted to put mine where Lizzie put hers."  I respond, I know you are friends, but we need to sort our bears by color so you need to put your bear in the same group as the red bears because it is red.  We are sorting by color." 

"I put my bear there because it is big like the one that is in the square."  We need to remember we are sorting by color not size.  Even though it is the same size as that bear, it needs to be with bears that are the same color.  This bear is yellow.  It needs to be with the yellow bears, not with the blue bears."

I again check the students work and ask them questions about their sort such as, "How many bears were in the blue square?  Are there more blue or red bears?"  (MP1) After they are done, I collect the materials and we get ready for independent practice. 

Independent Practice and Informal Assessment

10 minutes

You will need the sort by color cut and paste activity that is included with the lesson.   You need one copy for each student of the sorting mat and then you can run 1 sheet for every two students of the objects they are going to sort.   There are two options for this sheet.  There is one sheet that has colored pictures that can be ran through a colored printer.  There is also a sheet that has blank shapes.  Before I had access to a colored printer at school, we would use this sheet.  I would give half of the sheet to each student and before we began the activity say, find a hear, color it red.  find another heart color it blue.  Now find a square, color it green.  Either way works fine!

I tell the students, "Now it's time to show off your sorting skills."  I pass out the mat.  "I want you to write your name on the top of the sorting mat.  You will then cut out the pictures and sort them by color.  You will glue the things that are blue in one space, the things that are green in another space, and so on.  When you are all done, you will count and write down how many you have of each color on the line below each space.  Are there any questions?"  I then pass out the items for them to cut out and sort.

While the students are working, I circulate around the room to check their progress.  As they complete their work, I check for understanding.  Questions such as, "How do you know that you have (however many) green?" may seem obvious, but open ended questions are critical for two reasons. An open ended question requires the student to organize their thinking, and in this case express themselves mathematically. It also gives you, the teacher, a deeper appreciation for what the student knows and can do.  I also ask them questions about which group has the most or least number of objects. Remember to always hold your students accountable for using complete sentences, and their mathematical vocabulary, when responding. If they are struggling to find the words, don't finish their thoughts. Then you're doing the work! Encourage them instead to use manipulatives to demonstrate their thinking, and as they do so, they explain their thinking (MP3).