Sort and Categorize Vocabulary or List Group Label

Students use their vocabulary knowledge to group words into categories, and then provide a label for each category
35 teachers like this strategy
Sort and Categorize Vocabulary Using Newsela

About This Strategy

Most teachers would agree that when students learn new vocabulary, they often can memorize words and/or meanings, but they struggle with deeper understanding that helps them transfer their vocabulary knowledge to novel situations, use it in their own writing, or recognize it in when it comes up in new texts. Students need opportunities to make connections, justify explanations, and apply new words so that they can successfully transfer their knowledge. Sort and Categorize Vocabulary gives students the opportunity to create connections between words by grouping new words into categories and giving the category a name. Students then hear how their peers have grouped and categorized new words, giving them further exposure and strengthening the connections they've already made. With Newsela articles and Text Sets, teachers and students alike can identify new words that they can sort and categorize after reading; the use of Newsela's leveled articles provides built-in differentiation that makes this strategy even more powerful.

Before Reading Implementation Steps

Teacher Preparation and Planning:

  1. Select an appropriate Newsela text or Text Set for students to read in advance of the Sort and Categorize vocabulary. These texts should be related to the current unit of study and should be at or above the students' reading level.

  2. Select vocabulary words found in the Newsela text or Text Set that are essential to student understanding of the texts or will be essential in the current unit of study.

    • Since students will be grouping these words, teachers need to select enough words that students can put them into distinct groups and label each group.

    • For secondary students, teachers can allow students to select words as they read. Students can use the annotations feature of Newsela to identify words they've selected.

  3. Input the words into the Vocabulary Cards Template found in the resources section and provide it to students before reading.

  4. Instruct students that while reading, they will need to define the new words using clues from the text or Text Set.

    • For younger students, teachers might consider having students draw a picture definition.

    • For older students, teachers might consider having students write a definition in their own words.

Student Preparation:

  1. Students can cut out the vocabulary cards to prepare for use during the activity.

During Reading Implementation Steps

  1. Assign the Newsela article or Text Set at the Newsela Recommended reading level for each student.

  2. Students should read the articles and record their definitions of new words (either in words or pictures) as they read.

    • Newsela PRO users can choose to have students identify and define words using the annotations feature.

    • Non-PRO users can use the vocabulary cards to record their definitions.

After Reading Implementation Steps

  1. After reading, students should revisit all of their vocabulary cards and look for similarities between words.

  2. Students should then group the words and give each group a distinct label that captures the way each word in the group is related.

    • Newsela PRO users can have students complete this digitally, using annotations. Students can highlight words in the same category the same color, and can provide an annotation key in the margin.

    • Non-Newsela PRO users can have students sort their vocabulary cards and create group labels on paper.

  3. After sorting the words and identifying categories, students should be partnered.

  4. Partners should share their word groups and the categories they came up with. Students should have an opportunity to discuss, with their partner, words that they think belong in a different category and describe why, they should determine whether they need to have different or better names for categories, etc. Students can use the "Discussion Starters for Sort and Categorize" found in the Resources section to guide their sorting.

  5. For lesson closure, students should select one category (either their own or their partners) that has been created, and write a paragraph using the words contained in that category.

Recommended Newsela Text or Text Sets


  • Grade Level: 6-7
  • Content Area: Social Studies, English Language Arts 

Super Sports Stats

  • Grade Level: 6-8
  • Content Area: Math, English Language Arts 

All About Volcanoes

  • Grade Level: 6-9
  • Content Area: Science

Should People Recycle?

  • Grade Level: 2
  • Content Area: Science

EL Modification

EL students need comprehensible input in order to conceptualize new vocabulary. Teachers can make the new vocabulary words more comprehensible by providing scaffolds in the form of pictures and native language supports.


  • Teachers can provide a picture accompanying each new word on the Vocabulary Card Template, such as in the resources section.

  • Teachers can provide the words on the Vocabulary Card Template in both English and the student's native language, as in the resources section.

Special Education Modification

Students with disabilities function at a variety of different reading levels within the same classroom. They benefit from differentiated instruction that is on their level. Teachers can accomplish this by providing tiered vocabulary words, providing labels in advance, and providing completed examples of a Sort and Categorize activity to students.


  • Teachers can create tiered vocabulary lists based on the different text levels of the articles in Newsela. This way, students can work with words that are at their individual reading level.

  • For students with disabilities that affect their focus, teachers might consider providing optional category names to students with their Vocabulary Cards. This modification shortens the number of required steps For students with disabilities that affect their processing, teachers can provide correctly completed examples to students as a model of what to do.

Teacher Tips

Aimee Tolleson
BetterLesson Newsela Master Teacher
  • This strategy is very effective when used at as an introduction to a new unit, in order to pre-teach vocabulary and give students exposure to new content or concepts.

  • This strategy can also be very effective when used for one-on-one conferencing or intervention. Teachers can use the Discussion Starters to conference with students during Word Study. This strategy makes students' thinking visible and gives teachers insight into their progress, misconceptions, and the right next step for a student's instructional level.

  • Teachers should have Category labels in mind before assigning to students, so that they can guide students who need help.