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Picture Sorts

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 11 months ago

Vanessa Avis



Use of picture sort at different developmental levels

Procedures for sorts



Picture Sorts



Each stage of reading requires increased knowledge about words and their component parts in order for the student to experience success and achieve the final goal of reading which is to comprehend text. Word Study is a sequential, instructional practice that teaches students to compare, contrast, and analyze words enabling them to meet these increasing demand (Bear,Invernizzi, Templeton & Johnston,2004).


Picture sorts are one component of word study and are used to help beginning readers develop Concept of Word, phonological awareness, and phonics (Morris, 2005, Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnston, 2004). Picture sorts most often begin with focusing on initial sound (single consonant, digraphs, or blends). By using picture sorts teachers are able to help students who do not have extensive reading vocabularies focus on isolated sounds (Initial, final, or medial) within a spoken word (Bear et al. 2005). These sorts are often a child’s first introduction to word study and are most commonly used with students whose developmental skills are at the emergent, letter name-alphabetic, or early within word Spelling Stages (Bear & Templeton, 1998).


Picture Sorts and Spelling Stages

Students at the emergent level are encouraged to sort pictures (or objects) into categories and to have practice explaining their categories. As students enter the early letter name stage they are being introduced to beginning consonants. They also work to strengthen their knowledge of the letter names of the alphabet and less frequent initial consonants are learned by the end of this stage (Bear & Templeton, 1998).The purpose of these sorts is focus on auditory discrimination.


Word study for the letter name - alphabetic stage allows students to explore common short vowel patterns. Picture sorts begin with common word families. After word families have been thoroughly examined students continued with a more in-depth study of short vowels (CVC) word patterns (Bear & Templeton, 1998). Spelling tests are also introduced to students at this time.


As students move into the within word pattern stage picture sorts may be used to teach students to compare long and short vowel sounds. However picture sorts will soon be phazed phased out as students begin to focus on comparing spelling patterns within vowel sounds such as name (CVCe), pain (CVVC), and day (CVV).


Procedures for Sorts

There are a variety of ways to conduct sorts, but the principles are always the same. Students sort words or pictures into categories based on pattern or sound. In most classrooms students rarely need the exact same word study instruction at the exact same time. Sorts allow teachers the flexibility to meet student’s individual needs, creating multilevel instruction in which all students can feel success (Cunningham, 2005).


Before beginning word study the teacher should always be sure that the student has a rudimentary understanding of concept of word in text. By ensuring the student has an understanding of what a word is, the teacher can be more confident about the student’s readiness to focus on individual phonemic elements within a word. (Morris) The goal of word study is always to build upon what the child already knows. Once the child has mastered concept of word the next task is for the child to understand that a word has a beginning sound, that it can be separated from the rest of the word and categorized accordingly. Yet this is not the ultimate goal of word study. Instead the goal lies in the application of this knowledge in contextual reading. (Morris p. 78) When a child comes to an unknown word while reading he/she can then use context clues and the beginning sound of the word to make an attempt at correctly reading the new word. “It demonstrates to the child, within a contextual reading situation, that his beginning consonant knowledge can be a helpful word recognition aid.” (Morris p.78)


While there exists some slight variances in procedures for sorting most researchers (Morris, 2005, Tyner, 2005, Bear, et al, 2004) suggest the following procedures for introducing picture sorts to students.


1)Select two or three consonants with very distinctive sounds to be sorted.

2)Collect approximately four picture cards for each category, plus one card that will serve as the exemplar.

3)Before beginning, review the name of each picture card with the child. Be sure the child can easily name and pronounce the words indicated by each picture.

4)Lay out the three exemplar cards and name them emphasizing the beginning sound.

5)Model the procedures for sorting. Lay one picture card at a time under the corresponding exemplar. As each card is placed in a column restate the word for each picture in the column, plus the exemplar, emphasizing the beginning sound for each.

6)Continue the process until all pictures have been sorted.

7)When it is the child’s turn to perform the sort, correct errors the first time, but on subsequent sorts leave the errors. Demonstrate how to check for errors by reading the names of the pictures going down each column, again emphasizing the beginning sound. Then ask the child if any errors were detected and allow the student to make necessary changes.

8)Create opportunities for the child to have multiple encounters with the same sort.



To summarize the effectiveness of sorts, Cunningham states, “Word sorting and hunting are wonderful activities to develop spelling and decoding skills because children are actively involved in discovering how words work” (Cunningham, 2005).




Bear, D. R., Templeton, S. (1998). Explorations in developmental spelling: Foundations for learning and teaching phonics, spelling, and vocabulary. The Reading Teacher, 52(3), 222-243.


Bear, D.R., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (2004) Words their way: Word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction (3rd Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.


Cunningham, P. M. (2005) Phonics they use: Word for reading and writing (4th Ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.


Morris, D. (2005). The Howard Street tutoring manual: Teaching at-risk readers in the primary grades (2nd Ed). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.


Tyner, B. (2005). Small-group reading instruction: A differentiated teaching model for beginning and struggling readers. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.


External Links


Sample picture sort: Emergent Stage



Sample picture sort: Letter Name -Alphbetic:



Resource for picture sorts:



Word Study Information and additional resources:



Additional Literacy websites:


Commentary by Cindy Boles


I very much enjoyed the content of your page. It appears that you thoroughly researched your topic and used several relevant, up-to-date sources.


There are a few aesthetic things you might consider adding so that your reader can easily follow the flow of your subject matter. For example, I would add a subtitle in bold or underlined above the paragraph that begins with "Students at the emergent level..." that says: Uses of picture sorts at different developmental levels; and another subtitle above the paragraph beginning with "There are a variety of ways..." to alert the reader that you are moving from uses of sorts to procedures for sorts.


In your 5th paragraph that begins with, "As students begin...," the word phazed should be spelled phased.


Otherwise, I

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