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K-5 Fluency #6

Word Study: Speed Sorting

 Grades 1-5



Common Core State Standards

• RF.1.3 Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.
• RF.2.3 Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.
• RF.3.3 Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.
• RF.4.3 Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.
• RF.5.3 Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.




Fluent reading and writing depend on a well developed knowledge of spelling patterns and their relationship to sound and meaning. Teacher guided instruction and practice facilitate students’ detection of patterns in words and help them internalize their understandings. Effective instruction does not rely on memorizing rules, but in learning activities that are central to the way we make sense of our everyday world categorization, the grouping together of patterns by common characteristics. “Generalizations formed about the traits that define particular categories enable us to assimilate new concepts and experiences into existing understandings.” (Ganske, 2000)


The added focus on speed helps students work toward automaticity with the features under study. This form of sorting is practiced after students are able to accurately categorize their words.


*NOTE: Students would not do a Speed Sort until they understood how to do a basic word sort and were proficient with it. Refer to Phonics section for instructions on how to do a basic sort.



Word cards and category cards from the week’s sorting study

Stopwatch or clock, enough for pairs of students in the classroom

(Optional: teacher will keep time for the whole class)


Direct Explanation

You will be doing a Speed Sort today with a buddy. This is a way to get really fast at knowing which words go in the categories. Each of you will use your own set of word cards. Your buddy will have the stop watch and tell you when to start. When he says “go”, sort your words under the category cards as fast as you can. Be careful about getting them in the right category because not only do you need to be fast, you also need to be accurate! When you are finished, your buddy will stop the clock and write down how much time it took. Then it will be his turn and you will control the stopwatch. After he has a turn, you will have a second turn. Try to beat your time from the first turn! Your buddy will have a second turn and try to beat his first time. If you beat your own time, you will have a special privilege later today (name whatever it is!).”



Show the students how this is done. Have a student time you as you sort word cards under the category cards in a pocket chart. Tell them they will sort on their desks. When you have finished, have the student helper write down the time it took and together check your sort for accuracy. Then let the student helper take a turn sorting the cards while you time him. When he is finished, write down his time. Take your second turn, trying to beat your time. Compare the two times. Let the student helper also take a second turn and compare his two times. Bring the focus back to getting automatic with the patterns the students have learned, so that they will be able to quickly read words with this pattern in texts.

Explain that record breakers receive a special privilege or recognition later in the day.


Guided Practice

Have students work with a partner to speed sort the same sort the teacher just demonstrated. With their own word cards, on a desk top, have the first student take a turn, sorting as quickly and accurately as he can, while the second student times him. When the first student finishes, the second student records the time, checks the sort, and they change places. Then have the second student take a turn at speed sorting, while the first student times him. Then start the second round and compare times.


Options: “Beat The Teacher’s Time” is a variation that allows students to try to sort and beat the teacher’s modeled time.


Independent Practice

Following this initial lesson and practice, this procedure will be followed at least one day a week for each week’s word study sort. Students will have practiced often enough to know how to do this procedure without needing to have repeated modeling by the teacher.



Students should be able to decode more fluently in continuous text after practice with automatic recognition of the phonic patterns, variant vowel patterns, and syllable principles in words they have learned.

  • Teacher Observations

  • Weekly Accuracy Checks

  • Weekly fluency checks

  • DIBELS Oral Reading Fluency




Tier II Additions

Use software programs that enable you to enter student’s words and have them practice their sorts on the computer, with or without a timed component.

  • Words used in word sort activity must be on the student’s independent level.

  • Ask student without disabilities to sort words first.

  • Practice in a small group before this activity and ask student to tell why each word sorted belongs in a category.

  • Allow student to stand while sorting words.

  • Provide additional practice by developing self correcting word sort materials.

  • Provide reading materials in appropriate media (example: Braille, large print).

  • Allow student to place category cards as prompted by the class during guided activities as a way to assist student in staying on task.



  • Provide reading materials in appropriate media (example: Braille, large print).

  • Allow peer or adult to assist students with fine motor or physical disabilities in manipulating word sort cards.


Tier III Accommodations/Modifications

Allow student to direct peer to physically sort cards if student has motor problems that interfere with this activity.

  • Reduce number of categories and/or words used in activity.

  • Practice sorting pictures with words into categories as a way to teach the concept of sorting.

  • Allow students to sort cards without timer to reduce stress or pressure on student until they increase their fluency rate.

  • Provide a picture schedule that describes the steps of the lesson.

  • Pre-practice word sorting concept by using Oddity Detection strategy i.e., “Show me which picture does not begin with /t/; Point to the picture that does not end with the same sound as lip; Which of these words does not begin with sun: Sunday, sunshine, cowboy, sunglasses?”



Assess rate of sorting words with pictures into categories.


Tier IV Modifications

  • Same as Tier III, with smaller numbers of categories, fewer words per sort and with color coding to help with sorting.



Assess rate of sorting words with pictures into categories


Tier V Modifications

  • Use any modifications from previous Tiers.

  • Sort using shorter phonological patterns that include color-coding and pictures/icons.



Assess rate of sorting words with pictures into categories.



Put Reading First

Word Journeys, (2000) Kathy Ganske


Copyright © 2006 Arkansas Department of Education. All rights reserved. School districts may reproduce these materials for in-school student use only. No resale. Materials may not be reproduced, distributed or sold for commercial use or profit. ADE employees are not authorized to waive these restrictions.

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