Thinking Skills Guide Preface Introduction to the Model Scope & Sequence How to Use the Model


A skill used to group entities on the basis
of characteristics, including labeling the group.

Student Definition
Putting things together in groups that make sense.

Sorting, Categorizing, Grouping

Why Teach
This skill helps students organize their environment and establish relationships for meaning. It facilitates the storing and retrieving of information and the formation of generalizations, and it helps students understand the nature of a group, its members and their attributes. It is also useful in concept development.


  • Arranging the contents of a dresser or drawer
  • Organizing collections
  • Organizing the tools in a workshop
  • Placing money in a cash register
  • Putting silverware away
  • Removing and storing dishes from a dishwasher
  • Shelving library books
  • Sorting buttons
  • Sorting recyclable materials
  • Stocking grocery shelves

Students will be able to:

  • Observe characteristics (or attributes) of entities.
  • Identify characteristics that are critical to defining a class of entities.
  • Compare characteristics of entities.
  • Contrast characteristics of entities.
  • Label a group appropriately.
  • Identify situations when it is useful to use the classifying process.
  • Evaluate their use of the classifying process.
  • Use the classifying process appropriately in problem solving situations.

  • Metacognitive Objective
    Students will be able to:
  • Reflect upon their thinking processes when using this skill and examine its effectiveness.

Skill Steps

  1. Observe the entities.
  2. Compare and contrast the characteristics of entities.
  3. Cluster the entities into groups according to common, critical characteristics.
  4. Label the groups.
  5. Communicate the critical characteristics (attributes) of the groups.

  6. Metacognitive Step
  7. Reflect upon the thinking process used when performing this skill and examine its effectiveness:
    • What worked?
    • What did not work?
    • How might you do it differently the next time?


  • Attributes - synonym for characteristics.
  • Characteristics - particular features that describe and delineate an entity.
  • Critical Characteristics - common features of a group upon which its definition relies.
  • Debrief - review and evaluate process, using both cognitive and affective domains to achieve closure of the thinking activity.
  • Entity - something that exists as a particular and discrete unit (objects, ideas, plants, animals, etc.).
  • Metacognition - the act of consciously considering one's own thought processes by planning, monitoring, and evaluating them (thinking about your thinking).

Possible Procedure for Teaching the Skill

  1. Hold a discussion in the classroom to establish various ways to describe things (e.g., shape, size, color, weight, texture, ingredients, functions, taste, odor).
  2. Present the classroom with a group of objects with easily recognizable dissimilarities (e.g., buttons, blocks, chips, coins, stamps, sticks, plants, animals, number).
  3. As a group, observe the objects and describe their characteristics.
  4. Note the differences and similarities. (Contrast and compare.)
  5. Model a way of sorting the objects according to common characteristics that define the sorted group, i.e., critical characteristics (all red, all large, all round).
  6. Have the class, either in cooperative groups or independently, sort the objects into other groups having new critical characteristics.
  7. Label each group based on those critical characteristics.
  8. As a follow-up, discuss the various criteria used to sort the object into groups, emphasizing the critical characteristic(s).
  9. Debrief students on the process, the definition, and the importance of this skill and schedule various classifying activities throughout the year in order to maintain understanding of the concept.

Integrating the Skill into the Curriculum

Sort attribute blocks into subgroups by color, size, and shape using the "classifying" steps.

Brainstorm a list of objects observed on a city street and sort them by characteristics (color, size, function, etc.).

Observe rock specimens and classify them according to critical characteristics (physical properties).

Play the games "What's my rule," "Going to China" or "Hinky Pinky." (See Math Their Way.)

Any of the classifying activities in Math Their Way would be appropriate.

Background Information

Classifying will aid learners in organizing their world. It will help them remember the information they have learned. It is a tool used to give students another perspective. Classifying is an important skill that is essential to other skills. For instance, one would first use Attributing to describe items for classification, and then use Classifying as a subskill of Developing Concepts.

Additional Resources

Baratta-Lorton, Mary. Math Their Way. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1976.

Taba, Hilda. A Teacher's Handbook to Elementary Social Studies: An Inductive Approach, 2nd Ed. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1971.

Related Skills

Comparing and Contrasting


Developing Concepts

Ideally taught in the folowing order:
Attributing, Comparing and Contrasting, Classifying, Developing Concepts.

Thinking Skills Guide - Classifying