Don’t Miss 20 Pages of Sorting Activities

sorting activities

Sorting activities are everywhere – in the home, in the classroom, in the supermarket and at the farm! We are surrounded by items, animals and people that are sorted in our everyday life. For this reason, children naturally sort items in their play, when tidying and through curiosity.

Sorting activities develop a number of important mathematical concepts:

First Sorting Activities

When taking part in sorting activities, children should be encouraged to choose their own criteria. The most obvious ones that they will use are colour, type and shape. Initially, they won’t consider more than one criteria to sort e.g. red and square.

Provide children with a variety of manipulatives e.g. pom poms, compare bears, sorting toys, counters, beads etc. and bowls, plates or sorting mats for them to add them to. Children will naturally begin to sort. Use open ended questions to find out what they have done and to encourage children to verbalise their thinking.

Sorting Activities to Build on Prior Learning

Once children are confident sorting we can start to build on and challenge that learning. Make your own sets of objects and ask children if they can tell you why objects have been put together. Add an object that doesn’t belong and see if they can spot the odd one out and give reasons to why it doesn’t belong there.

Gradually increase the complexity of the criteria used. For example, different coloured stripy socks where children need to look more closely at the details or even harder, stripy socks of different colours and sizes. Each time ask the children to tell you what links the objects together.

Give children the opportunity to sort objects for themselves again. If they have fully understood the array of criteria used to group the items they will start to extend the criteria that they use in their own groupings. Each time, ask them to verbalise what they have done.

Pack of Sorting Activities

These cute sorting mats can be used by children to sort different groups of objects. The children can use them with a whole host of objects as well as the buttons included in the pack.

The washing line can be used in a number of ways to either match socks cut out and laminated from the pack or children can draw their own socks and decorate with spots, stripes and a whole range of patterns.

Each jar has a lid. Attach a piece of velcro to the lids and the jar lid. To begin with, you might want to attach a lid to the jar to indicate the criteria that the children have to use to sort. Once the children are more confident with sorting they can either choose their own lid before they begin or add it at the end to show the way in which they have sorted.

The cute socks offer a diverse number of ways to sort e.g. colour, pattern, size.

Sorting 2d shapes

2d Shape Sorting Activities

  • Place a variety of shapes into a bag. Ask each child to select a shape. In pairs, ask the children to talk about what they find interesting about their shape. Get them to talk about what is the same and what is different.
  • Use a sorting mat to place a shape on. Describe the rule e.g. I would like all curved shapes. Children select all curved shapes from a variety of shapes.
  • Secret sort – create a selection of shapes but don’t share the rule for your choices. Children add to the selection based on what they believe the rule to be and see if they can guess the rule.

Children may not use the correct terminology initially but should be introduced to this gradually as the opportunities arise.


When carrying out 2d shape sorting activities listen carefully to the language being used by the children. It will demonstrate very clearly which properties the children are familiar with along with their understanding of shape and which properties they remain unsure or unaware of.

More Shape Activities to Teach the Properties of Shapes

2d shape sorting
  • Place shapes into a shape bag. Describe a shape in the bag, using their properties to see if the children can guess what it is.
  • Once the children are confident with the activity above, they can have a go at describing a shape for the children to guess. They may need support initially by being asked questions but they will improve as they get more familiar with this.
  • Use 2d shapes (tangrams) to build other shapes.
  • Use geoboards to make shapes.
  • Use playdough to make a variety of shapes.

For more activities visit my teachers pay teachers shop or my tes shop.