A Fresh Look at Word Sorts and Picture Sorts

Have you ever given your students a word sort and been confused that the students who seem to struggle the most breeze right through the activity, but then cannot read the words or explain their answers? I have struggled with this very same thing! I also tried picture sorts but sometimes the students weren’t sure what the picture was so it was difficult for them to sort the pictures to the correct sound.


word sorts and picture sorts first grade


What I decided to do instead was combine both activities into one. Now my students have a word to sound out that aligns with our weekly sound-spelling patterns. The students say each phoneme, or sound, blend the sounds together, then read the word. We write the word using rainbow writing with either colored pencils or crayons.

Students use one color pattern for the phonics skill of the week. So, for example, for short a, I might have them use the color red only on that sound. Then, they are free to color the other letters any color of their choosing.

Word Sort



After that, students practice writing the word in pencil and underline the sound-spelling pattern. Once they have finished with each word, students may color (optional) the pictures, cut the pictures out and sort them next to the correct word. This requires students to blend the sounds together to read the word and is a built in check for understanding.

word sorts first grade

As an extension and application of the skill, students use the words in sentences on the back. At the beginning of the year, I have students only use one word in a sentence. As the year goes on and students develop more writing stamina I have them use all five words in sentences on the back.


Short Vowel Word Sort Picture Sort

Click the image above to grab this free sort!