Students can sort word or picture cards by either sound, spelling pattern, or meaning.

When introducing a new word sort, teachers could lead a small group sharing one set of cards. The teacher could also do whole class lessons with a set of cards for each student or pair of partners.

Sound sorts:
Students sort the words or pictures by similar sounds- it could be grouping them by a similar beginning or ending sound or by the vowel sound. It's always important for the teacher to model new concepts- saying the words out loud and drawing attention to the sound used for sorting and placing a few example cards in the correct place.

Picture sound sorts- are very useful for students who cannot yet read all the words represented. For example, students could sort pictures for beginning consonant sounds under 3 cards with letters: C, D and F, or on a paper labeled with the three letters.

Word sound sorts- not all word sorting has to have contrasting sounds, but many do. For example, a student has to recognize that "tape" has a long a sound compared to "tap" before they can move on to choosing a spelling pattern for the word "tape" (a-e or ai?)

Blind sorts- these sorts are useful for moving on after the student can sort the word cards by spelling but need to focus on hearing the sound. With blind sorts, an example picture or word is laid out for each feature. Then the teacher or a partner student can read through the word cards, and the student must point to the correct spelling or picture to match it. The word is revealed to show them if they were correct. The next step could be a blind writing sort, where the student must spell the word under the matching spelling before seeing the word revealed. This is also a good recorded assessment of their progress or a pretest to a final spelling test later on. Blind writing sorts can be done with individuals, small groups or as a whole class.

Pattern sorts:
Pattern sorts are sorting words according to spelling patterns. In the letter name alphabetic stage, they could sort by word families (short a, short u, etc.) or rime (cat, pat, rat / can, pan, ran). Students in the within word pattern stage might sort by vowel patterns (wait, train, mail / plate, take, blame). Syllables and affixes might sort words by patterns at syllable junctures (button, pillow, ribbon / window, public, basket). The most advanced spellers could sort when related words change (divine, divinity / mental, mentality).

Usually student sort by sound first and then by pattern. For example, students could sort long vowel words from short vowel words before looking at the different patterns available for long vowel spelling. These sorts are usually done with word cards, but picture cards can be mixed in to keep students challenged, to label columns for sorting, or used during games. It's also important to try and get students to notice patterns on their own and provide hints when needed. For example, students sorting between "ch" and "tch" words can be led to the discovery that "ch" words are used with long vowels and "tch" words are used with short vowels. If the students discover the pattern on their own, they are more likely to remember and use it.

Meaning Sorts:
Students must also learn that spelling in English often changes the meaning of words.

Concept sorts- this type of sorting could be used to build vocabulary and learn vocabulary for a specific unit in a subject like math, science, etc. It could work as a pre-assessment, especially when students discuss their reasoning behind their groupings. Words could also be collected from a read aloud book and sorted into categories that the students come up with. Word sorting could even be extended to grammar concepts (like parts of speech).

Spelling-Meaning sorts- For example, students could match pairs of homophones or do a blind writing test while the teacher or partner uses each word card in a sentence.

Independent Activities
Once the student understands the pattern and ways of sorting the words, they can do the word sorts again with a partner or independently during Daily Five Word Work time for more practice. If students build their own collection of word cards in a bag or envelope, they can do open word sorts (they choose how to sort all their words into different categories independently). Another independent activity they can do is write their words in a notebook under the feature and go on word hunts, looking in their books to find more words that fit under that category or even just brainstorming more words from their own memory to add. Students could also cut and paste words from a word hunt using old newspapers or magazines. They could also do speed sorts, trying to beat their own record for how fast they can sort the words. Additional motivation could come from a "beat the teacher" race later in the week.