When I started teaching math, 22 years ago we always started math with a “warm-up”; a small set of problems to get kids to review material from previous days or units. Over the years my thinking on this practice has gone through some radical transformations. Now the first few minutes of my math time with students is spent using one of many different math routines not just to spiral back to material but to also activate prior knowledge, build number sense, and build thinking skills.

There are many routines that I use on a regular basis; number talks, math strings, Which One Doesn’t Belong, Splat!, Cube Conversations, Geometric Subitizing, Reveal a Graph, Which Would you rather as well as the routine I’m going to share with you today…Silent Sorts!

Silent Sorts are a twist on the “Guess My Rule” type of activity. This can be adapted for just about any topic in math (or even other subjects). First the teacher decides on something that could be sorted for math. One example that was used in my building to introduce first graders to fractions this week involved the sorting of representations of halves, fourths, and wholes. I created enough representations so that each student would receive at least card. The teacher divides a piece of chart paper into the number of categories that they will sort into (for this example we divided the page into 3 sections) and then hangs the paper in a place where the class can see and reach it.

Click on this link for the Fraction Sort used in Grade 1.

On the day of the routine the teacher tells the class that they will be given an object on a card. They will be silently sorting their objects; meaning they will be sorting without talking. Each student’s job is to look at their card, and based on what they see on the sort, decide where they think their card should go. One at a time students come up and place their card. If the card is not placed correctly, the teacher immediately moves the card to the correct location without saying anything. I make sure that before we begin I tell them that it is ok if I need to move their card. As each student comes up and places their card they tap another student to come up before returning to their seat. I tell them that their job is to continually look for what they notice, wonder, and think about what they see. When we are done, the class will try to beat the teacher by coming up with the rule for each section of the sort. Before we finish we also name each section.

Today I was able to video tape myself doing this routine (click here to see the sort). These students in grade 1 and on Monday will be starting to add and subtract within 100 (starting with adding and subtracting tens) next week. The teacher, Mrs. Hahn, and I thought it would be good to see what they remember about place value and numbers greater than 20 to get them ready for their new unit. So, I created a sort with 4 sections – numbers with ones, number with zero ones, place value representations of numbers with ones, and place value representations of numbers with zero ones. We were not sure how well they would do but, if you watch the video you will see that had to move very few cards. Most students were able to quickly notice the pattern.

Keep in mind that silent sorts can also be used in other subjects. For example you can sort types of words and particular sounds in reading as well as sorting science or social studies concepts. The most important part is that students are doing the thinking. You as the teacher only need to encourage them and give them opportunities to collaborate in their thinking.

**Here is a link to the folder in which I will be keeping my Silent Sorts as I create them. Keep checking back as I will be adding more. I’ll also add this link to the math page of my blog for future reference.**