Standard Lesson

Book Sorting: Using Observation and Comprehension to Categorize Books

K - 2
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Two 30-minute sessions
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This sorting activity addresses critical-thinking skills, observation and categorization processes, and reading comprehension and writing skills, while at the same time providing teachers with a vast array of diagnostics through observation of student interaction and conversation. Students work as a class to sort books, first according to their covers and then according to their topics. They explore whether books could be included in multiple categories and whether some groups could be broken down further. Next, students work with a partner to sort twelve books. They orally explain their sorting criteria, and then record in writing what categories they used and why. Students may also compare and contrast two books using an online Venn diagram.

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From Theory to Practice

Students are asked to make comparisons in virtually all areas of the school curriculum. Observation and categorization are a basic part of the science process, and in math comparisons are made of shapes as well as quantities. In reading, we ask students to compare text content to their own experiences, to other texts, and to the world at large. According to Piaget, children of this age are still developing the ability to simultaneously consider two qualities, such as recognizing that an object may be smaller or bigger than other objects, or in this case, that a book might be similar to and different from other books. Having students observe details in illustrations and explain similarities of text and subject matter may help them see that a book might fit into more than one category, and also that categories can change. This can set the stage for later work in literature analysis, science process work, and mathematical understanding.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.

Materials and Technology

  • A variety of fiction and nonfiction books from the classroom library

  • Unlined paper and writing materials

  • Internet access for supplementary and follow-up activities



There are really no "wrong answers" in Book Sorting, though it is important that students justify their sorting choices. Some things to look for as students sort:

  • Are they sorting largely by illustration, or are they considering book topics and content?

  • When sorting by illustration, are they looking at lower-order criteria, such as color, size and shape, or are they looking at more critical details of the illustrations?

  • Are they making inferential sorting choices?

  • Are students spontaneously recognizing that some books will fit into more than one category?

Student Objectives

Students will

  • categorize sets of books by their own criteria.

  • explain their sorting criteria in writing.

  • demonstrate comprehension skills through groupings of books with similar topics.

  • recognize that categories can be flexible and that one element might fit into more than one category.

Session One

  1. Gather all students together on the floor in a circle. Each student will need one book with which they are familiar and can be either fiction or nonfiction. Have students lay the books on the floor in front of them face up, so that everyone can see all the books.

  2. Explain that for this activity, they are only going to be looking at the covers of their books. Ask students to look around to find someone else's book that is similar to their book in any way. When a student makes a suggestion, ask him or her why the choice was made. Then have those two students put their books side by side in the center of the circle. Ask the rest of the students if anyone else has a book that can "go with" the two books in the center. For example, if the first two books had people on the cover illustration, ask for anyone else with a book that has people to also put their books in the center of the circle. When all books with that criteria are identified, leave them in the center of the circle.

  3. Repeat the process with the remaining books until all books are in the center of the circle in separate categorized groups. Have students review the categories, then retrieve their books.

  4. Explain to students that they will do the activity again, but this time they will be categorizing the books according to what they are about. Give them a couple of minutes to browse through their book if desired.

  5. Repeat the sorting and explaining process a second time. When all books are sorted into groups, review and discuss the categories. Ask if any books might fall into other categories, or whether any categories should be divided into more specific categories.

Session Two

  1. Explain to students that they will work with a partner to sort books by their topic, just like in the whole group. This time, however, they will use only twelve books, and when they are finished, they will explain what they did and then write about their work.

  2. Have each student in the class choose six different books from the classroom library, and then assign random pairs of students. Each pair will work together to sort their twelve books into at least three categories.

  3. As students work, circulate among them to listen to their conversations and to ask questions both about their sorting process and the content of the books they are sorting. If students are sorting by illustration, remind them that the books could sorted by what they are about, and that the cover might not tell them everything they need to know.

  4. As pairs of students finish, they explain-either to the teacher or the whole class-their final sorting criteria. They then record in writing what categories they used and why. Students can decide for themselves how to record their work on paper, and they should include the book titles, names of the categories, and some reflection on their sorting process.

Follow-up: Have pairs of students choose any two books from their selections and use those books to do a comparison using the Venn Diagram Interactive on the ReadWriteThink Website. Make sure to have them save or print out their Venn diagrams.


  • Extend the lesson on sorting by applying it to other subjects. The activities in the ScienceNetLinks Lesson Sorting focus on sorting and ordering things so that they can be easily retrieved at a later date.

  • Students can use search engines on the World Wide Web to compare different ways topics are sorted. One possibility is Ask Kids.

  • Students can sort books online with the Flood! Interactive Book Sorting Tool from the PBSKids' Between the Lions site.

Student Assessment / Reflections

As mentioned at the beginning of the lesson, there are no "wrong" answers in this activity. Assessment, however, can be done through

  • teacher observation of student sorting and discussion in whole-group and partner work.

  • quality of student work, as reflected in sorting models, explanations, and written work.

  • Venn diagram printouts.

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