Speed Sorting

Sort a collection of objects by one or more attributes before time runs out.

Moderate teacher engagement


  •  A collection of objects (for example, blocks, counters, toys, students’ shoes). Objects can be similar to or different from each other. Choose objects that can be sorted by more than one attribute, such as color, type, or shape. (Tip: Color is a good starting point because it is the easiest attribute for students to sort.)
  • Sorting cards: One sorting card for each attribute you want students to use to sort the collection of objects. Use our free printables or create your own cards.
  • Timer

Setup —

  • Gather the materials.
  • Set out the timer, sorting cards, and collection of objects.


  1. Students draw a sorting card. Make sure students understand the sorting rule (for example, blue items and non-blue items).
  2. Set the timer for one minute or less. Students sort the collection of objects into sets that do and do not fit the sorting rule. The goal is to get all the objects sorted correctly before time runs out. You can increase the time limit if students need more time.
  3. To play another round, students recombine the two sets of objects and draw another sorting card.

Checks for Understanding

To deepen children’s learning about early math concepts, talk and ask questions while doing this activity together. Here are some examples to get you started.

Identifying Attributes
  • “We’re looking for things that are green. What color is this block? Is that the same as or different from the color we’re looking for?”
  • “What things do all the pictures on the card have in common? What is the same about them?”
  • “Should this counting bear go in the set of red objects or non-red objects?”
  • Before discussing the sorting rule: “If we use this sorting card, where would this block go? How do you know?”
  • “Are there more things that are blue or not blue?”

Activity Modifications

Once you have tried out the activity, here are some other things you can do. Try these modifications to keep the activity interesting and challenging for students all year.

Make It Easier
  • Remove the timer entirely if students are still learning how to sort.
  • Tell students the sorting rule instead of using sorting cards to figure out the rule.
  • Change the number of objects in the collection that need to be sorted.
  • Offer a range of timers (for example, timers set to 30 seconds or 1, 3, or 5 minutes) and invite students to choose which timer to use.
  • Add sorting rules that focus on other math concepts, such as shapes, numbers less than or greater than another number, or length.
  • Have one student be the Sorter and one student be the Guesser. The Sorter secretly looks at the rule and starts Sorting. The Guesser has to guess the rule before time runs out.
  • Have students come up with their own sorting rules.
  • Sorting Groceries: Sort play food. Students can pretend to be grocery store workers or a family sorting their groceries.
  • Sorting Animals: Sort plastic animal toys. Before sorting, talk about where animals live. Students can sort by habitat (land, water, air) or what animals eat (carnivores, herbivores).