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How to Use Sentence Sorts to Improve Writing Skills

July 29, 2021
How to use sorting activities to improve student writing skills.

If you’re like me, you sometimes dread the beginning of the school year, and not for the usual reasons. Yes, it sucks when we can’t use the bathroom whenever we want and I hate drinking cold coffee, but the beginning of the year brings other challenges too. Like figuring out what skills students have and what skills they still need to work on – especially in writing.

It seems like every year the students’ abilities cover a huge range, and it’s a mystery that needs to be solved to determine what skills to work on, where to start, who might need extra support, who needs more of a challenge AND THEN figure out HOW to actually fit it all in. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to make it engaging so the information sticks, right? Well, I’m not here to tell you that I have all the answers – but I have solved one piece of the equation involving every teacher’s favorite topic – complete sentences!!!

In this post, I’ll give you a quick overview of how to use sentence sorts to improve writing skills for your class! Then, make sure to grab the back to school ebook (for FREE) with this AND tons of other great ideas for getting back to school.

Why Use a Sort in Writing?

Identifying similarities and differences is an effective instructional strategy to help students develop conceptual understanding of ideas and topics. Writing is no different! When students can see the differences between complete sentences compared to fragments and run-ons, they start to develop a sense of what works in their own writing, and what doesn’t. They can more readily identify fragments and run-ons in their work, and know what needs to be done to create a complete sentence.

How To Use Sorts for Sentence Writing

ideas for how to use sentence sorts to improve writing skills

In this activity, your students will look at a set of cards. Each card will either have a complete sentence, a run-on sentence, or a sentence fragment on it.

As a team, and before any direct instruction, students discuss what they notice about each card and try to put them in groups based on their similarities.

A key component of this activity is letting students do the work of classifying by what they notice. In my classroom, I don’t give them any ideas until they have decided how THEY want to group the cards.

Once the cards are sorted into the groups students want AND they can explain why they made those groups, then you can teach them the names for each group of words found on the cards. This is an important step to connect their ideas to the “correct” terms. Each year, my students have ideas that make for great bridges to the actual terms. They notice that some of the cards are missing punctuation, some don’t have enough information, and some have way too much information. They also notice that some of the cards are just right. Even if they can’t put their fingers on WHY, they can definitely use their sorting and classifying skills to help them reason about why they go together in a category.

how to use sentence sorts to improve writing skills free guide

Later in this post, you will find a link to the back to school ebook. In there, you will find this handy and FREE guide that explains how to use sentence sorts to improve writing skills!

What Else Can I Do?

If you’re thinking, “OK, this sounds cool, but then what do I do?” don’t worry! I have you covered. In the Sentence Activities Bundle you will find all the materials for the sorting activities, as well as practice pages, sentence building cards and activities, quizzes, and more!

How to use sentence sorts to improve writing skills

These activities are all designed to help students improve their writing skills and practice what they have learned about complete sentences. The sort activities lay the foundation and help students gain the understanding they need to be successful with their writing. Everything else in the activities bundle is designed to help them put that understanding to use and for you to track their progress throughout the year.

Sentence Activities Bundle cover and link.

This bundle has everything you need to help your students write complete sentences like champs!

Ok, I’m in! What next?

Hooray! Your next step is super easy! All you have to do is download this AMAZING (and free) back to school ebook. In the ebook, you will find so many ideas for getting your school year off to the best start, including the Quick Guide to Sentence Sorts in Upper Elementary. That guide will give you everything you need to learn how to use sentence sorts to improve writing skills! Every page in this ebook has a free resource you can download and use right away! Click the picture below to grab your copy of the ebook!

Image of ebook cover that states Back to School Resource E Book and photos of each resource included.

And there you have it! If you are thinking about doing this in your classroom, I’d love to hear about how you use sentence sorts to improve writing skills. Leave me any questions or comments below and let’s help each other out for another school year!

Looking for More Ideas?

Check out even more great ideas for back to school here! So many teachers are sharing about their free resources and back to school tips.

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Click here to enter

Using Sorts to Improve Sentence Writing

March 7, 2017

If you know me, you know that a good sort is one of my favorite instructional strategies. I actually think my grade level colleagues get sick of me saying, “Let’s use a sort to start that lesson!”

BUT I really believe in the power of classifying to help students develop their ideas and hone their meta-cognitive skills. (If you haven’t read Classroom Instruction That Works: Research Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement, I highly recommend it. This is an affiliate link!)

Improve Sentence Writing with a Sort

When I realized a few of my students were struggling with writing complete sentences, I immediately thought a sort might help them identify what a run-on sentence is and then we could work on fixing it! I just knew a good sort would help improve sentence writing in my class. This activity took 1-2 days with my class, and one day when I worked with a small group.


To do this activity, we used:

  • a set of cards with examples of complete sentences, run-on sentences, and sentence fragments
  • vocabulary posters
  • individual whiteboards and markers

You can make your own cards with sticky notes or index cards, or you can grab the ones I used in this resource.

Set Up and First Sort

First up, I spread all the cards out on the table. Instead of telling my group the categories ahead of time, I asked them to read the cards and see if they noticed anything they might have in common. They took turns reading each card aloud. The kids noticed that there were some cards that were “missing something” and some cards that were missing punctuation. They weren’t quite sure about the others. We put those into a separate pile.

Naming Categories

After reading aloud each card and sharing what they noticed, I asked them to think about how they would group the cards. They settled on “missing something,” “missing punctuation” and “not missing anything.” As a group, they sorted all the cards into their chosen categories. Once they were finished, I showed them the three vocabulary posters with the “proper” names, and asked them to decide if any of them fit the categories they made. They decided that “missing something” was a sentence fragment, “missing punctuation” was a run-on sentence, and “not missing anything” was a complete sentence. We then added the posters as the heading to their categories.

Fixing Up Sentences

At this point in the lesson, I was able to tailor it slightly toward the specific students in my group. This group happened to be writing lots and lots of run-on sentences, so I chose to focus on that skill for the group. (Depending on your students you could focus on fragments at this stage or a little of both!) We chose one of the run-on sentences from the cards and I wrote it on my mini-whiteboard. The group discussed where the punctuation should go to make it “sound right,” and then we fixed it up.

We did two examples together and then I asked them to fix two with their partner. They shared the ones they chose and how they fixed them up. Reading the run-ons aloud really helped them to hear where the punctuation was missing. They even created some compound sentences using conjunctions once they got the hang of it!

Whole Group Sentence Sort

When I did this activity with my whole class, we kept pretty much everything the same. The only differences were that they did the initial sort and discussion in small groups, and then each group shared about where they placed one (or more) of the sentence cards. They explained their thinking and then added the card to a category on the board.

This was a great way to get the class up and moving, as well as facilitate some great discussions about what fragments, run-ons, and complete sentences were. After this activity, the whole class moved on to some independent practice.

Independent Practice

On this particular day, we were writing a response to some articles and videos about our science unit on weather. I asked the group to go back to their writing, look for any run-on sentences and use what we just learned to fix them up. And luckily for me, Google drive saves any and all changes the students make, so I was easily able to see if they could apply their learning!

I noticed that this student was able to find some lengthy run-ons and add the correct punctuation! Certainly not perfect, but I was happy to see some transfer into their everyday writing.

Another option for some independent work would be these practice pages. There are quite a few options for kids to practice! You can find them (along with the cards) here.

Wrap Up

After this lesson, several of the students in the group reminded me about their learning and showed me how they used their new skills in their writing! I could see students using the vocabulary posters and helping each other edit and revise their sentences. I’d call that a win!


It’s totally possible to do this activity with sentences you create or with your students’ own work! You can copy sentences onto index cards or sticky notes, and have students sort those.

If you are ready to give sentence sorts a try, grab this free guide to get you started! It has all the directions, as well as a few cards to get your students started sorting!

The resources below are simply time savers for you! They have everything you need for the sorting, the independent practice, a quiz, and even some bonus resources for creating complete sentences with subject and predicate. Each one has a different theme so you can use it during different times of the year.

You can also save yourself a bit of money and grab all three in the bundle.

This activity was a game changer, especially for some of my struggling writers! If you try it with your class, I’d love to hear about it. Please leave me a comment below! And if you are interested in more teaching ideas delivered straight to your inbox, make sure to sign up for the Craft of Teaching newsletter. We’d love to have you join our community!

Happy sorting!!

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