Sort Cards: Alternative Uses

I love using sort cards! In fact, I use them in all of my vocabulary activity sets, including my phonics based vocabulary activity sets (and I have plans to add them to my academic vocabulary units). Sort cards are great for practicing vocabulary, but when I first started using them I kept thinking, “There has to be more I can do with these cards than have students match words to pictures/definitions.” It turns out there are A LOT more things you can do with sort cards, and today I’d like to share with you some of my (and my students’) favorites.


Do you remember the children’s game Memory? You place all of the cards upside down and take turns turning over two at a time. If the two cards you turn over match, you keep them and get an extra turn. Sort cards can be used in the same way. I suggest using two different colors of cards, one for the term and one for the picture/definition. This helps the game go faster because students aren’t turning over two terms or two pictures/definitions. Students turn over one of each color and, if they match, keep them and go again. The person with the most matches at the end of the game is the winner. This is a great way for students who aren’t as comfortable with verbal expression to practice vocabulary.

Game Smash

Use the sort cards and any gameboard and pieces (Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, and Sorry are some of our favorites) to create a new game. At the start of each turn, the student will draw a card and either name and spell the term represented by the picture/definition, or will define the term on the card. If correct, the student proceeds with his/her turn per the game rules. If not correct, the student’s turn is over.


This game requires a few extra cards that simply say “Kaboom!” and an empty container of some kind. I have a set of Kaboom! cards (free download at the bottom) and several old oatmeal containers that I spray painted black and painted the word “Kaboom” on in red. To play, take one set of sort cards, mix in three to five Kaboom! cards, and place everything in your container. Students take turns drawing out cards. If the student draws a picture card, he/she names the term and spells and/or defines it. If the student draws a definition card, he/she names the term and spells it. If the student draws a term card, he/she defines it or uses it in a sentence. If the student is successful, he/she keeps the card. If the student is not successful, he/she discards the card. If the student draws a Kaboom! card, all of his/her cards, including the Kaboom! card, go into the discard pile. The student with the most cards at the end of the game is the winner.


I have several different Fishing For… games, but any set of sort cards can be used as a fishing game. Similarly to Kaboom!, you will need a few extra materials in addition to the sort cards. You’ll need some Shark! cards (free download at the bottom) and some fishing ponds. My ponds are simply old oatmeal containers I spray painted blue and then dressed up with some badly painted fish and seaweed. To play, again mix one set of sort cards and three to five shark cards in the container. Directions for what to do with each card are the same as for Kaboom!, with the Shark! card replacing the Kaboom! card.

Collection Race

I was watching a YouTube video, Grammar Games with Flashcards, and the creator, Jenny White, suggested a fun game for irregular verbs. She said to scatter base verb cards around the room, have students race to find a card, bring it to the teacher, and state all three forms (present, past, past participle) of the verb in order to keep the card as a point. I was thinking, why couldn’t this work with any set of sort cards? Students could be given a specific length of time to search the classroom for cards. They could bring the cards, one at a time, to the teacher (or other designated person) and state the term, spelling, and/or definition that corresponds to what is on the card. If successful, the student keeps the card as a point. If not successful, the teacher keeps the card as a point. The student (or teacher) with the most points at the end is the winner.

Around the World

Do you remember the math game Around the World? The teacher shows a math flashcard and the first of two students to call out the answer proceeds in the game while the second student goes to the end of the line. Again I ask, why can’t we play this with any set of sort cards? The teacher shows a sort card with a picture and/or definition. The first student to call out the correct term proceeds while the slower student goes to the end of the line. Theoretically, you could show the term card and have students give the definition, but I think that’s too many words to call out. Maybe the students could call out a synonym instead?


This game also requires one extra piece of equipment: tiddlywinks, or some other flat disk students can flip. Lay your sort cards out on the floor or a large table in a grid pattern. Students gather around the sort card mat and take turns flipping their tiddlywink onto the mat. The student must then either name, define, or spell the term that corresponds with the card that his/her disk lands on in order to earn a point. You can increase the difficulty of this game by giving each student multiple discs of the same color (a different color for each student in the group). Rather than retrieving their discs after each turn, students leave them on the cards. In order to earn a point, students must land a disc on a previously unoccupied card and provide the correct term/definition/spelling.


If you’re looking for a game that might be a little less movement and noise inducing, you can always try Taboo or Pictionary. Follow the rules for either of these classic games, using your sort cards as the prompt cards. (If you need to review the rules, you can read them here: Taboo, Pictionary.) When I play Taboo, I’ll underline words in the definitions students can’t use with a dry erase marker. Pictionary makes a great game for students who aren’t comfortable with verbally answering questions.


Are there more ways to use sort cards? Oh, yes! (Check out the YouTube video Charlie’s Lessons 10 Flashcard Games for some fun and simple ways to use picture cards.) These eight ideas just happen to be some of the most popular ones I’ve tried in my class. Many of them also work with task cards–just substitute answering the question or solving the problem on the task card for providing the term/spelling/definition (for even more ideas, see this post about alternative task card uses). If you have other fun uses for sort cards, let us know in the comments! Happy teaching, everyone.

Here are the links to download the Kaboom! and Shark! cards: