Sliding Sorts

Sometime early in 2022, I saw this video on Facebook of a child using a squeeze bottle to push numbered lids into matching numbered toilet paper rolls with slots cut out of them. The activity looked fun and perfect for young children. It not only allowed them to practice number recognition/matching, but an important fine motor skill as well. I do not teach small children, but the game looked so fun I saved the video and stuck the basic idea in the back of my head to contemplate how I might

use it. After some time rattling around in the back of my head, a general answer popped into the forefront: a sorting activity! Students could use empty dish detergent bottles to create air currents that would cause milk jug lids to slide across the table until they fell off the edge into a box waiting on a chair. In this way, they could sort words into various categories such as countable/uncountable noun, nouns that are proceeded by a/an, regular/irregular past verb, pronunciation of -ed or -s endings, etc. Now that I had a general idea of what the game would be, I just needed to make it a reality and test it out on my students.

Making Sliding Sorts

Since I was going to be teaching two level one classes in the next semester, I decided to make my first version of sliding sorts countable vs. uncountable nouns, a skill my students always want practice with and I’ve long wanted another practice game for. First, I needed to gather the materials. Milk jug lids have been on my list of Toys, Trash, or Teaching Treasures for quite awhile, but this game would take quite a few lids (15-20 of each

color, one color per student/team), so I asked all of my local friends to start saving them for me. Thankfully, my friends are used to such strange requests and my supply quickly increased. Next, it only took a few moments in my basement to come up with a couple of shoeboxes to place on chairs as lid catchers. The final “trash” item I needed was a bit harder to come by, empty dish detergent bottles. Thankfully, my family and friends came through for me again and I was able to obtain four of them, allowing me to avoid having to purchase condiment bottles.

My non-trash supplies were easy and cheap to obtain. First, I needed signs to attach to the back of the chairs so students would know which box to slide lids into. When I first started designing my own games, Microsoft Publisher was the easiest program to work with for designs involving a lot of shapes and layers. Since then, PowerPoint and other programs have changed and added features which allow such design work to be quite easy, but I still tend toward Publisher when making things for my classroom. It only took me a minute or two to make two half page signs and I simply printed them on cardstock and then laminated for durability. Second, I needed labels for my milk jug lids. I chose to use Avery round labels, 1.5 inch diameter. These were very slightly larger than the milk jug lids, which wasn’t a problem as they bent down nicely, but I think I’ll get 1 inch diameter labels in the future. Again, I used Publisher to create my labels, simply printing one word per circle and telling my printer to print multiple pages per sheet. It was the fact that the labels came 20 to a sheet that caused me to choose 20 as my number of nouns to be sorted. The labels were quick to print and easy to stick to the tops of the lids.

Playing Sliding Sorts

Setting up the game is easy. Simply assign one table per two students/teams. Place two chairs, each with a shoebox on the seat, on one side of the table and affix a sign to the top of each chair. The chairs in my current classroom weren’t cooperating so I used magnets to hold the signs to sheet pans (the same ones I use for Magnetic Spelling) that I stood up in the shoe boxes. This had the added advantage of covering up the hold in the back of the chair and helping direct the lids into the box. Students are each given a set of lids and a bottle to create an air current with (theoretically students could use their mouths to blow the lids, but that would simply spread germs around the classroom and no one needs that). Once start is called, students dump their lids onto the table and begin sliding them across the surface and into the correct boxes. Lids will run into one another and sometimes be blown off course but that’s all part of the fun. The first student to finish is awarded five points. Students are then awarded one point for each lid that was correctly sorted. The student with the most points is the winner. Here’s a brief video of one lid being blown into a box:

The game can be played as a relay by dividing students into teams (I suggest 3-4 students per team) and setting the table up a short distance away from the teams. The students then run to the table, slide a single lid into a box, and run back to pass the bottle off to the next student. This has the advantage of not needing as many sets of lids and tables for larger classes but can get a little crazy if you have several teams all playing at the same time.


I’ll be honest, the entire time I was thinking about the game and creating it, I was worried about how my adult students would react. They generally love the games we play, but this one is a bit more out there than most. I worried right up until we started playing (relay style). As soon as I saw the looks on their faces, and how engaged they were, my worries melted away. My adult students loved this game! My decades of middle school teaching experience tells me that age group would as well (especially the team version), and I suspect it would be a success with elementary and high school students, too. I’m slowly creating all of the versions of the game mentioned in the introduction, it’s just taking time to build up my lid collection after making each new version. Start collecting lids and try the game out on your students, then let me know how it goes. Happy teaching, everyone!

Here is a download of the game pieces I created, as well as links to some other countable/uncountable noun practice games:

Have some extra milk jug lids and want another version of the game? This one practices distinguishing between when to use a vs. an with nouns. Each lid has a picture of a food item on it, so students also get practice with food vocabulary! I included some links for more a/an practice, as well as some other food vocabulary practice activities.

And, just in case you really have a lot of milk jug lids, here are the game pieces for another Sliding Sort: pronunciation of the -s/-es ending of plural nouns, along with some other pronunciation and plural noun games.