Card Sort

Item description: 

A Card Sort is like a traditional matching worksheet, but with some added features which make it as much of a learning tool as an assessment approach.

In this activity, students match Terms to Descriptors. A Term is one short word or phrase, and a Descriptor is a longer definition, description, or statement. The procedure is more kinesthetic than a simple worksheet and may appeal to different learning styles. It may be useful in stimulating focused student dialogue.


  1. Prepare materials using the Card Sort tool
  • Download the Card Sort Template.These Word documents are templates for creating the Terms, and Descriptor cards for this activity. The pages are formatted to be printed on either Avery #5395 or #5160 label sheets.
  • After printing, affix labels to index cards. Select one color small index card for the Terms and a different color for the Descriptors. Store each set of cards in plastic resealable bags. You consider laminating them.
  • Use may want to use graphics in place of words to create an engaging variation.
Distribute the sets of cards, and ask students to match the Terms with the Descriptors. When they finish, provide students with an answer key to self-check for accuracy. Complete a summary or review of the activity, with an eye towards discerning the level of student prior knowledge/ familiarity with the topics.



  • If students maintain a notebook, this would be an ideal opportunity for a written reflection which would be graded.
  • Alternately, you could prepare a set of guided reflection questions such as a 3-2-1 Reflection.

Classroom Management

To avoid mix-ups, as soon as the self-assessment is completed, ask students to replace all cards in their plastic bag and collect them immediately.

Interdisciplinary Connections

The Terms and Descriptors can accommodate topics from a variety of content areas:

  • Geography: capitol cities/states quiz.
  • Biology: compare and contrast characteristics of vertebrates and invertebrates
  • English/Language Arts: match symbols with their intended meaning or implication.
  • History: match a person with a particular event, policy, or legislation with which they are associated; e.g., Nixon and Watergate.


This may be used with learners of all ages, but may be more effective with younger children.

This activity may also appeal to more kinesthetic learning styles.


For middle or high school aged learners, add a third type and color of card called Familiarity Rating, with these three labels:

  • No Understanding
  • Limited Understanding
  • Thorough Understanding

There would be one set of three new cards per set of Terms and Descriptors.

  1. Place students in groups of two or three.
  2. Initially you would distribute only the Familiarity Rating cards and Term cards. 
  3. Ask students to rate their current familiarity (understanding) with the Terms, by placing each Term under the appropriate Rating category.
  4. Considerable dialogue should accompany this stage of the activity. Check for completion when student conversation begins to wane.
  5. When students have sorted the terms by familiarity, distribute the Descriptor cards, and continue as described under Implementation.

Preparation time: 60 / Delivery time: 20

File Editable Card Sort Template (RTF)88.71 KB