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Sorting Text Sets

Gist: Students consider a range of text in a set to sort them, focusing on topic, central idea, text evidence, author's perspective, author's purpose, and arguments.

Why Do It?  Modern standards often require students to consider ideas across multiple text.  But how do we engage students PHYSICALLY?  This approach allows students to physically manipulate the text, making the skills visible and tangible and increasing engagement.


-text of different kinds, all on the same argumentative topic (I used "Should Cell Phones be Allowed at School?"); include articles, photos, infographics, comics/political cartoons, etc.

-bulletin board paper sorting mats




Set Up:

1.  Make copies of your text and remove the headlines/titles.  Make a set for each group.

2.  Type up the headlines/titles, make a copy for each group, and cut them apart.

3.  Provide a large sheet of bulletin board (or similar) paper for each group.


The Unit:

I used this unit to cover


-author's perspective (specifically for, against, or neutral on an issue)

-central idea

-using evidence to support your claims

-author's purpose

IN standards 7/8.RN.2.1 cite text evidence; 7/8.2.2 central idea; 7/8 .RN.3.3 determine how an author responds to conflicting viewpoints; 7.RN.4.3 analyze how different authors interpret and write about the same topic 

The basic process I used would be easily adaptable for different reading skills.

*Please note, each lesson began with a "Do Now" previewing the same skills or reinforcing something that was weak on the previous lesson.  I have not included those here.

Lesson 1:

Objective: Use text evidence to determine author's purpose and perspective

I set each group (small, about 3 students) up with a set of the text (headlines removed), highlighters, and a sheet of bulletin board paper.

I made an example sorting mat, displayed it on the board, and had the students set their paper up the same way.  We labeled the top TOPIC, then divided the paper into 3 columns: FOR, NEUTRAL, AGAINST.

Then I tasked each group to come up with what they thought the topic of the text set was.  I gave each group a speech bubble magnet (optional) and had them write their topic on it and display it on the board.  We talked about the subtle differences in their topics and how to refine them (for example, "cell phones" was too broad--we weren't talking about the invention of cell phones, their cost, different brands, etc).  Finally we settled on the topic and wrote it on their sorting mats.

We had a brief discussion about the topic, and students quickly expressed that there were 2 clear sides.  We talked about how some authors are FOR cell phones in school, AGAINST, or NEUTRAL--simply explaining the issue.  Using 2 colors, students highlighted the text, using one color to represent evidence in support of using cell phones in school and another for evidence against it.  Our text set included infographics, photos, and comics, so the students asked good questions about how to interpret those and how some could conceivably be used either way.

After highlighting, students used the balance of colors to sort the text.

Groups did a gallery walk to look at how other groups sorted theirs, then we used my model on the board to settle on the correct arrangement.  Groups taped their text down (tape, rather than glue, to allow them to manipulate the text further in later steps).


Lesson 2:

Objective: Use evidence of the author's purpose and perspective to determine the central idea of a text

We started with a brief review of why we sorted the text we did and the use of color to determine how we sorted the text.

We had previously worked with the connection between titles/headlines and central idea.  So after a brief review of how a title often reflects the central idea of a text, they were ready to go.  I gave each group the missing headlines from just the articles (not the photos, infographics, or comics).  We briefly talked about how we might decide where they go: deciding if the title sounds FOR, AGAINST, or NEUTRAL first, then using specific details to match to the correct text.

Then I let groups try.  When they felt they were finished, they had me check.  I provided feedback and instruction as needed.  When groups were correct, they taped the headlines down.

When groups had the headlines correctly matched, I challenged them to create a title for the photos.  As a strategy, students could imagine the article the photo would have come from and what that article would say.  We referred back to the same skills we used to sort the headlines: topic, central idea (reflecting author's perspective), and more specific details.  Most groups were too broad or vague at first ("Cell Phones" or "Cell Phones in School," so I redirected to the article headlines to help them see how to refine their headline to reflect whether the photo was FOR, AGAINST, or NEUTRAL. 

Finally, individually, students completed exit tickets taking the same approach for the comics.

Lesson 3:

Objective: Use evidence determine author's perspective, purpose, or central idea

After reviewing the exit tickets, about 70% of students were where I expected them to be, and the remaining 30% showed evidence of developing mastery over some standards but not others; some could give a central idea but not explain why, others could easily use evidence to determine an author's perspective but couldn't state the central idea.  So this lesson gave me an opportunity to address those weaknesses while connecting what we've done to the idea of WHY an author writes (purpose).

We started with a Kahoot to practice these same skills.  I included comics, text, headlines, etc and asked questions practicing these skills in various ways.  Since I intended this to be instructive rather than an assessment, we talked openly about the items.  Whenever we had a wide spread in scores, we stopped to examine how we determined the correct answers.

To re-assess where the students were after the Kahoot, I gave them a letter to the editor on the topic of whether cell phones should be allowed in school, with the title removed.  Students basically repeated the unit procedure in miniature: they highlighted the text in 2 colors, determined the author's perspective, and gave the text a title.  In the Kahoot, we talked about why it's important to determine the author's purpose as a reader, so I included a question like that to see how much we already knew about author's purpose.  That helped me fine-tune where we needed to go next.

Lesson 4:

Objective: Counter a claim using evidence from the text by using author's perspective to determine the best text to use

For this lesson, we examined the way a text we sorted FOR the topic included some of the AGAINST color and content, and vice versa.  We also looked at how the neutral article had an essentially even balance in both colors.

This was the basis for our conversation on the difference between an author writing to INFORM vs. an author writing to PERSUADE.  The next step was for us to consider this balance and structure for us as readers and writers.  We were able to see that an informative piece is balanced and void of opinion, but a persuasive or argumentative piece is definitely less balanced.  Although there are differences between persuasive and argumentative structures, we did not go deeply into that for this lesson.  We were focused instead on the structure of an argument in general--"You may say_______, but _______."

I used a clip from Teen Titans Go showing Beast Boy trying to convince Robin of something as a silly way to engage them in the structure of an argument.  We talked about how a rebuttal is basically a "Well, yeah, BUT" statement.  Again, although there's far more to the concepts of claim/counterclaim, argument, and rebuttal than this, for the purpose of this lesson, those differences weren't relevant yet.

The we practiced using evidence to argue against a claim.  I made a statement about school uniforms--a hot topic for them--and they instantly erupted into outcries.  Great!  We noted the importance of using fact over opinion.  Then we tried arguing against a claim on our cell phone topic.  We broke it down into these steps:

1) decide whether the claim is FOR or AGAINST cell phones in school

2) go to the OPPOSITE side of the sorting mat

3) what is the specific issue about cell phones addressed?

4) find evidence on that side of the sorting mat that addresses that specific issue

When students had the hang of it, they used the app Class Kick to counter several claims on their own.  I had them insert a picture of the evidence they were using to counter the claims.  For this lesson, I was looking for the evidence they would use to counter the claim, so I did not require them to turn that evidence into their own statement.

I watched students' screens live on my Class Kick dashboard and addressed these common issues:

-Students were so well-trained to support claims with evidence that they often SUPPORTED my claim instead of arguing against it.

-Sometimes their evidence was too broad, so we worked on refining the issue beyond just whether cell phones were made to seem good or bad, but WHY?  What specific issue was being addressed?

Lesson 5:

Objective: Counter a claim using evidence from the text by using author's perspective to determine the best text to use

Based on those common mistakes in Lesson 4, I wanted to spend more time arguing AGAINST a claim instead of supporting it.  


My go-to when I need to reteach something is to try to get students physically moving somehow so they can feel the steps of the process.  So I borrowed floor tape from the PE teacher and made lines to divide the floor into 2 sections for multiple small groups.  I isolated specific facts from our text, copied and pasted them so I could format them to all look the same, and then printed and cut apart the facts for each group.

After warming up with an adjusted and abbreviated version of the Kahoot from Lesson 3, we reviewed the steps, but this time, students got to actually GO to the other side of the issue (making this process more concrete and memorable).

1) decide whether the claim is FOR or AGAINST cell phones in school

2) go to the OPPOSITE side of the line

3) what is the specific issue about cell phones addressed?

4) find evidence on that side of the line that addresses that specific issue

I held up and read aloud a claim, and the students told me what side of the line I was on.  I stood there, and they all moved to the opposite side.  Then they told me what specific claim within our topic I was making, and they worked together to pick evidence that argued against that specific claim.  I gradually released responsibility to them until I said very little and they ran the show.

Finally, using Class Kick, students repeated that process of following the steps and taking pictures of the evidence that refutes my claims.

Physically standing on the other side of the issue prevented that error of SUPPORTING my claims instead of arguing against them. 

Caution and Tips:

-Be careful that the words you pick don't have double meanings that could make these "silly sentences" into "dirty sentences."  This is especially important with older students.

-If prescribing specific sentence patterns, model exemplar sentences with students.  This activity goes beyond just writing funny sentences but into actually USING parts of speech correctly.  That's the challenge for our students, and that's where we want to focus.



-Students can write sentences alone or in small groups.

-You can allow students to use any sentence structure they'd like or prescribe sentence structures.  Note: This tends to be hard for the students but helps them practice using different sentence structures and challenges them to use parts of speech correctly.  Here's an example of one I've used in class.

-I once did a large version of this on the wall outside my classroom.  It was a big hit, and even though I teach jr. high, the students were very appropriate with it.  Instead of rolling dice, I just posted large, laminated words (color-coded for the parts of speech) on the wall with sticky tack and let the students build sentences,

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