Classifying is a form of thinking in which established or student-generated criteria are used to sort data into identified sets, groups, or patterns. It involves collecting, organizing, displaying, and interpreting data to solve problems and make decisions and predictions based on the data. Classifying is used to help understand relationships and sets of ideas, to construct systems for understanding, and to manage ideas. It can be done with concrete materials or in the abstract, with ideas. It is particularly useful when the focus is on personalized understanding and long-term retention of concepts or generalizations and when students need to investigate or discover systems in order to benefit from further instruction.

The teacher:
  • demonstrates/teaches the problem-solving processes involved in classifying;
  • plans active learning opportunities for students to experience classifying;
  • encourages students to develop alternative classification systems for the same data.

  • requires that students manipulate concrete materials, such as attribute blocks and natural materials, before working abstractly to conceptualize groupings and relationships among groups;
  • may require students to generate ideas to be classified (e.g., the sorting of toy vehicles into cars, trucks, and motorbikes; descriptive words that evoke feelings; mathematical problems or statistics);
  • requires debriefing of the classification activities to promote deeper understanding of structures and the benefits of constructing organizing principles.

Illustrations from the Mathematics Classroom

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Under construction. Please make a contribution.