Robert Marzano of What Works in Schools suggests that we have our kids spend more time classifying and categorizing. When kids do these things, their brains must work at very high levels. The following exercise provides a structure that you can use to help kids do this. It can be modified by using a variety of images and content.


Participants examine images to define at least two related concepts or attributes and then sort the pictures into the defined groups. Participants are challenged to create several different sorting groups for the set of images. With each additional sort participants examine the images more closely, use their creativity, and must think deeper about the connections among the group of pictures.

Big Ideas?

Students understand that where we live influences how we live
Students understand that patterns can help us understand the development of civilizations

Investigative question?

How can images help us see differences and similarities between civilizations?


Copy sets of the images pasted below and store them in large envelopes

Give each student an envelope and instruct them to:

  • Look at the images from the envelope
  • Label possible groupings for the images into two or more categories.
  • Sort the images
  • Repeat this routine as many times as you can

Reflect on their sorting:

  • How did you decide which images went in each category?
  • Is there an image that you are unsure of? What made you unsure?
  • Can you think of another way to sort these images?

Prompt the participants to answer the following questions:

  • How did you decide which images went in which category?
  • Is there an image that you are unsure of?
  • What made you unsure of the category that image belongs in?

Ask that the participants look back over the images and choose:

  • One that you personally connect to
  • One that you want to learn more about

Put students in groups of three and have them share with their partners one of their image sorts. Instruct your kids to not tell their partners the categories or titles of their sort.

Taking turns with partners, complete the following tasks:


  • Describe what you see in the partner’s sort
  • State the questions you have when examining this sort
  • Sorter should not answer these questions
  • Guess possible labels for the groupings


  • Listen to the Viewer Describe, Question, Guess but do not respond
  • Explain the thinking behind the title and the groupings to the viewer

When finished in their small groups, have students share their categories with the entire class. Post the different categories to create a class list. Ask students to respond to the investigative question with exit cards or short essays.