Word Sorts with ELLs

Word Sorts with ELLs

Word sorts are one way to help students learn spelling patterns and how to pronounce new vocabulary words. Students are able to focus on two or three patterns instead of trying to memorize a list of words. They are then better able to apply those spelling patterns to new words that follow a similar pattern. Students are also able to practice the correct pronunciation of words. Here are some ways to set up word sorts with ELLs.


The small group might be a word study group, where all of the students are at the same developmental spelling level. It could also be a guided reading group where you are including a word study component. It is especially helpful in guided reading groups to include word study activities that go along with words students will be reading in their book.

Whole Group

Using word study activities in a whole class setting is one way to expose all students to grade-level vocabulary. Not all students will end up spelling all of the word patterns they learn correctly. Exposing students to grade level word patterns will help students as they are reading and spelling. In a whole group setting, the teacher can provide a high level of support. The class can assist in sorting words.

Vocabulary Development

Matching pictures with words is one of the easiest ways to increase ELLs understanding of the words used in a sort. You can use pictures as you introduce the sort and then switch to words. Have students match the pictures and words as they are sorting, or have them use cards that have both the picture and the words together. It will depend on the level of the students, and what word sort they are completing, for how the word sort is set up.

beginning sounds sorting

Phonemic Awareness

Word study activities are one way to incorporate phonemic awareness into activities for older students. Pictures and sound sorts are two ways that require students to listen to the sounds in a word instead of looking at how the word is spelled.

beginning sound sort


Especially for older students learning English, how to pronounce new vocabulary words can be challenging. One way to help students practice this skill is through sound sorts. Students can sort words based on how they are pronounced. This will also give them additional practice identifying new words. For example, have students sort the sounds of /ed/ a the end of words or voiced and unvoiced /th/ words.


Word sorts allow students to learn about phonics concepts and apply those concepts to new groups of words. Instead of trying to memorize new phonics concepts, students are better able to conceptualize them when they are using word sorts. Word sorts are a type of puzzle, which makes them naturally engaging for children.

word sort

Learn more about sorting with ELLs

Word sorts are one way to use sorting activities with English Language Learners. There are many other ways to use the strategy of sorting with ELLs.

Word Study Resources

word sorts bundle

digital word sorts


This set of word sorting and writing pages is a simple way to support ELLs with word study. All of the word sorts will have picture cards. There are three levels of word sorts. Set one has pictures, set two has pictures and words, and set three is only words. Many of the word sorts now come with a digital version. 

Words Their Way for ELLs– An overview of using word sorts with ELLs along with specific strategies to support ELLs.

Words Their Way Word Sorts– Starting at the Letter Name level some of the sorts do not have pictures. As you introduce the sorts consider adding in the picture and/or explaining the meaning of new vocabulary words to ELLs.

word sorts

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