What Are Sorting Mats?

Sorting mats are a fun way for children, tweens, and teens to review information they have been learning.  They allow students to practice active recall or ‘quiz themselves’ without boring worksheets or flashcards.

Sorting mats also provide an organizational system where students sort pictures and facts based upon what they have learned in their studies.  Therefore, they improve how they organize the information in their brain, which makes it easier to recall at a later time.

A Mature Version of File Folder Games

Sorting mats are basically a mature version of file folder games that are used in the preschool and early elementary years.  For example, think of a file folder game where there are different pockets for a few different letters and a child is given a variety of pictures that start with those different letters.  The child’s task is to determine what letter each word starts with and put the picture in the correct letter pocket.

File-Folder Games in Color: Alphabet: 10 Ready-to-Go Games That Help Children Learn and Practice Letter-Recognition Skills-Independently
  • Scholastic (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 144 Pages - 04/01/2009 (Publication Date) - Scholastic Teaching Resources (Publisher)

Sorting mats incorporate pictures AND written facts that students sort based on their knowledge.  Just like the file folder games, there is a correct place for each card.  The sorting mats can be used with any age, including high school, depending on the content of the particular set of sorting mats you are using.

Photo of all four seasons of sorting mats with matching cards on most of the sections.

Organize Information Better

Many students have trouble organizing what they learn. This makes it hard to make connections between different pieces of information like how the earth’s movement and relationship to the sun affects the temperature on earth.  It also makes it hard to retrieve information from memory when needed.  Sorting mats help students ‘file’ the information they learn into the right ‘drawers’ in their brains.  Each sorting mat has a specific place for each type of information.  For example, the state sorting mats below have a place for a map of the state, the state flag, what year it entered the union, etc.  This gives students a visual organizer for what information they need to remember about the different states.

US Geography Sorting Mats for South Dakota, Wyoming, and Idaho

Practice Active Recall

Sorting mats also give students a hands-on way to practice their active recall of the information they have learned. We often think we know information after we read it a few times.  But then, we get into a situation where we need to remember that information and realize it is a little (or a lot) fuzzy.

Using active recall gives students practice pulling the information they have learned from their memory.  This improves their long-term retention and their ability to retrieve the information whenever they need it.  If students get stuck while completing the sorting mats, they can use the self-checking answer key to see what they missed. Tip: I don’t hand the answer key to my kids until they have tried their hardest to match all of the information! 🙂

Fun Way to Assess Learning

Writing information down helps our brains to remember it better.  However, many children struggle with the physical and/or mental skills required during writing.  Sorting mats give children a great way to focus on the information they are reviewing in a relaxed manner where not so many other skills are required.  Some children even like making it a game!  They can set a timer and see how fast they can match up all the information.  Then, they can try to improve on their time or see if they can beat a sibling or another student!

Easy Way to Differentiate Learning

Have different age children or children with different abilities?  Sorting mats are easy to differentiate learning for students at a variety of levels.  For your older child, you may just set out all the matching cards and the mats and off they go.  For younger children, they may need less mats set out…instead of all five mats in a set, maybe you just set out two or three.  You can also adjust the number of matching cards you set out.  In the example of the President Sorting Mats below, you may just give your younger child the picture, the state, and one fact for each president and see if they can match those three pieces of information with each president.

First set of five US President Sorting Mats

Try a FREE Set of Sorting Mats!!

Click here and you can grab a sample of our Beginner Level of Animal Classification Sorting Mats.


Product cover for Animal Sorting Mats with title and two printed sorting mats with five matching cards.