If you’ve been keeping up with the blog over the last few weeks, you’ll know that I’ve been writing about the language processing hierarchy. If you’ve forgotten, the language processing hierarchy looks something like this:

and is directly related to our Common Core State Standards within Anchor Standard ELA.L.5 for word relationships. So far, I’ve written on tiers 1 – 3: labeling, functions, and associations. This week, I’m tackling one that is very familiar to us: categories!

When I think about goals I’ve written and received over the years, I would say that categorizing is when things start getting familiar. I’m not sure if that’s because I’ve worked primarily with slightly older students (3rd and up, most consistently) or if categorizing is just where we have a tendency to start with our kiddos who aren’t limited verbally. But in my experience, categories (then synonyms/antonyms and multiple meaning words) tend to get the most attention. Here a few ideas that have worked for me in the past and may work for you!

1 | Start with familiar, tangible concepts.

I find that some of the easiest categories to target at the start are those that students learn most early in an academic setting: letters, numbers, shapes, colors. Beginning with these earliest of terms and ensuring that they can be sorted and identified lays a good foundation to moving forward with additional items.

2 | Encourage students to think about “groups.”

Most of our students have been divided into groups at some point, so this is a familiar term. An easy way to begin here could be having students divide by hair color so that students have a clear idea that the group is defined by a particular trait (or traits). However, ensure that you reinforce that the term “group” is synonymous with “category” early on so that you don’t suddenly confuse them by asking them about categories later!

3 | Go with interests first.

Kiddos are almost always more motivated when something interests them. Rather than thinking strictly in terms of food, animals, and tools, let the next rung of your treatment (after establishing the basic knowledge of sorting and grouping) run beside their interests. Students may have better success first sorting topics of interest. For example, in a group of boys interested in sports, girls interested in animals, and boys interested in space, you may do group work sorting game types, animals, and planets into their appropriate categories.

4 | Think of categorizing like a store.

As you move into more difficult concepts, encourage students to think of sorting in the way that they would finding objects in a store. Most students will be familiar with the fact that certain food types are grouped together and that they are separate than the clothes which is separate from the tools. This can give students a visualization to help them with a growing number of objects and category labels.

5 | Talk through it!!

Sorting is great, but it is vital that students understand why objects are or are not grouped together. This is where dependency on those earlier tiers comes in! As students group items together, have them discuss how the functions are similar and what concepts are associated with both. They need to be able to explain that furniture items go together, not just because they go in a house, because appliances also go in a house! Encourage them to think critically by providing examples and having them delve deeply into their knowledge of basic items.

Ready to work? Here are some fun activities for targeting categorizing!

1 | Cat Says Meow’s No Prep Worksheets are one of my go-tos for categorization! So easy to get ready with a variety of stimuli and differentiated lessons, they’re perfect for students of a variety of ages!

2 | The Autism Helper’s Task Cards are wonderful for younger students, but provide opportunity for both basic identification and analysis. Easy to use with clear artwork, they are a treat!

3 | For older students, Scattegories is a fantastic activity to get them thinking! I sometimes modify slightly (for example, I’m not going to get them stuck trying to think of words that start with “Q”), but it is wonderful for critical thinking and expanding their mindset.

4 | My Categories Unit targets categories receptively and expressively and is a great way to introduce or progress monitor classification skills in older students. Use the task cards, worksheets, or group activities to cover categories across multiple sessions! You can also throw in a bit of fun with my Following Directions with Categories game!