What You Need


  • books for sorting, such as story books, workbooks, coloring books etc.
  • file folders or colored labels


To develop the idea that information can be more easily managed and retrieved if it is logically sorted and stored, using the example of books in a library.


The activities in this lesson focus on sorting and ordering things so that they can be easily retrieved at a later date. These experiences can provide students with the foundation they will need to address more sophisticated information management problems in the future.

Letters and numbers have great significance as the symbols used in language and mathematics. But they are also used in many complex information technologies. At this level students can begin to form the idea that information is most useful when it is organized and represented by orderly collections of symbols. (See Science for All Americans, Chapter 8, The Designed World: Information Processing.)

Using things such as personal folders, pockets mounted on the wall, and plastic file boxes located in workstations, students can learn that things need to have places where they can be stored and if they are stored well, they are easier to find later. If you require children to keep folders, notebooks, journals, and/or portfolios to organize and store their work so it can be reviewed at a later date, they are experiencing the essence of an information storage and retrieval system. As you do this, help children to develop the idea of the usefulness of these sorting and storing activities. You can also let the children help design and use simple strategies for storing and retrieving information that is recorded in the form of words and pictures on physical media (for example, audio and video cassette tapes, paper, and photographs).


Do the Flood Game on the Between the Lions (PBS) website. In this activity, books float by in groups of five, but each shelf only holds three books. To fill the shelves, children will need to choose three books whose titles share a common theme. Some of the titles contain difficult words, so beginning readers will need help with much of the reading.

After children have played the game for about 15 minutes, compare the game to a real library, asking the following questions:

  • Do you think it would be easy or hard to find books in a library like the one in the game?
  • What would you have to know in order to find the books?
  • Is this the way books are arranged in a real library?
  • How are books organized in our classroom? Is it different or the same as in the game?



Take students to the school or public library. Before they go, ask students to think about and discuss the questions below. These questions will help you identify students' existing ideas about how information is organized in a library. These questions help students begin to tie concrete examples to an abstract concept.

Ask students:

  • What things are in the library?
  • Why do we need the information in the library?
  • How do you find things in the library?
  • Are the books and other materials organized? How?
  • What can help you find things in the library?
  • Where do you see letters in a library? How are they used?
  • Where do you see numbers in a library? How are they used?
  • Do all libraries use letters and numbers in these ways?
  • Why is that a good idea?
  • Why is it important to know how things are organized?

Write student answers to these questions on a chart or chalkboard. When you return from the library, discuss the answers to the questions and ask students to add to the list or revise their answers. To check for student understanding, have each child write a brief description (or draw a picture) that shows what they think is the easiest way to find a particular book in the library.

After students have thought about the system used by libraries to sort books, divide the class into groups and have them sort actual books, by author, by title, by subject, or by any other classification method that makes sense to them. If you have a large classroom library, you can use these books. If you don't, you can collect magazines, coloring books, workbooks, or other materials. The important thing is that students have an ample number of books or other resources with which to work. The groups should devise different ways to store the books that will make it easier for others to find. They can make subject categories, using file folders, pictures, or colored labels.

Then, after the materials have been stored according to the systems devised by the groups, have members of the other groups try to retrieve designated books using the classification system. Next, have another group put the books back in order according to the classification system devised by the other group.

Finally, the original group can assess whether or not the books were stored properly. Based on what they discover, the groups should then revise their classification system, if necessary, to make it easier to use.  


Individual students can assess other groups' classification systems by deciding if it was easy to use and was helpful in putting the books back where they belonged. Groups can assess their own systems by determining how easy they were for other groups to use and understand.

To assess students' understanding of the benchmark ideas, have them draw and label one or more examples of how letters or numbers are used to sort and order things so that they can be easily found later. (You can use the Sorting student sheet for this assessment.) Give students the opportunity to explain their pictures verbally, if needed.


Create or purchase a set of pictures and letter cards (you could print out the letter cards provided on Between the Lions) that enable children to sort pictures by the letter they begin with (beginning sound).

At first, use one letter and ask the children to help find the pictures that begin with that sound. Gradually add more letters to the sorting activity as children are ready. Things containing the same type of information can be assigned a special color or name that make it easier to store them correctly and find them later.  

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards State Standards