Categorizing Ideas: Helping Kids Develop Reasoning Skills

Part of growing up is developing reasoning skills, such as logical thought processes and the ability to discern multiple types of relationships between concepts. Reasoning skills are an important part of organizing thoughts for a report, constructing a story, using a reference book, conducting an interview or navigating the internet to find information. 

This activity will help kids develop those adult reasoning skills by better understanding logical structures. You can repeat it on different topics over the course of a term, and it can be a great activity to use for peer coaching and observation.


In this activity you'll transfer concepts from a group journal activity to index cards, then have kids organize them appropriately.

Recommended Time: 

20 to 30 minutes


    • To help kids understand how concepts are related and that they can be related in different ways
    • To help kids understand basic issues of organizing their thoughts.

Materials and Equipment: 
Oversized pad of paper, 2' x 3' (preferable), or blackboard for mapping
Pack of 3" x 5" index cards
Activity Steps: 

Step 1: Get Started

First, you'll need a list of things to organize. In teams at each table or group work area, instruct the kids to "write things you can find on the Web" in their group journals or on a large sheet of paper. Wander the room and observe how they are progressing, making sure that each table is coming up with a good number of ideas. Assist if necessary, but don't guide them into particular formats or types of answers. For example, appropriate answers can range from anything such as "words" and "pictures" to "entertainment," "sports," "games" or specific URLs. After several minutes, call them back to attention.

Step 2: Transfer the Ideas

Put a stack of index cards on each table, and ask the kids to write each thought they came up with on a different card.

Step 3: Model the Organizing Process

Gather all of the kids around one of the tables. Sit down and begin organizing the cards produced by the team from that table. Do this yourself as everyone watches, constantly talking and thinking aloud. Say something like, "The first thing we have to do is figure out what we have." Now read each card aloud to the group. Keep sorting them into piles. As you pick up each card, keep asking questions like, "Is that the same or different?" and let the kids respond.

Change your mind a few times, and move cards from one stack to another until you have sorted most of them into a handful of piles. Keep asking questions so that the kids are actually helping you in the sorting. When you reach a card that could go in several piles, point that out and ask which pile it fits best. Don't try to be overly analytical or too scientific, because you're working with random thoughts. In this modeling stage, the objective is to raise all the various issues and questions involved in the thinking process, not to come up with one "right" or "best" system.

Step 4: Have the Kids Do It

Once you've worked through the cards, send the kids back to their groups to put their cards in order. If you've done it correctly, the kids already understand that there are different ways to organize thoughts and concepts. Have the group whose cards you used in the modeling step now organize them in a different way. Give them five to 10 minutes to work on this step.

Step 5: Discuss

Call the kids back together and talk about the activity. Discuss why classifying and organizing are important and the different ways we can classify, such as by type, function or structure. Have each group explain its results and why it chose to classify its cards as it did.


This is a good activity to repeat several times over the course of a term. When the kids have done it once, it will go more quickly the next time because you've modeled it before. Try giving more specific instructions, such as "Name books you have read" or "List movies you like" or "Write the names of famous people" so that you start with more structured lists.

Try a mapping activity to develop lists in which the first ring is about something like "things in the room" and the outer ring is "characteristics of these things" (e.g., color, material). Doing so will help you introduce ordering in hierarchies and multiple relationships, which can prepare kids for webbing activities.

Follow Up: 

You can follow up on an activity like this in many ways. You can go to a directory Web site like Yahoo! and examine one area to see how the site has organized the information. Alternatively, make a Web page of your own in which you have grouped a few similar links you would like the kids to visit.