Math Background

Identify, Sort, Classify: Overview

You sort and classify objects every day, whether you realize it or not. For most adults, it's an automatic process and doesn't seem to be math. But sorting and classifying are fundamental skills that help form the basis of geometry and pattern recognition.

When you sort and classify objects (or pictures, or words, or anything else), you determine characteristics that the objects share and characteristics they don't share. In other words, you identify how they are alike and how they are different. These characteristics are commonly called attributes. For example, the following set of objects is sorted by the attribute of shape.

Triangles, squares, and circles.

You could also sort the same set of objects by the attribute of size.

Large triangles, squares, and circles; small triangles, squares, and circles.

Deciding which attribute to sort by is an important reasoning skill. It's also important to recognize that many sets have several different possible classifications. Most things we encounter have more than one attribute, so they can be sorted in at least as many ways as they have attributes!

Houghton Mifflin Math Grade K