Categorizing Grid

Active learning

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Using Categorizing Grid active to facilitate critical thinking in a classroom

Time and Effort
Instructor Prep Time Low
Student Activity Time Low
Instructor Response Time Low
Complexity of Activity Low


Categorizing Grid involves the sorting of ideas into categories. Students receive a grid containing two or three categories along with a scrambled list of terms, images, equations, or other items that belong in those categories. Learners have a limited amount of time to sort the concepts into the correct categories.


Use it when you want...

  • To determine whether, how, and to what extent students understand what goes with what,
  • To have students reveal the implicit rules they are using to categorize information, or
  • To examine gaps and misperceptions in students’ understanding of content.

What students will need

  • No special requirements for this approach.


The following workflow is meant as guidance for how you can facilitate Categorizing Grid learning activity within a classroom.


  • Select two or three related categories for organizing the information to be presented in class.
  • Make a list of examples of items within each category.
  • Review the list to make sure that all items belong to only one category and that all items are familiar to students.
  • Make a grid with the categories on the top row and items to be placed in categories on the side.
  • Determine when you will have students engage in this activity (beginning, middle, end, or outside of class).
  • Decide how you will form student groups.


  • Set up students into groups.
  • Hand out and display the grid.
  • Explain the activity.
  • Leave time for students to ask questions about the activity and clarify items on the list.
  • Let students know how much time they have to complete the activity.
  • Collect the completed grids and let students know when and how you will use the results.


  • Collect grids.
  • Review grids and provide feedback/grades based on the quality of the grids.
  • Discuss the results of the activity at the next class meeting.

Accessibility and Room Considerations

  • None

Technical Documentation

  • None


Example 1

An Introduction to Management Theory professor wants to get an idea of how well her students understand the distinctions between the concepts of Theory X and Theory Y management (MacGregor, 1960). She decides to use the Categorized Grid technique and begins to create a list of a dozen terms and short phrases she associates with each concept.  She makes sure that each item clearly relates to one theory or the other, and she discards those that could be categorized in either. She makes a handout with the concepts Theory X and Theory Y in large letters on the top row. Below the table, she lists all concepts in random order.  In class, she breaks students into groups of four and gives students five minutes to sort the terms into the appropriate boxes, and then collects the results. Reviewing the results later, she realized that students had focused almost entirely on these two theories' human-nature and motivational aspects, neglecting the managerial and organizational consequences. Students had little trouble categorizing the terms that related directly to Theory X or Theory Y in the abstract, but they did less well with those items related to applications (Angelo 161-162).

Example 2

At the end of the second week of Comparative Animal Physiology, the instructor decided to assess the class's skill at categorizing mammals visually. He structured the assignment in two stages, projecting numbered slides and directing students to write the numbers in the correct boxes on a handout he prepared. For the first assessment, he used a grid divided into boxes for three mammalian subclasses: Prototheria, Metatheria, and Eutheria. He projected 30 slides of animals, with examples more or less divided among subclasses. Students' performance in the activity was strong, with only a few confusions here and there. At the next class meeting, he asked students to categorize 35 slides of members of subclass Eutheria into seven of its major orders. Results here were uneven. The instructor went over the results and suggested the most critical areas for review, reminding students that the midterm would include questions requiring exactly this sort of categorizing (Angelo 161).


Angelo, Thomas A., and K. Patricia Cross. Classroom Assessment Techniques: a Handbook for College Teacher/em>. Jossey-Bass, 1993. pp. 160-163.

See Also:

Keywords:categorizing grid, analysis, critical thinking, active learning, classroom   Doc ID:104107
Owner:Timmo D.Group:Center for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
Created:2020-07-17 12:08 CDTUpdated:2023-07-19 09:40 CDT
Sites:Center for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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