Categorizing Grid (ALC)

Active Learning

This KB document is part of a larger collection of documents on active learning activities that take place in Active Learning Classrooms (ALC). More Active Learning documents

Using Categorizing Grid activity to facilitate critical thinking skills in Active Learning Classrooms

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

  • Laptop, tablet, or mobile phone
  • Classroom with campus wireless connection


The following workflow is meant as guidance for how you can facilitate Categorizing Grid learning activity within an Active Learning 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.
  • Create a Google Slide doc and type that word or phrase at the top of the slide as a heading of related terms critical to understanding that topic.
  • Duplicate the slide so there is one for each table.
  • Determine when you will have students engage in this activity (beginning, middle, end, or outside of class).


  • At their tables, have students work at their table to complete the activity, and refer to their table's slide within the Google Slide document.
  • At each table, have students assign someone at each table to be a scribe and add the students' names at the top of the slide.
  • Give students a time limit for their responses.
  • Explain the activity, and leave time for students to ask questions about the activity and clarify items on the list.
  • To ensure everyone at the table participates, direct students to spend one to two minutes working independently on their own list. When ready, take turns around the table and have each student share his/her list for the scribe to record.
  • Upon completion of the activity, call on one or two tables to present their findings. Ask the rest of the class if they had items that were not represented by the reporting groups.
  • Use results to guide another activity in response.


  • Review the outcomes of the activity in the Google Slides from each table.
  • Discuss the results of the activity at the next class meeting.

Accessibility and Room Considerations

  • None

Technical Documentation


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 Categorizing 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 Google Slide document 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 has students work at their tables and gives students five minutes to sort the terms into the appropriate boxes, and document their results on their table's slide. 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 (Modified from 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 shared Google Slide document 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 (Modified from 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:categories, sort, analyze, critical thinking   Doc ID:118475
Owner:Timmo D.Group:Center for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
Created:2022-05-10 14:54 CDTUpdated:2022-10-28 10:13 CDT
Sites:Center for Teaching, Learning & Mentoring
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