AB Sorting

Sorting Treasures (AB sorting)


In this activity students practice categorization by sorting found “treasures” into groups. They discuss how and why scientists categorize.


Students will be able to:

  • Understand the process and practice of categorizing things into relevant groups.
  • Explain what biotic and abiotic means


  • Deliberately group their ‘treasures’ into abiotic and biotic groups

Age group: 4th-6th
Venue/s: Any space, indoor or outdoor
Time: 15-20 minutes
Set up: –




  1. Begin by asking your students to pick up 3-4 “treasures” from the ground along the way to where ever you’ll be doing this activity. Be very clear about guidelines (they should not pick anything that is alive).
  2. Once you get to your destination, have students get into groups of 2 or 3 and combine their collections of treasures.

The core lesson:
Once in groups discuss how one thing scientists do to explore the world around them is to categorize. In their groups they should categorize their items into three categories, ANY three categories that make sense to there group.
While students are categorizing move between groups and assist by questioning some of their rationale (i.e. what they are calling a “not living” pile might contain a branch, which is fine at this point, but you can help think deeper about this). Give them enough time to get three piles that all group members agree on.
Next, have each group show and explain their categories to the rest of the groups.

Tell the students that there are lots of ways to categorize and that scientists have yet another way of categorizing these items found in ecosystems. Scientist often categorize parts of an ecosystem into living and non-living parts. Explain the words abiotic, biotic. Finish up by having students reorganize their items into Nature’s As and Bs. Are the items you collected abiotic, or biotic? How do abiotic and biotic things fit together?

Possible Extensions:
How might the abiotics change if you went to another ecosystem like, for example, a desert vs. our temperate rain forests in Washington? At new ecosystems, like the Harbor or Bog, collect and categorize treasures into abiotic and biotic piles there.
Possible Transfer of Knowledge Exercises:
How would you explain these new categorize to an adult at home? What abiotic and biotic things can you think of in your house? Your room? Draw a picture of your classroom: label the abiotic and biotic things that make up your classroom

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