Harry Potter Sorting Hat Vocabulary Strategy


I admit it: I’m a Potterhead. I love Harry Potter, and I love anything that lets me use Harry Potterishness in class. This is one such activity.

I’ve been teaching for.ev.er, and this activity is a standout one with students. It’s one of the most popular articles on the entire Vocabulary Luau site, and I’m excited to tell you why!

The Sorting Hat vocabulary strategy is where you have students sort words into categories, just as the Sorting Hat sorted Hogwarts students into houses.

? How Does the Sorting Hat Strategy Work?

The teacher prepares word strips with vocabulary words on them.

I just type them in Word, print them out, and then cut up the sheet. It’s a good Netflix-watching task!

Keep the word strips because you can use them over and over.

These can be any vocabulary words you’re working on, or they can be words associated with a particular unit you’re studying.

When students pull the word out of the hat, they choose which of the four categories the word belongs in.

? The Details

You can either choose the categories for them (a “closed sort”) or they can come up with their own categories (“open sort”).

I typically would put the categories up on the board and have students use little magnets to stick the words to the board under the category they chose.

You can use any hat, but you can actually buy a Harry Potter Sorting Hat. My favorite is the official one. Although it’s pricey, it’s worth the money to me because I use it so much.

You can find lots of directions for how to make one online, or you can just use a Halloween-type witch’s hat.

Sometimes I like to call it sombrero seleccionador (Spanish for “sorting hat”).

? How Do You Choose the Categories?

Sometimes I use Hogwarts houses. Each house has attributes, so students have to consider which house’s attributes the word is most like.

  • Gryffindor: courage, bravery, nerve, and chivalry
  • Ravenclaw: intelligence, creativity, learning, and wit
  • Hufflepuff: hard work, patience, justice, and loyalty
  • Slytherin: ambition, cunning, leadership, and resourcefulness

It’s hysterical to listen to a student consider if a rectangle is hard working or resourceful.

According to the Sorting Hat, Slytherins will do anything to get their way, so sometimes that’s the deciding factor for a powerful word!

If I don’t use Hogwarts houses, I can use any categories that seem appropriate. For example, for vocabulary words about landforms, I might have the categories landairwater, and hollow.

I always try to have one category that requires a lot of thinking. You can tell that hollow is the one in the example. What makes a landform hollow? Students will surprise you with their reasoning.

You can also use general categories that would work for lots of types of words, like big, small, hard, soft, good, bad, yes, no, challenging, easy, moderately difficult or moderately easy.

Again, you’re welcome to have students come up with categories as well. Sometimes I’ll have one class choose categories for the next class.

? Benefits of the Sorting Hat Strategy

Categorizing is a powerful thinking skill. Students have to find connections and recognize patterns. This in turn develops their skills of managing and organizing information.

It also helps them see that there can be more than one “right” answer and the importance of choosing the “best” choice among several good choices.

One of the most powerful benefits comes when you ask students to re-categorize the words. I call this “Sorting Hat Scramble.”

They have to move every word to a different category and come up with a justification for it.

There’s deep mental analysis of the meanings of words going on in this strategy, and although it feels fun (I mean, Sorting Hat!), that doesn’t mean it’s weak in thinking.

? Wrapping Up

The Harry Potter Sorting Hat strategy is one of my go-to strategies because it’s a favorite of mine and my students.

I love the thinking, and we all love Harry Potter.

There is more prep than some other activities because you have to make the word strips, but since you can reuse them, the more you do it, the quicker it gets.

Pro Tip: Keep your strips in snack size plastic bags and label them by topic or unit.

I’d love to hear if you try it or if you have any questions about it.?

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The Sorting Hat vocabulary strategy is where you have students sort words into categories, just as the Sorting Hat sorted Hogwarts students into houses.

I’ve been teaching for.ev.er, and this activity is a standout one with students. It’s one of the most popular articles on the entire Vocabulary Luau site, and I’m excited to tell you why!

Lisa Van Gemert

Lisa loves words & helping kids love words, too. Her grandparents were deaf, and she loves words made with hands as much as words made with pens and typewriters and voices. Lisa lives in Arlington, Texas, with her Aussie husband, Steve.

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