Adapting Card Sorts for Digital Instruction

cards used for IMF card sort described in article (unsorted)

With the uncertainty of what the upcoming school year will bring, I have been planning as if my classes were completely online. Even during remote instruction, I want activities to be interactive for my students to allow them to engage with the material. Since we are a Google School and my students are one to one with basic Chromebooks, they are not able to write on their screens, so I have to be creative with how I develop and adapt activities. 

One activity that I use frequently during the school year is a card sort. I like using card sorts as formative assessments in class. They are a great way to quickly assess student understanding. For a card sort, I print out the cards on printer paper, cut up the different cards, put them into little plastic bags, and hand them out to pairs of students to work through together. They sort the cards, raise their hand, and I quickly check their work or have them join another group to discuss their sorting. Although my school will start with in-person instruction this year, I still want to prevent students from sharing paper, so I explored different methods for going digital with these card sorts. The best alternative for my students was using Google Slides to create drag and drop card sorts. Whether students are in my classroom or learning remotely, the digital card sort can be used. 


*Graphs generated using Photoelectron spectroscopy graph generator (accessed 8/15/20) 


The first digital card sort that I adapted for my AP chemistry course was the photoelectron spectroscopy (PES) card sort. This card sort was created by taking my in-person card sort and moving it into Google Slides. Students drag the electron configurations to the appropriate spectrum and identify the element by typing in the text box. After two slides of matching the electron configurations with the appropriate spectra, students answer general questions, similar to questions students might see on the AP exam, regarding peaks on a spectrum. The card sort ended with a short free response question from a previous AP exam (2019 #5) to tie in all of the content into a final question. 


After creating that first card sort, I was ready to move on to the next one: Intermolecular Forces. An intermolecular forces card sort has been on my to-do list since before we started remote learning in the spring. I wanted to check student understanding earlier in the unit using something other than a worksheet, so a card sort made sense. I decided with this IMF Card Sort to bring in other topics that would help students review prior knowledge and see how shapes and polarity connects to intermolecular forces. 


In this activity, students begin by identifying the shapes of the molecules by dragging the structures to the appropriate box on the slide. After identifying the shapes, they classify the same structures as polar or nonpolar. Finally, students identify the strongest intermolecular force that exists based on the Lewis Structure. After the drag and drop part of the card sort, students respond to short answer questions based on intermolecular forces. Like the PES card sort, this card sort ends with a short free response question from a past AP exam (2014 #6) that ties in all of the concepts. 



Video 1: Create a Digital Card Sort Using Google Slides, Samantha Ramaswamy's YouTube Channel (Aug 6, 2020)


Card sorts are a quick and easy way to assess student learning, even in a remote setting. If you want to see a step by step for creating a digital card sort, check out my step by step directions in Video 1.


Video 2: Create an Editable PDF in Google Slides, Samantha Ramaswamy's YouTube Channel (Aug 6, 2020)


You can also use this idea to create an editable PDF or digital worksheet (see video 2).


Tips for Digital Card Sorts in Google Slides

  1. Students should only be able to move the “cards”. Everything else should be a background on the slide. Students are not able to move any items within the background. 
  2. The “cards” that you want students to drag around the slide should be added to the margins on either side of the slide itself. This means that when students use the card sort, they should be in edit mode and not present mode. 
  3. Have all students make a copy of the slide deck.* If you have Google Classroom, create a copy for every student when you assign the card sort. If you do not use Google Classroom, you can force a copy for students. See video 3 below.
  4. If you want students to type, add a text box and type “Click here to type” or something similar so students know exactly where you want them to answer. 
  5. Create a directions slide so students know exactly what to do for each slide. Having directions on one slide gives you more space on each slide for the drag and drop. You could also provide instructions in the notes section of each slide. *Students need to make their own copy of the photoelectron spectroscopy (PES) card sort and the intermolecular forces card sort.  


Video 3: Force a Copy Using the Link, Samantha Ramaswamy's YouTube Channel (Aug 6, 2020)


Download two virtual card sorts: photoelectron spectroscopy (PES) card sort and intermolecular forces card sort.  



Brown, T. L., LeMay, H. E., Bursten, B. E., Murphy, C. J., Woodward, P. M., & Stoltzfus, M. (2015). Chemistry: The central science.

Photoelectron spectroscopy graph generator. (2013, May 24). Retrieved August 16, 2020, from

Acknowledgements: First, a big thank you to Stephanie O’Brien for the invitation to share this activity on ChemEd X. Thanks to the APTeach teacher leaders for the encouragement to share these digital card sorts with other teachers. Chad Husting’s blog post on card sorts helped me to reflect on what topics to utilize card sorts. The PES card sort was created with inspiration from Kristen Drury's blog post, and my transition to digital card sorts began after reading Melissa Hemling’s blog post on ChemEd X



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Comments 6

greg rushton's picture
greg rushton | Mon, 08/17/2020 - 21:24

Thanks for sharing with the ChemEdX community, it's great to see the two communities coming together. Exciting stuff for sure. gregor

Dana Hsi's picture
Dana Hsi | Thu, 08/20/2020 - 11:15

Thanks for sharing! Have you used Jamboard? I tried it this summer during a training, and it was pretty slick. My district only uses Microsoft, and there is a (clumsy) way to set backgrounds in PowerPoint too... working on it now!

I have a similar "memory" game cart sort that I use in 1st year chem (element name, e-config, ring-structure electron picture). Last year, some kids were playing Go Fish with them, which I thought was brilliant. I really like adding the PES.

Samantha Ramaswamy's picture
Samantha Ramaswamy | Thu, 08/20/2020 - 15:08

Hi Dana! I have used Jamboard is some trainings, but I haven't used it with students. Jamboard is definitely another option that I could use for the card sorts. I chose Google Slides initially because not all districts give access to Jamboard. I might try out Jamboard for the next card sort that I create!

I love the idea of playing Go Fish! When students are having fun playing games, they aren't even thinking about how much they're learning! :) 

Glad this was useful for you! 

Melissa Hemling's picture
Melissa Hemling | Fri, 08/21/2020 - 21:55

I enjoyed the blog post Sam! I love how you follow up the activity with a free response question in AP Chemistry!  Love it!  In Google Slides I sometimes put in another slide after the student card sort slide where I create an answer key by sorting the cards. Then I draw a box on top of it to hide the card sort answer from view. I instruct the students to delete the box to check their answers when done. I just discovered that Desmos has a card sort feature that is free. After you make the card sort, you can enter an answer key and it will auto-grade the card sort and summarize the common mistakes for the teacher. I think I may try it out this fall for card sorts I do asynchronously with students.  Check it out here: DESMOS 

Suchetha Srikanthan | Sun, 08/23/2020 - 13:39

Thank you for sharing how to create card sorts with Google Slides. 


Michele Drayton | Wed, 08/26/2020 - 08:50

Your post and videos encouraged me to stay up late to create a practice card sort for a kindergartener; thank you!