Card Sort

A simple exercise to spark a deeper conversation about what the people you are designing for value, prioritize, and why.

Photo of Lisa Parish
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Create a deck of cards, with words or pictures, based on your interview/research objective. My focus was to determine what mattered most to my students. I chose to use simple pictures on the cards. 

Next, I asked the student to rank the cards according to what is most important to them. I used the Card Sort as the hook to spark deeper conversations about what the student valued, and why.  I began with broad questions, focusing on the who, what, when, where, why and how starters that fostered a more natural conversation and led to more personal stories.

I found the Card Sort to be an effective way to interview my students who I just met. Sometimes, students like to tell their teachers what they think we want to hear, and this was especially true for me since I did it right at the start of the year (4th day of school). Whether it's the start of the year, or smack in the middle, the Card Sort is a great option to give your students a tactile, visual exercise that may feel less daunting than "Can we sit down and talk I would like to interview you?"  

As their stories were going deeper, every student kept looking back at the way they sorted their cards. Whether it was for a sense of security, a reminder of their own mental models, or just because most kids are highly visual; using the Cards was highly effective for me to conduct my interviews.

Note: It is helpful to also mix in some more abstract ideas as it can provide additional information on how our students' prioritize what matters the most to them.


[Optional] Synthesize a little! In one sentence, describe something you learned from your empathy exercises or research.

Students value relationships with family, friends, and their relationship with Earth more than cell phones, cars, and many of the hobbies they love. The disconnect: "Community" was prioritized low; many students question the authenticity of relationships at school .

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Photo of Jennifer Bartell

It's so refreshing to hear that students value family, friends, and their relationship with Earth more than material things! I wonder too if they could do the card sort with one another to get to know their classmates. :-)

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