5 Ordering Exercises to Help Students Memorize Information and Analyze Course Material

active learning teaching strategies critical thinking

Here are 5 ordering exercises to help students memorize information and analyze course material.

Putting information in order is a simple, yet effective strategy to promote memorization, encourage analysis, and assess learning. It’s a flexible strategy that can be used with any class size in any discipline. You can use technology (or not) and you can make it as simple or complex as you want.

You can use ordering exercises at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of class. It works just as well in person as it does online. And, throughout the process, you can see students involved in the process of constructing ideas, making connections, and assessing their own learning.

How ordering helps with memorization:

Sometimes, information just needs to be memorized and putting that information in an order can help students recall it when they need it. Maybe you’ve created a mnemonic device or song to help you remember the order of something.

I remember learning the order of the planets by using the phrase “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” (and yes, Pluto was a planet when I was a kid and it will always be a planet to me! #planetpluto).


How ordering helps with analysis:

As students arrange information in order, they are analyzing what they know about that piece of information.

What do they know about it?

What do they need to know about it?

Where does it fit into the process, model, or framework?

What’s missing?

How does the information change if it’s out of order?

Depending on the type of information and the level of complexity, students will naturally analyze information and look for patterns as they seek to make sense of the content.

How ordering helps with assessment:

If you watch students as they work on putting information in order, you will see them testing, experimenting, analyzing, and re-testing ideas.

They will start with what they know (it might be the third or fourth part of the process) and then they’ll fill in the information until they are satisfied with the final result. If they are working in a group, they’ll discuss it, reflect on it, debate it, and then come to an agreement about the final answer.

It’s fascinating to watch and listen to this process. You will immediately pick up on the places where students are confused or struggling and it will help you provide more support to your students where they need it most.

As you think about your own course material, consider what types of information students can put in an order.

Here are 5 ordering exercises to help students memorize information and analyze course material:

Strategy 1: Give students a list of ideas that are already listed in order and ask them to guess how the ideas are ordered. Let’s use my planets example:

Q:  What order are the planets listed in? Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto

A: The planets are listed in order of their distance from the sun (near to far).

Q: What order are the planets listed in? Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Earth, Mars, Mercury, Pluto.

A: The planets are listed in order of size (largest to smallest).

Strategy 2: 
Give students a list of ideas that are out of order and ask them to put the ideas in the correct order. Example:

Q: Put these sections of a research paper in the correct order: Title, Introduction, Discussion, Results, Methods, Recommendations, Abstract, Resources.

A: Title, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, Recommendations, Resources

Strategy 3: Give students a list of ideas that can be ordered correctly in more than one way.

Then, ask students to put the ideas in order and then debate and justify their reasoning for the order. Example:

Q: When preparing the intake form for a new client, you should first: (1) Get contact information; (2) get insurance information; (3) ask if he/she is in any pain; (4) ask what medications he/she is taking; (5) confirm his/her name.

A: Group A argues that the correct order should be: (5) confirm patient’s name; (3) ask if he/she is in any pain; (4) ask what medications he/she is taking; (1) get contact information; (2) get insurance information. But Group B argues that it’s more important to know if the patient is any pain before worrying about his/her name. Class discussion begins…

Strategy 4:
If students will be required to perform a procedure or task and the order of the steps is important, demonstrate the procedure and mix up the order.

After the demonstration, ask questions such as:

  1. Which steps of the procedure were performed out of order?

  2. What would be the result of performing the procedures in this order?

  3. How would you fix this error if you realized you skipped a step?

  4. Which steps do think are confused most often? What can we do to prevent that?

  5. How did you feel when you noticed I missed a step? Why didn’t you ask me to pause or correct me in the middle of the process?

Strategy 5: Use an ordering exercise to encourage reflection. Examples:

  1. At the end of class, ask students to list the main lecture topics in order from the beginning of class to the end.

  2. Ask students to write down a list of questions they have about this chapter’s content and sort their questions from “urgent” to “not urgent.” (Then use class time, discussion forums, or recitation sessions to address those “urgent” questions.)

  3. Ask students to list the order of the characters who appeared first in the opening of the novel.
  1. Show students a process or formula on the screen/board and ask them to consider which steps are out of order (you could leave out a step or not…see if they are confident in their response that nothing is missing or wrong with the formula as it is written.)


More Ways to Put Information in Order:

Size: smallest to largest, largest to smallest

Date: oldest to newest, newest to oldest

Distance: shortest to longest, longest to shortest

Cost: most expensive to least expensive

Probability: least likely to occur to most likely to occur

Level: easy to difficult, difficult to easy

Level: simple to complex

Date: past to present, or present to past

Color: lightest to darkest, darkest to lightest

Size: heaviest to lightest, lightest to heaviest

Order: first to last, last to first

Size: tallest to shortest, shortest to tallest


Putting information in order can help students memorize steps and processes, but this strategy can also be used to help students assess their own learning, organize information, and think critically about the course content. You can make the activity simple (basic recall of information) or complex (debate the order and justify your decision). And, it can be used in any course, in any format, and with any topic.


Atkinson, N. (2015). Tricks to remember the planets. Universe Today. Available online: https://www.universetoday.com/33136/tricks-to-remember-the-planets/