The Troll Tree

I wanted to introduce using a tree diagram in sorting this week. I thought it would help children to think of different ways of sorting and encourage the thinking skills through working out how someone else has sorted a collection of objects. Tree diagrams don’t really install excitement in four and five year olds though so I made a story to go with it. 

As a child of the mid 80s/early 90s I have a soft spot for trolls. So I thought I’d use a troll to help me make the tree diagram a bit more fun. 

This is my troll. 


He’s a bit grubby  and isn’t one of the ones with the jewel in its belly button but the children were excited. I asked them where the trolls live (in a tree now that’s to the recent animated movie). I explained that my troll likes collecting things but that he is very picky. He has rules about what he would like to collect. He uses his tree branches to help him sort. 


The children picked an object each from a box of sorting toys. One at a time they walked their object up the tree and the troll said yes or no, directing the object to the right branch. The children then had to work out what it was that the troll was collecting. It started off easy… green things, bears…. and then it got trickier. The thinking, excitement and language was brilliant for what could’ve been quite a dry activity. 

They particularly shone with comments like “why does the troll only want bugs?” “I think the troll only wants flying stuff” 

They were able to start to predict if the troll would say yes or no to each item once they had an idea of what the rule was. Sometimes they were proved right. Sometimes they had to rethink because the troll let something in they didn’t expect or ruled out something they thought he would like. 

I had eight at a time in this little group activity. After each sort we went trough the criteria verbally – 

bugs / not bugs 

purple/ not purple

With Wheels / not with wheels

Then they took it in turns to be the troll and decide their own rule. 

This lesson was a hit with the children and with me. Definitely going to use it again as we progress on to two criteria sorts. 

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