A Starter Kit for Differentiated Instruction

November 19, 2014

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You have probably come to this article for one of two reasons: Either you want to start differentiating instruction in your classroom and don’t know where to start, or you already differentiate, but want to see if you’re missing anything. I have combed through tons of online resources on how to differentiate instruction, and have put together this collection of the clearest, most high-quality resources for learning how to differentiate in your classroom. Off we go, then!

Step 1: Learn the Basics


In addition to explaining basic principles, the book shows you how to manage a differentiated classroom, teaches you specific strategies, and lets you peek inside a few sample differentiated classrooms so you can see how all the parts work together. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough…get it!

Step 2: Watch Real Teachers Differentiate

Reading about how to differentiate on paper is helpful, but seeing other teachers actually doing it will give you a far better understanding of how to implement the strategies in your own classroom.

This Edutopia video shows how one school has set up a system they call Reteach and Enrich , where time is built into the schedule every day to reteach students who haven’t met learning targets or provide enrichment activities for those who have. Watching this process in action makes it really clear HOW to make it work:

In this Teaching Channel video (click below), high school math teacher Maria Barchi demonstrates how she tiers instruction by giving different exit slips to students based on their mastery of a lesson, then adjusts instruction the following day based on their responses:

differentiated instruction video

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Below, second grade teacher Robert Pronovost shows how he uses two separate online programs , Planet Turtle and Dreambox, to meet students’ individual needs in 2nd grade math (Teaching Channel):

differentiated instruction video

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The next video shows 5th grade teacher Stacy Brewer demonstrating how she  differentiates process for readiness in writing responses to a text: Because this group of ELL students needs additional help, she works with them while the rest of the class responds to their questions independently (Teaching Channel).

differentiated instruction video

Finally, this Teaching Channel video shows how Mary Vagenas uses Learning Menus to differentiate in her 7th grade Social Studies class:

differentiated instruction video

Step 3: Gather Differentiation Tools

Once you understand the basic principles of differentiation, it’s a good idea to have a few basic tools on hand.

Task Cards What are task cards? They are all the rage in some classrooms: The basic idea is that you take tasks and questions that might normally appear on worksheets and put them onto laminated cards (one item per card), which allows you to better individualize instruction, set up centers, and group students according to need (plus, you can re-use them year after year!). You can make your own or browse through thousands on Teachers Pay Teachers . This free e-book by Rachel Lynette explains how to use them in detail:

differentiated instruction video

Tiered Lesson Template This blog post from Marsha McGuire at A Differentiated Kindergarten  shows you how to plan a tiered lesson and includes an editable template. Even though the featured classroom is a kindergarten, Marsha’s system would work effectively with all age groups.

Using Color to Help You Tier Differentiated Activities

Learning Menus This packet from the University of Virginia Curry School of Education teaches you how to create learning menus or choice menus, which offer students a variety of learning activities to choose from, depending on their interests and learning profiles.

Choice Menus  (PDF)

Further Reading

There’s No Time to Differentiate: Myth-Busting DI, Part 2 by John McCarthy This Edutopia article discusses some of the myths about and objections to differentiation.

Dr. Kathie Nunley’s Layered Curriculum This website is based entirely on the Layered Curriculum philosophy. Somewhere between a learning menu and a tiered unit, a layered curriculum looks like an interesting take on differentiation and is worth a look once you’ve got the basics down.

What to Read Next

differentiated instruction video

Categories: Instruction

Tags: differentiation , lesson planning , teaching strategies


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Soy profesora de nivel elemental en PR y ahora este tema ha incrementado..,me gustaria conocer mas alternativas.Gracias

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Con la ayuda de Google Translate , estoy en condiciones de responder a su comentario – perdonar los errores de gramática ! Yo sugeriría que lea el libro de Carol Tomlinson ( se recomienda más arriba ) para las estrategias más específicas .

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This is what I’ve been looking for. Thank you so much. My team is going to change the way we look at our data and plan our instruction.

That’s awesome, T.D. Thanks for letting me know.

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One thing I cannot seem to find an answer to when it comes to differentiating is how to grade and keep up the grade book. Any insight to this?

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One thing to try to keep in mind is what differentiation is and what it isn’t. Differentiation is about using formative assessments to attend to the learning needs of a student or group of students. For example: In math, some kids might benefit from using counting manipulatives or a number line when practicing counting on from the larger number. In writing, some kids might benefit from using a graphic organizer to plan out ideas. For kids who need support with word spacing/motor planning, I’ve provided paper with word lines on it. Determining what a child needs to help them get to that next step is at the heart of differentiation.

Here’s another article about what differentiation is and what it isn’t that you might want to check out. As far as managing grades, take a look at Kiddom: Standards-Based Grading Made Wonderful and How Accurate Are Your Grades? I hope this helps.

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This was a helpful introduction. Thank you! Your explanations with the embedded videos helped me to understand more clearly. I think some teachers in primary grades have done this in various ways for a long time but didn’t have a name for it. It’s SO great to see it being stressed in 4th-8th grade classrooms as well.

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This was such a helpful blog. I particularly loved the math one, as I am a math teacher. I was wondering if you have any suggestions for how to differentiate within the context of a rotational model in a middle grades math classroom. Thanks so much!

Wow, that’s a great question. I’m not sure if this answers it, but you might want to check out our posts on working with playlists , hyperdocs , and this one about a middle school self-paced math class . I hope these help!

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Hello – did you ever get the samples of high quality lesson plans using differentiation? I would love to see them!

I work for Cult of Pedagogy and wanted to let you know that unfortunately, we really just haven’t gotten a lot of response.

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Thanks for the wealth of information!!

I looked up your recommendation for Tomlison’s book – How to Differentiate Instruction and I noticed that she also wrote a book called “How to Differentiate Instructon in Academically Diverse Classrooms.”

I teach ESL to college level students and am wondering which book would be more helpful.

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Sara –

Having read both books for my master’s program, I can tell you that they are almost two sides of the same coin. Both are really good “differentiation bibles”, so you’re not going to go wrong with either one as far as the differentiation goes. I would lean a little more towards the academically diverse classroom book, however, if you’re teaching ESL, as that book goes a little more in detail regarding how to accommodate wide skill gaps and academically challenging situations. The other book is more of a general handbook for differentiation.

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Another great resource from the Cult of Pedagogy. Thank you!!!

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I think that this is a nice example in a school that has the advantage of multiple teachers in a grade level, but how would you suggest differentiating if you teach multiple grade levels and are the only person teaching your subject? I teach at a K-8 school, and I teach 6th, 7th, and 8th grade ELA and I’m the only ELA teacher. I have multiple abilities in a grade level at a time, and usually when I get my 6th graders, they are several grade levels below in reading. I always have a few that are several levels above as well. I know that I’m probably in a good position to differentiate, but I’m struggling at it.

Hi! Differentiating can seem daunting, but if you keep in mind that it isn’t about creating 29 different lessons for 29 kids, but rather about offering choices and choosing intentional teaching strategies, it can feel a lot less overwhelming. For example, let’s say you introduce theme in a whole class lesson. Differentiation happens in the way kids practice the concept. Some kids may want to choose from their independent reading books, others might benefit from listening to an audio book or podcast. Another student might benefit from listening to an audio book that they can also follow along with visually. Or you might choose a NewsEla article that you want the whole class to read, while letting kids choose the article’s reading level. While kids are practicing, you might need to meet 1:1 or with a small group to offer more guidance and modeling. You might find that some kids need more instruction (see youtube videos) or need help organizing their ideas via graphic organizers, post its, etc. Some kids might be more successful working individually in a different part of the room, while others might work with a partner. The bottom line is that everyone can be working on the same concept, but formative data is going to drive the choices and instructional strategies. Here’s another article that might be helpful, but I also really recommend investing in Carol Tomlinson’s book if you haven’t already done so.

There are also a ton of resources on our Differentiation Pinterest board . See what might be relevant. Also take a look at the posts in our English Language Arts category. Something like One-Pagers could be successfully completed by all kids regardless of reading level. Hope this helps!

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This information is very helpful for identifying the strategies used for differentiation in class and also to see and learn different strategies used in class environment. It is also good to see that we, teachers, have been doing some of these strategies without realizing them. Thanks for that.

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This was very helpful information with a surplus of resources! I find the reteach and enrich concept particularly helpful as students in every class are at different levels. I have worked in an ESL classroom where there are students that are “newcomers” with limited English skills and highly advanced speakers all within the same class. I think building in a time block for reteaching concepts to certain students and providing enrichment opportunities for others is the best way to tailor learning concepts for each individual student to their level.

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I particularly enjoyed learning about the Reteach and Enrich program. It has reaffirmed what my colleague and I are currently doing. Thanks

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I have multple intelligence in my class and so i find reteaching very helpful. I also appreciate the additional resources.

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Differentiated instruction really helps children to be skillful and confident with their content. As we have our own teaching styles, it is important for us to understand that students have their own learning styles.

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I have always worked with students in which Differentiated instruction was needed and made a difference in how the students grasped the skills that were being taught. Although I have always used these skills as I taught my students, I find that this information was very informative.

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Thank you, Jacqueline. Jenn will be happy to know that you found this useful.

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very informative

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Because differences are our greatest strength

What is differentiated instruction?

differentiated instruction video

By Geri Coleman Tucker

Expert reviewed by Kylah Torre

A teacher helps students with their schoolwork.

At a glance

Differentiated instruction is a teaching approach that tailors instruction to students’ different learning needs.

It lets students show what they know in different ways.

It doesn’t replace the goals in a child’s IEP or 504 plan.

Differentiated instruction is a teaching approach that tailors instruction to all students’ learning needs. All the students have the same learning goal. But the instruction varies based on students’ interests, preferences, strengths, and struggles.

Instead of teaching the whole group in one way (like a lecture), a teacher uses a bunch of different methods. This can include teaching students in small groups or in one-on-one sessions. 

Students have “multiple options for taking in information, making sense of ideas, and expressing what they learn,” says Carol Ann Tomlinson, an educator who has done innovative work in this area .

According to Tomlinson, there are four areas where teachers can differentiate instruction:

Content: Figuring out what a student needs to learn and which resources will help

Process: Activities that help students make sense of what they learn

Projects: Ways for students to “show what they know”

Learning environment: How the classroom “feels” and how the class works together

This approach works well with the response to intervention (RTI) process used in some schools. The goal of RTI is to address learning struggles early. Students get extra support before they fall behind their peers.

Dive deeper

How differentiated instruction works.

Differentiated instruction can play out differently from one classroom to the next — and from one school to the next. But there are a few key features:

Small work groups: The students in each group rotate in and out. This gives them a chance to participate in many different groups. A group can include a pair of students or a larger group. In all cases, it’s an opportunity for students to learn from each other.

Reciprocal learning: Sometimes students become teachers, sharing what they’ve learned and asking classmates questions.

Continual assessment: Teachers regularly monitor students’ strengths and weaknesses (in both formal and informal ways) to make sure they’re progressing in their knowledge and mastery of schoolwork.

Educators, learn more about how to use flexible grouping with small groups.

Differentiated instruction and special education

A teacher uses differentiated instruction to give every student multiple paths to learning. That includes students with Individualized Education Programs ( IEPs ) or 504 plans . 

Differentiated instruction doesn’t replace the goals in an IEP or a 504 plan. Instead, the teacher personalizes teaching to help kids meet those goals.

Learn more about setting annual IEP goals .

How it compares to other approaches

Differentiated instruction is not the same as individualized instruction. That type of teaching changes the pace of how students learn. It also requires an individual approach for each student, which isn’t the case with differentiation.

Differentiated instruction is also different from personalized learning. With personalized learning, students have their own learning profiles and paths to follow.

Find out more about personalized learning and the difference between individualized instruction and differentiated instruction .

What to watch out for

Critics say differentiated instruction doesn’t work in every classroom. If there are too many students in a class, or if the teacher isn’t experienced with the approach, the classroom can get distracting and chaotic. It can also be time-consuming for teachers.

Other critics say that differentiated instruction is a reaction to students’ needs. They say educators should use Universal Design for Learning to proactively create an environment that suits all students’ needs.

Discover more about Universal Design for Learning . 

Explore related topics

differentiated instruction video

Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction involves teaching in a way that meets the different needs and interests of students using varied course content, activities, and assessments.

Teaching differently to different students

Differentiated Instruction (DI) is fundamentally the attempt to teach differently to different students, rather than maintain a one-size-fits-all approach to instruction. Other frameworks, such as Universal Design for Learning , enjoin instructors to give students broad choice and agency to meet their diverse needs and interests. DI distinctively emphasizes instructional methods to promote learning for students entering a course with different readiness for, interest in, and ways of engaging with course learning based on their prior learning experiences ( Dosch and Zidon 2014). 

Successful implementation of DI requires ongoing training, assessment, and monitoring (van Geel et al. 2019) and has been shown to be effective in meeting students’ different needs, readiness levels, and interests (Turner et al. 2017). Below, you can find six categories of DI instructional practices that span course design and live teaching.

While some of the strategies are best used together, not all of them are meant to be used at once, as the flexibility inherent to these approaches means that some of them are diverging when used in combination (e.g., constructing homogenous student groups necessitates giving different types of activities and assessments; constructing heterogeneous student groups may pair well with peer tutoring) (Pozas et al. 2020). The learning environment the instructor creates with students has also been shown to be an important part of successful DI implementation (Shareefa et al. 2019). 

Differentiated Assessment

Differentiated assessment is an aspect of Differentiated Instruction that focuses on tailoring the ways in which students can demonstrate their progress to their varied strengths and ways of learning. Instead of testing recall of low-level information, instructors should focus on the use of knowledge and complex reasoning. Differentiation should inform not only the design of instructors’ assessments, but also how they interpret the results and use them to inform their DI practices. 

More Team Project Ideas

Steps to consider

There are generally considered to be six categories of useful differentiated instruction and assessment practices (Pozas & Schneider 2019):

  • Making assignments that have tasks and materials that are qualitatively and/or quantitatively varied (according to “challenge level, complexity, outcome, process, product, and/or resources”) (IP Module 2: Integrating Peer-to-Peer Learning) It’s helpful to assess student readiness and interest by collecting data at the beginning of the course, as well as to conduct periodic check-ins throughout the course (Moallemi 2023 & Pham 2011)
  • Making student working groups that are intentionally chosen (that are either homogeneous or heterogeneous based on “performance, readiness, interests, etc.”) (IP Module 2: Integrating Peer-to-Peer Learning) Examples of how to make different student groups provided by Stanford CTL  (Google Doc)
  • Making tutoring systems within the working group where students teach each other (IP Module 2: Integrating Peer-to-Peer Learning) For examples of how to support peer instruction, and the benefits of doing so, see for example Tullis & Goldstone 2020 and Peer Instruction for Active Learning (LSA Technology Services, University of Michigan)
  • Making non-verbal learning aids that are staggered to provide support to students in helping them get to the next step in the learning process (only the minimal amount of information that is needed to help them get there is provided, and this step is repeated each time it’s needed) (IP Module 4: Making Success Accessible) Non-verbal cue cards support students’ self-regulation, as they can monitor and control their progress as they work (Pozas & Schneider 2019)
  • Making instructional practices that ensure all students meet at least the minimum standards and that more advanced students meet higher standards , which involves monitoring students’ learning process carefully (IP Module 4: Making Success Accessible; IP Module 5: Giving Inclusive Assessments) This type of approach to student assessment can be related to specifications grading, where students determine the grade they want and complete the modules that correspond to that grade, offering additional motivation to and reduced stress for students and additional flexibility and time-saving practices to instructors (Hall 2018)
  • Making options that support student autonomy in being responsible for their learning process and choosing material to work on (e.g., students can choose tasks, project-based learning, portfolios, and/or station work, etc.) (IP Module 4: Making Success Accessible) This option, as well as the others, fits within a general Universal Design Learning framework , which is designed to improve learning for everyone using scientific insights about human learning

Hall, M (2018). “ What is Specifications Grading and Why Should You Consider Using It? ” The Innovator Instructor blog, John Hopkins University Center for Teaching Excellence and Innovation.

Moallemi, R. (2023). “ The Relationship between Differentiated Instruction and Learner Levels of Engagement at University .” Journal of Research in Integrated Teaching and Learning (ahead of print).

Pham, H. (2011). “ Differentiated Instruction and the Need to Integrate Teaching and Practice .” Journal of College Teaching and Learning , 9(1), 13-20.

Pozas, M. & Schneider, C. (2019). " Shedding light into the convoluted terrain of differentiated instruction (DI): Proposal of a taxonomy of differentiated instruction in the heterogeneous classroom ." Open Education Studies , 1, 73–90.

Pozas, M., Letzel, V. and Schneider, C. (2020). " Teachers and differentiated instruction: exploring differentiation practices to address student diversity ." Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs , 20: 217-230.

Shareefa, M. et al. (2019). “ Differentiated Instruction: Definition and Challenging Factors Perceived by Teachers .” Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Special Education (ICSE 2019). 

Tullis, J.G. & Goldstone, R.L. (2020). “ Why does peer instruction benefit student learning? ”, Cognitive Research 5 .

Turner, W.D., Solis, O.J., and Kincade, D.H. (2017). “ Differentiating Instruction for Large Classes in Higher Education ”, International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education , 29(3), 490-500.

van Geel, M., Keuning, T., Frèrejean, J., Dolmans, D., van Merriënboer, J., & Visscher A.J. (2019). “Capturing the complexity of differentiated instruction”, School Effectiveness and School Improvement , 30:1, 51-67, DOI: 10.1080/09243453.2018.1539013

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What Is Differentiated Instruction?

It’s all about teaching so all kids are engaged in learning.

What is differentiated instruction

By now, differentiation is everyday practice. The fact is, if you have a group of 20 students, you have 20 different personalities, interests, and approaches to learning. Differentiated instruction is a way of thinking about how to meet the needs of all students in your classroom and make sure every student learns. 

What is differentiated instruction?

Differentiation means adjusting what is taught, how it’s taught, what students produce, and adjusting the classroom environment to meet the needs of all students in your class. It’s a proactive approach to addressing learners’ needs. Differentiated instruction means that each student is working on content that they need to learn and on projects or activities that engage them. It’s not a strategy but a framework for how teachers approach planning and delivering lessons. 

Carol Ann Tomlinson first defined the ideas behind differentiated instruction in the 1990s, and it quickly gained traction. Tomlinson identified how teachers should think about differentiated instruction while planning, considering three ways to think about students (readiness, interest, and learning profile) and four ways to differentiate (content, process, product, and learning environment) to customize in their classrooms.

Differentiation can be as simple as pulling together small groups that are working on the same reading skill, or as complex as having 20 students working on 20 different projects. How you differentiate and what it looks like will depend on the lesson’s objectives and the students you have. 

How do teachers implement differentiated instruction?

As teachers use differentiated instruction, first they take student characteristics into account. Then they plan for learning using the four aspects of differentiation.

Student characteristics

Student readiness.

Each student will arrive at a new topic with a different level of knowledge and competency. Teachers gauge which skills students are ready to learn and what knowledge they already have before planning instruction. For example, a pre-test on the water cycle may show a teacher which students are familiar with the water cycle vocabulary and which need to be pre-taught important words before the main lesson.

Student interest

Student interest refers to students’ inherent passions and preferences. Yes, teachers need to cover the standards and topics for the grade, but knowing what students are interested in can shape how those topics are covered. For example, when studying extreme weather, a teacher who knows that many students are interested in engineering may offer students the choice of learning how weather events impact buildings around the world.

student interest survey, what is differentiated instruction

One way to understand your students’ interests is by administering a student survey .

Learning profiles

A learning profile is not a learning style . Instead, it is the combination of aptitudes and preferences that students bring to a lesson and how they approach their learning. A student’s learning profile impacts whether they will choose to write an essay or create a diorama, for example.

Planning for differentiation

Once teachers know who they are teaching, then Tomlinson outlines four ways they can differentiate.

differentiated instruction video

Content refers to how students access information or what the student is provided with to learn. Some ways to differentiate for content include:

  • Using leveled reading materials
  • Recording text into an audio file
  • Using spelling or vocabulary lists that are at students’ levels
  • Presenting ideas visually or auditorily
  • Using small groups to re-teach or pre-teach skills

Process refers to the activities the student does to master content. Some ways to differentiate the process include:

  • Allowing students to explore topics that interest them
  • Providing differing lengths of time to complete projects
  • Creating personal to-do lists
  • Providing hands-on materials for students

Product is what the student produces to show their learning. Ways to differentiate for product include:

  • Providing options for how students express what they learn (a speech, written report, diagram with labels)
  • Using rubrics that provide clear criteria for mastery and extension
  • Providing students with the option of working together or alone

Learning environment

The learning environment is the space where students learn, typically the school and classroom. Ways to differentiate the learning environment include:

  • Creating different spaces to work
  • Providing materials that are diverse 
  • Setting clear guidelines for independent work
  • Letting some students work alone while others work in groups
  • Having routines that allow students to get help when teachers are busy with other students

Does differentiated instruction work?

The goal of differentiated instruction is to meet the needs of all students, including English-language learners, gifted students, and students with IEPs. 

Differentiated instruction includes evidence-based strategies like:

  • Effective classroom management
  • Grouping students for instruction
  • Assessing student readiness
  • Teaching at students’ Zone of Proximal Development

As a practice, differentiated instruction does not have a strong research base, meaning that there are not enough research studies that show that differentiated instruction does or does not produce results in student achievement. However, more evidence is being produced that shows it has a positive impact on student learning. 

We do know that differentiated instruction incorporates lots of best practices and practices that do move the needle for students. For example, we know that:

  • When teachers differentiate instruction for students with specific needs (English-language learners, gifted students, and students with disabilities), all students in the class benefit.  
  • Differentiated instruction particularly benefits students with learning disabilities. 
  • When students participated in a reading program that incorporated differentiated instruction, they scored higher than students that participated in a reading program without differentiation. 

Ways To Differentiate Instruction

There are countless ways to differentiate. Here are five awesome ideas to start with.

Pre-teach vocabulary

vocabulary practice worksheet

Pre-teach vocabulary and differentiate how you teach vocabulary with these printable vocabulary worksheets .

Teach a color-coding strategy

paper about sharks with sentences highlighted in different colors

Use this color-coding strategy to help students identify and focus on various parts of a text.

Stock your library

A differentiated classroom should include books that are at varying reading levels and that are culturally diverse and relevant for students . When your library is differentiated, students have the content they need already on the shelves.

Use choice boards

example of a choice board for differentiated instruction

Choice boards allow students to choose how they show what they know. Create your choice boards based on what you know engages students, whether that’s creating online presentations or breaking out the art supplies.

Learn more: How one teacher uses choice boards

Provide flexible seating

Mixing up how and where students sit to work, read, and discuss brings differentiation into your learning environment. Flexible seating doesn’t have to be expensive though. Check out the video above to learn to make flexible seating using pool noodles and some DIY skills.

Learn more: Best Flexible Seating Options

Check out this list of even more Differentiated Instruction Strategies to try in your classroom.

Must-Read Differentiated Instruction Professional Development Books

How to differentiate instruction in academically diverse classrooms by carol ann tomlinson.

book cover how to differentiate instruction

Buy it: How To Differentiate Instruction in Academically Diverse Classrooms

The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners by Carol Ann Tomlinson

book cover the differentiated classroom

Buy it: The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners

Differentiation in Middle & High School by Kristina Doubet and Jessica Hockett

book cover differentiation in middle and high school

Buy it: Differentiation in Middle & High School

Have questions about differentiated instruction and how to use it in your classroom? Join the We Are Teachers HELPLINE group on Facebook to exchange ideas and ask for advice!

Teachers hear a lot about differentiated instruction, but what does it really mean? Find out what it is and how to use it here.

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What is Differentiated Instruction? Examples of How to Differentiate Instruction in the Classroom

Just as everyone has a unique fingerprint, every student has an individual learning style. Chances are, not all of your students grasp a subject in the same way or share the same level of ability. So how can you better deliver your lessons to reach everyone in class? Consider differentiated instruction—a method you may have heard about but haven’t explored, which is why you’re here. In this article, learn exactly what it means, how it works, and the pros and cons.

Infographic: What is differentiated instruction? Carol Ann Tomlinson is a leader in the area of differentiated learning and professor of educational leadership, foundations, and policy at the University of Virginia. Tomlinson describes differentiated instruction as factoring students’ individual learning styles and levels of readiness first before designing a lesson plan. Four ways to differentiate instruction: Content, product, process, and learning environment. Pros and cons of differentiated instruction.

Definition of differentiated instruction

Carol Ann Tomlinson is a leader in the area of differentiated learning and professor of educational leadership, foundations, and policy at the University of Virginia. Tomlinson describes differentiated instruction as factoring students’ individual learning styles and levels of readiness first before designing a lesson plan. Research on the effectiveness of differentiation shows this method benefits a wide range of students, from those with learning disabilities to those who are considered high ability.

Differentiating instruction may mean teaching the same material to all students using a variety of instructional strategies, or it may require the teacher to deliver lessons at varying levels of difficulty based on the ability of each student.

Teachers who practice differentiation in the classroom may:

  • Design lessons based on students’ learning styles.
  • Group students by shared interest, topic, or ability for assignments.
  • Assess students’ learning using formative assessment.
  • Manage the classroom to create a safe and supportive environment.
  • Continually assess and adjust lesson content to meet students’ needs.

History of differentiated instruction

The roots of differentiated instruction go all the way back to the days of the one-room schoolhouse, where one teacher had students of all ages in one classroom. As the educational system transitioned to grading schools, it was assumed that children of the same age learned similarly. However in 1912, achievement tests were introduced, and the scores revealed the gaps in student’s abilities within grade levels.

In 1975, Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), ensuring that children with disabilities had equal access to public education. To reach this student population, many educators used differentiated instruction strategies. Then came the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2000, which further encouraged differentiated and skill-based instruction—and that’s because it works. Research by educator Leslie Owen Wilson supports differentiating instruction within the classroom, finding that lecture is the least effective instructional strategy, with only 5 to 10 percent retention after 24 hours. Engaging in a discussion, practicing after exposure to content, and teaching others are much more effective ways to ensure learning retention.

Four ways to differentiate instruction

According to Tomlinson, teachers can differentiate instruction through four ways: 1) content, 2) process, 3) product, and 4) learning environment.

As you already know, fundamental lesson content should cover the standards of learning set by the school district or state educational standards. But some students in your class may be completely unfamiliar with the concepts in a lesson, some students may have partial mastery, and some students may already be familiar with the content before the lesson begins.

What you could do is differentiate the content by designing activities for groups of students that cover various levels of  Bloom’s Taxonomy (a classification of levels of intellectual behavior going from lower-order thinking skills to higher-order thinking skills). The six levels are: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

Students who are unfamiliar with a lesson could be required to complete tasks on the lower levels: remembering and understanding. Students with some mastery could be asked to apply and analyze the content, and students who have high levels of mastery could be asked to complete tasks in the areas of evaluating and creating.

Examples of differentiating activities:

  • Match vocabulary words to definitions.
  • Read a passage of text and answer related questions.
  • Think of a situation that happened to a character in the story and a different outcome.
  • Differentiate fact from opinion in the story.
  • Identify an author’s position and provide evidence to support this viewpoint.
  • Create a PowerPoint presentation summarizing the lesson.

Each student has a preferred learning style, and successful differentiation includes delivering the material to each style: visual, auditory and kinesthetic, and through words. This process-related method also addresses the fact that not all students require the same amount of support from the teacher, and students could choose to work in pairs, small groups, or individually. And while some students may benefit from one-on-one interaction with you or the classroom aide, others may be able to progress by themselves. Teachers can enhance student learning by offering support based on individual needs.

Examples of differentiating the process:

  • Provide textbooks for visual and word learners.
  • Allow auditory learners to listen to audio books.
  • Give kinesthetic learners the opportunity to complete an interactive assignment online.

The product is what the student creates at the end of the lesson to demonstrate the mastery of the content. This can be in the form of tests, projects, reports, or other activities. You could assign students to complete activities that show mastery of an educational concept in a way the student prefers, based on learning style.

Examples of differentiating the end product:

  • Read and write learners write a book report.
  • Visual learners create a graphic organizer of the story.
  • Auditory learners give an oral report.
  • Kinesthetic learners build a diorama illustrating the story.

4. Learning environment

The conditions for optimal learning include both physical and psychological elements. A flexible classroom layout is key, incorporating various types of furniture and arrangements to support both individual and group work. Psychologically speaking, teachers should use classroom management techniques that support a safe and supportive learning environment.

Examples of differentiating the environment:

  • Break some students into reading groups to discuss the assignment.
  • Allow students to read individually if preferred.
  • Create quiet spaces where there are no distractions.

Pros and cons of differentiated instruction

The benefits of differentiation in the classroom are often accompanied by the drawback of an ever-increasing workload. Here are a few factors to keep in mind:

  • Research shows differentiated instruction is effective for high-ability students as well as students with mild to severe disabilities.
  • When students are given more options on how they can learn material, they take on more responsibility for their own learning.
  • Students appear to be more engaged in learning, and there are reportedly fewer discipline problems in classrooms where teachers provide differentiated lessons.
  • Differentiated instruction requires more work during lesson planning, and many teachers struggle to find the extra time in their schedule.
  • The learning curve can be steep and some schools lack professional development resources.
  • Critics argue there isn’t enough research to support the benefits of differentiated instruction outweighing the added prep time.

Differentiated instruction strategies

What differentiated instructional strategies can you use in your classroom? There are a set of methods that can be tailored and used across the different subjects. According to Kathy Perez (2019) and the Access Center those strategies are tiered assignments, choice boards, compacting, interest centers/groups, flexible grouping, and learning contracts. Tiered assignments are designed to teach the same skill but have the students create a different product to display their knowledge based on their comprehension skills. Choice boards allow students to choose what activity they would like to work on for a skill that the teacher chooses. On the board are usually options for the different learning styles; kinesthetic, visual, auditory, and tactile. Compacting allows the teacher to help students reach the next level in their learning when they have already mastered what is being taught to the class. To compact the teacher assesses the student’s level of knowledge, creates a plan for what they need to learn, excuses them from studying what they already know, and creates free time for them to practice an accelerated skill.

Interest centers or groups are a way to provide autonomy in student learning. Flexible grouping allows the groups to be more fluid based on the activity or topic.  Finally, learning contracts are made between a student and teacher, laying out the teacher’s expectations for the necessary skills to be demonstrated and the assignments required components with the student putting down the methods they would like to use to complete the assignment. These contracts can allow students to use their preferred learning style, work at an ideal pace and encourages independence and planning skills. The following are strategies for some of the core subject based on these methods.

Differentiated instruction strategies for math

  • Provide students with a choice board. They could have the options to learn about probability by playing a game with a peer, watching a video, reading the textbook, or working out problems on a worksheet.
  • Teach mini lessons to individuals or groups of students who didn’t grasp the concept you were teaching during the large group lesson. This also lends time for compacting activities for those who have mastered the subject.
  • Use manipulatives, especially with students that have more difficulty grasping a concept.
  • Have students that have already mastered the subject matter create notes for students that are still learning.
  • For students that have mastered the lesson being taught, require them to give in-depth, step-by-step explanation of their solution process, while not being rigid about the process with students who are still learning the basics of a concept if they arrive at the correct answer.

Differentiated instruction strategies for science

  • Emma McCrea (2019) suggests setting up “Help Stations,” where peers assist each other. Those that have more knowledge of the subject will be able to teach those that are struggling as an extension activity and those that are struggling will receive.
  • Set up a “question and answer” session during which learners can ask the teacher or their peers questions, in order to fill in knowledge gaps before attempting the experiment.
  • Create a visual word wall. Use pictures and corresponding labels to help students remember terms.
  • Set up interest centers. When learning about dinosaurs you might have an “excavation” center, a reading center, a dinosaur art project that focuses on their anatomy, and a video center.
  • Provide content learning in various formats such as showing a video about dinosaurs, handing out a worksheet with pictures of dinosaurs and labels, and providing a fill-in-the-blank work sheet with interesting dinosaur facts.

Differentiated instruction strategies for ELL

  • ASCD (2012) writes that all teachers need to become language teachers so that the content they are teaching the classroom can be conveyed to the students whose first language is not English.
  • Start by providing the information in the language that the student speaks then pairing it with a limited amount of the corresponding vocabulary in English.
  •  Although ELL need a limited amount of new vocabulary to memorize, they need to be exposed to as much of the English language as possible. This means that when teaching, the teacher needs to focus on verbs and adjectives related to the topic as well.
  • Group work is important. This way they are exposed to more of the language. They should, however, be grouped with other ELL if possible as well as given tasks within the group that are within their reach such as drawing or researching.

Differentiated instruction strategies for reading

  • Tiered assignments can be used in reading to allow the students to show what they have learned at a level that suites them. One student might create a visual story board while another student might write a book report. 
  • Reading groups can pick a book based on interest or be assigned based on reading level
  • Erin Lynch (2020) suggest that teachers scaffold instruction by giving clear explicit explanations with visuals. Verbally and visually explain the topic. Use anchor charts, drawings, diagrams, and reference guides to foster a clearer understanding. If applicable, provide a video clip for students to watch.
  • Utilize flexible grouping. Students might be in one group for phonics based on their assessed level but choose to be in another group for reading because they are more interested in that book.

Differentiated instruction strategies for writing

  • Hold writing conferences with your students either individually or in small groups. Talk with them throughout the writing process starting with their topic and moving through grammar, composition, and editing.
  • Allow students to choose their writing topics. When the topic is of interest, they will likely put more effort into the assignment and therefore learn more.
  • Keep track of and assess student’s writing progress continually throughout the year. You can do this using a journal or a checklist. This will allow you to give individualized instruction.
  • Hand out graphic organizers to help students outline their writing. Try fill-in-the-blank notes that guide the students through each step of the writing process for those who need additional assistance.
  • For primary grades give out lined paper instead of a journal. You can also give out differing amounts of lines based on ability level. For those who are excelling at writing give them more lines or pages to encourage them to write more. For those that are still in the beginning stages of writing, give them less lines so that they do not feel overwhelmed.

Differentiated instruction strategies for special education

  • Use a multi-sensory approach. Get all five senses involved in your lessons, including taste and smell!
  • Use flexible grouping to create partnerships and teach students how to work collaboratively on tasks. Create partnerships where the students are of equal ability, partnerships where once the student will be challenged by their partner and another time they will be pushing and challenging their partner.
  • Assistive technology is often an important component of differential instruction in special education. Provide the students that need them with screen readers, personal tablets for communication, and voice recognition software.
  • The article Differentiation & LR Information for SAS Teachers suggests teachers be flexible when giving assessments “Posters, models, performances, and drawings can show what they have learned in a way that reflects their personal strengths”. You can test for knowledge using rubrics instead of multiple-choice questions, or even build a portfolio of student work. You could also have them answer questions orally.
  • Utilize explicit modeling. Whether its notetaking, problem solving in math, or making a sandwich in home living, special needs students often require a step-by-step guide to make connections.

References and resources

  • https://www.thoughtco.com/differentiation-instruction-in-special-education-3111026
  • https://sites.google.com/site/lrtsas/differentiation/differentiation-techniques-for-special-education
  • https://www.solutiontree.com/blog/differentiated-reading-instruction/
  • https://www.readingrockets.org/article/differentiated-instruction-reading
  • https://www.sadlier.com/school/ela-blog/13-ideas-for-differentiated-reading-instruction-in-the-elementary-classroom
  • https://inservice.ascd.org/seven-strategies-for-differentiating-instruction-for-english-learners/
  • https://www.cambridge.org/us/education/blog/2019/11/13/three-approaches-differentiation-primary-science/
  • https://www.brevardschools.org/site/handlers/filedownload.ashx?moduleinstanceid=6174&dataid=8255&FileName=Differentiated_Instruction_in_Secondary_Mathematics.pdf

Books & Videos about differentiated instruction by Carol Ann Tomlinson and others

  • The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners, 2nd Edition
  • Leading and Managing a Differentiated Classroom – Carol Ann Tomlinson and Marcia B. Imbeau
  • The Differentiated School: Making Revolutionary Changes in Teaching and Learning – Carol Ann Tomlinson, Kay Brimijoin, and Lane Narvaez
  • Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design: Connecting Content and Kids – Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe
  • Differentiation in Practice Grades K-5: A Resource Guide for Differentiating Curriculum – Carol Ann Tomlinson and Caroline Cunningham Eidson
  • Differentiation in Practice Grades 5–9: A Resource Guide for Differentiating Curriculum – Carol Ann Tomlinson and Caroline Cunningham Eidson
  • Differentiation in Practice Grades 9–12: A Resource Guide for Differentiating Curriculum – Carol Ann Tomlinson and Cindy A. Strickland
  • Fulfilling the Promise of the Differentiated Classroom: Strategies and Tools for Responsive Teaching – Carol Ann Tomlinson
  • Leadership for Differentiating Schools and Classrooms – Carol Ann Tomlinson and Susan Demirsky Allan
  • How to Differentiate Instruction in Academically Diverse Classrooms, 3rd Edition by Carol Ann Tomlinson
  • Assessment and Student Success in a Differentiated Classroom by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Tonya R. Moon
  • How To Differentiate Instruction In Mixed Ability Classrooms 2nd Edition – Carol Ann Tomlinson
  • How to Differentiate Instruction in Academically Diverse Classrooms 3rd Edition by Carol Ann Tomlinson 
  • Assessment and Student Success in a Differentiated Classroom Paperback – Carol Ann Tomlinson, Tonya R. Moon
  • Leading and Managing a Differentiated Classroom (Professional Development) 1st Edition – Carol Ann Tomlinson, Marcia B. Imbeau
  • The Differentiated School: Making Revolutionary Changes in Teaching and Learning 1st Edition by Carol Ann Tomlinson, Kay Brimijoin, Lane Narvaez
  • Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom  – David A. Sousa, Carol Ann Tomlinson
  • Leading for Differentiation: Growing Teachers Who Grow Kids – Carol Ann Tomlinson, Michael Murphy
  • An Educator’s Guide to Differentiating Instruction. 10th Edition – Carol Ann Tomlinson, James M. Cooper
  • A Differentiated Approach to the Common Core: How do I help a broad range of learners succeed with a challenging curriculum? – Carol Ann Tomlinson, Marcia B. Imbeau
  • Managing a Differentiated Classroom: A Practical Guide – Carol Tomlinson, Marcia Imbeau
  • Differentiating Instruction for Mixed-Ability Classrooms: An ASCD Professional Inquiry Kit Pck Edition – Carol Ann Tomlinson
  • Using Differentiated Classroom Assessment to Enhance Student Learning (Student Assessment for Educators) 1st Edition – Tonya R. Moon, Catherine M. Brighton, Carol A. Tomlinson
  • The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners 1st Edition – Carol Ann Tomlinson

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Categorized as: Tips for Teachers and Classroom Resources

Tagged as: Curriculum and Instruction ,  Diversity ,  Engaging Activities ,  New Teacher ,  Pros and Cons

  • Certificates in Administrative Leadership
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Series New Teacher Survival Guide: New Teacher Survival Guide: Differentiating Instruction

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New Teacher Survival Guide: Differentiating Instruction

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Discussion and Supporting Materials

  • Supporting Materials

Thought starters

  • Why is assessment a key part of differentiation?
  • What kinds of assessments could/should these be?
  • What aspects of your lesson can be tiered to meet students at their level?
  • What are simple ways you can start differentiating tomorrow?
  • More difficult ways you can work at over the year?


Private message to Anetra Nelson

Anetra Nelson Jun 21, 2024 5:31pm

1. Assessment gives information as to what the student already knows regarding a concept. 2. Informal Assessments should be used in order to understand where a student is. These should be class discussion, exit slips, and quizzes. 3. I think tiering to meet students need can be implemented in every part of a teachers lesson such as discussing new concepts, an english and math lesson. 4. I can start by assessing students knowledge on a topic or new concept and pair students who are within the same levels can be arranged in groups. 5. Researching and learning more about ways  of differentiating to help my students excel to the best of their ability. 

Private message to Ethan Landers

Ethan Landers Jun 18, 2024 5:16pm

Ms. Gurick, a new chemistry teacher, went over her struggles to provide challenging and engaging instruction to a class of varying skill levels. After meeting with an educational professional, she learned the process of differentiating instruction. This begins by assessing what level each student is at, then providing varying levels of instruction and formative assessments to engage each group of skill. The activity that stuck out to me was grouping students by skill level and allowing them to explore concepts in groups, then teaching each other in a think-pair-share setting. I anticipate that teaching a class of varying skills will be a hurdle for me as well, and I plan to use differentiating instruction to overcome it. 

Private message to Tessa Beach

Tessa Beach May 27, 2024 3:57pm

Students will be tested in many ways and the way our school uses formative and summative assessments is based on daily homework and tests, quizzes, projects and essays.  Challenging all students is part of differentiation.  Letting students do tink-pair-share to help with some of the changes in levels.

Private message to Shelia Tucker

Shelia Tucker Mar 19, 2023 11:41pm


  • Why is assessment a key part of differentiation? Utilizing assessments in differentiation allows the teacher to gauge the progress and develop a clearer understanding of students levels of comprhension.
  • What kinds of assessments could/should these be? Some useful informatize assessment are exit tickets, polls, and refelctions or summaries with explaination of what is learned. 
  • What aspects of your lesson can be tiered to meet students at their level? All aspects of instruction (instruction, guided practice, andindependent practice) can be tiered. 
  • What are simple ways you can start differentiating tomorrow? Differentiation can begin with adding elements to instruction that express the diverse learning styles of my students. I can also use choice boards give students the option to choose what method of presentation of knowledge works best for them.
  • More difficult ways you can work at over the year? I can use data throughout the year to develop the best methods that will work for my class. 

Private message to Lewis Scott

Lewis Scott Oct 31, 2022 12:20am

1. Assessment lets you know where the class is at a whole, where the highest level and lowest level students are at in umderstanding of the concepts.

2.Pre assessments and post assessments or exit tickets in individual classes.  Seeing what was learned about a specific concept.

3.You can use tiering with your language and the amount of information describing concepts by providing more simple concepts and explanations or more in depth.

4.In my Badminton class I can have some people practicing the drop and hit, others the throw and hit, and others hitting it to a given target.

5.Some students can be playing a modified game of badminton, others can be playing actual game tournament.

  • NTSG: Differentiating Instruction Transcript

External Resource Materials

  • Differentiate Instruction to Meet Needs of all Learners


Series Title Sequence New Teacher Survival Guide

Differentiating Instruction Program Transcript

ACT 1 : Meet Laura / Set up Differentiation

Open on an empty Herrick's High school, flag flying in the breeze.

CU of Laura driving to school

Lower Third: Laura Gurick, 1st Year Chemistry Teacher GURICK: I actually always wanted to be a teacher. I never remember wanting to be anything else. I always loved to help people. I liked to watch people understand something for the first time, that joy and that excitement.

Gurick exits her car, enters the school, starts preparing for the day MEET LAURA GURICK, SHE’S A FIRST YEAR CHEMISTRY TEACHER AT HERRICKS HIGH SCHOOL ON LONG ISLAND IN NEW YORK.

Intv Laura Gurick GURICK: My typical day as a teacher as Herrick’s starts very early. I try to get here about 6:40 then what I usually do is I go right to the copy room. Make sure that I have everything that I need for that day. I start teaching at 7:30 and then, the rest of the day is a whirlwind. Intv Jack Bierwirth

Lower Third: Jack Bierwirth, Superintendent BIERWIRTH: Herricks High School is very high-performing, but pretty typical of Long Island. About 96, 97% of students leave here and go on to higher education. We have 69 different languages spoken in the homes of the 1400 kids in the high school, so it’s an incredibly diverse population. Various shots of diversity at Herricks, dissolve into Laura’s classroom to show the same. THE DIVERSITY EXTENDS TO THE ACADEMIC READINESS OF THE STUDENTS IN LAURA’S CLASSROOM.

LIKE MANY NEW TEACHERS, LAURA STRUGGLES TO KEEP HER LESSONS ENGAGING AND USEFUL TO STUDENTS WITH A WIDE RANGE OF INTERESTS, LEARNING STYLES AND CURRICULUM KNOWLEDGE. GURICK: I might have students that are struggling very much with the material, and then in the same class I have students that are hoping to go on to take AP Biology and AP Chemistry next year. It’s hard to do in one class. How do you challenge your top students while not leaving anybody behind? TEACHERS MUST ADAPT THEIR LESSONS, SO THAT THEY CAN BE UNDERSTOOD BY STUDENTS WITH DIFFERENT APTITUDES AND ABILITIES.



GURICK: Okay, so today we’re continuing our gas laws discussion.


Sound up Laura: Ok the pressure is constant, your volume went down, what had to have happened to your temperature? It went down! See the PTV popsicle stick formula working. See students with calculator, see students writing equations in their notebooks. GURICK: Some students are really strong math students so they are going to really latch onto those equations and the math behind it.

Other students, they need to be able to see things and they need to be able to see examples in order for them to really learn and understand the concept.

Those are all different ways that hopefully we will help all different types of learners whether they be auditory, sensory, or they like to write things down and just do the math behind it.

See shots classroom STILL, LAURA STRUGGLES TO KEEP ALL HER STUDENTS ENGAGED AND WORKING TO THEIR MAXIMUM POTENTIAL. Intv Laura Gurick GURICK: It’s easier for me to hit on a different type of learner in my lesson, but it’s harder for me to work with students at very different ability levels in one particular class.

ACT 2 : Meet the expert – skype interaction

Beat 1: Meet Rick Wormeli / Skype talk

SEE Rick Wormeli in front of a group of teachers at the Key School in Annapolis, Maryland Wormeli: I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve given the same homework assignment in my class over the course of the year. POV from behind the stage. CU of teachers taking notes RICK WORMELI IS A SCIENCE TEACHER FROM VIRGINIA, AND AN EXPERT ON DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION

Wormeli: Some kids need batting, some catching, some need to lift some weights, some running, what ever it is. Not everyone needs batting practice. You change the practice, according to what children need. Intv Rick Wormeli WORMELI: Differentiated instruction is kind of the pragmatist’s credo, whatever works. You’ve got this one lesson you’re going to do. You’re sensitive to, is it working or not. And if the kids aren’t learning to the level, then what do I need to do to adjust it? It’s such a diverse repertoire of responses, that I can respond to the needs of my students. So a lot of people call differentiated instruction, responsive teaching. SEE Laura preparing for the Skype conversation at her apartment. Rick prepares for the conversation on his side. LAURA CONSULTS WITH RICK VIA SKYPE TO GET SOME PRACTICAL TIPS ON DIFFERENTIATING INSTRUCTION. WORMELI: Hey Laura how are you? GURICK: Good, how are you? WORMELI: Great. I’m ready to talk some differentiated instruction. What do you have for me today?

SEE Laura at the computer, Rick listening.

GURICK: So, I have a very diverse group of students, some at the very very high end of the class, who are accelerated and learn the material even before it is introduced in class. I’m having a little trouble with really hitting everybody and making sure that everybody has that appropriate challenge. WORMELI: How do you know these students are accelerated? GURICK: They are preparing for the SAT2 already, so they are taking a review class. They’ve already been taught in a review way what the topic is. They’ve gone through the book, they’ve gone through practice questions, they’ve had home works on it, and I haven’t taught a thing yet.

Beat 2: Advice Graphic Tip: Begin with Assessment BEFORE A TEACHER CAN DIFFERENTIATE SUCCESSFULLY, SHE MUST ACCURATELY ASSESS THE LEVEL OF HER STUDENTS’ COMPETENCE. Intv Rick Wormeli WORMELI: Assessment has to be accurate in a differentiated class. If I make a decision based on false assessment data, the whole enterprise of teaching, let alone grading and whatever happens with the child’s future will also be based on this faulty premise. Graphic Tip: Assessment should be continuous to track student progress.

Graphic Tip: Use exit slips or classroom discussion to assess student progress. ASSESSMENT SHOULD BE CONTINUOUS TO TRACK STUDENT PROGRESS.



Intv Rick Wormeli WORMELI: Every problem I write on my tests and quizzes I’m gonna say, ‘And which standard, or benchmark, or learning target is that?’ And the learning targets, where’s the evidence of that? Is that ample evidence? A grade is far more accurate when it’s clear, consistent over time, not one snapshot moment in time.

See Skype conversation, Rick is on-screen. WORMELI: Okay. So, how do you deal with a variety of readiness levels in the same 43 minutes or 86 minutes? Gurick: Correct. WORMELI: All right, well how familiar are you with tiering? Have you studied that in your undergraduate or in service training? Gurick: Not formally yet, no. Graphic: Tip: Tier lessons to challenge all students A TEACHERS WHO TIERS A LESSON TEACHES THE SAME CONCEPT TO EVERYONE, BUT VARIES THE LEVEL OF COMPLEXITY TO ENGAGE ALL STUDENTS. WORMELI: lets choose one right now, that you have to teach. Let’s figure out, ok, what’s for the basic class and what can we do for the advanced students. GURICK: We just finished up gas laws. WORMELI: Ok, so name one that you’d want to get across. GURICK: The ideal gas law. WORMELI: Explain that for all those listening GURICK: It’s the equation used for ideal gases that allows us to figure out the pressure, temperature, volume relationships, while also changing the number of moles of a gas. WORMELI: What’s the basic thing you’d want students to be able to do at the end of that lesson? GURICK: Really just be able to look at and read a word problem, and be able to extract the information from the word problem, to put it into the formula and solve for an unknown. WORMELI: Can you have word problems where there’s lots of extraneous information that might confuse the students. (SKYPE) GURICK: They love that. Graphic: Tip Use word problems of varying complexity. WORMELI: I could have for those advanced kids some complex word problems where it’s not so obvious how you manipulate everything, and some where it’s very direct, very forward and slowly segway from one to the other for that lower introductory group. TIERING A LESSON ALLOWS ALL STUDENTS TO EXPERIENCE SUCCESS. Intv Rick Wormely WORMELI (INTV): Students of all ages crave competence and if they don’t get it they feel humiliated, they feel hurt, they feel angry. If I do something developmentally appropriate and they shine, they’re very motivated.

SEE Skype conversation WORMELI: So, now, next steps right away based on what we talked about here, what’s going to happen for you and your lesson design in the next two or three days? What are some things you will change or try? GURICK: I think I definitely want to try diverging or splitting up the class in an organized way. Graphic: Tip Present concepts to the whole class, then tailor groups to differentiate WORMELI: You could do a global lesson for 10 – 15 minutes, and then really let people expand their own ways.

These advanced students go off on another level that you’ve prepared for them that’s much more challenging, and these other kids are much more rudimentary, then the two or three groups come together and summarize what they’re able to pull out as salient from that.

Intv Rick Wormeli Wormeli: I need to mix and match. I will put higher performing with lower performing sometimes. Sometimes I’ll put all higher performing, sometimes I’ll put all lower performing. It’s going to be very, very dynamic and you won’t always be in the same group. Graphic: Tip Group students by readiness level, interest or learning style READINESS LEVEL ISN’T THE ONLY WAY TO GROUP STUDENTS IN A DIFFERENTIATED CLASSROOM.


Intv Rick Wormeli. We talk about flexible groups in the class as having these semi-permeable membranes. They’re very dynamic, they’re not static in their membership. And students can change that as long as they present evidence you’re ready to move onto this other station. SKYPE conversation WORMELI: Is there anything else?

GURICK: I really want to go more into the research as well and try to get my hands on some Differentiating Instruction books to see what’s out there. WORMELI: There are books out there on differentiation, but you want to find the ones with chapters on scaffolding and tiering. WORMELI: You can’t just read one book and suddenly you know how to differentiate instruction. So I recommend usually 3 or 4 books in the very first year and you pull the stuff that works.

ACT 3: Laura tries some of the new techniques

SEE students in hallway, dissolve to Laura’s classroom


Graphic (with a checkmark). Tier lessons to challenge all students

Actuality of students in class writing.

Intv Laura Gurick. GURICK: Using a different difficulty word problem has been helpful because the students then are able to work at their own level and be challenged at a level that’s suitable for them. Actuality of Gurick having students do an exit slip about gas laws. GURICK: Ok, so you’re going to give me a written description of what happened, why you think it happened, and which gas law is this?

Graphic (with checkmark): Assess continuously to track student progress SHE IS USING EXIT SLIPS TO ASSESS STUDENT MASTERY OF NEW CONCEPTS.

Bell rings, student leave class

Graphic (without checkmark): Group students by readiness, interest, or learning style.

BUT WORKING WITH GROUPS REMAINS A CHALLENGE. GURICK: It takes time. People don’t realize that grouping students takes a lot of time and a lot of preparation time. It’s a challenge to try to incorporate everything into every lesson. Intv Rick Wormeli Wormeli: It just seems overwhelming. It seems like sometimes, ok, I’m just going to do individualized plans for everybody. And nobody is asking anybody to do that. You don’t have to differentiate 24/7. It’s often just fine to have everyone do the exact same thing.

Whole class instruction is a part of a differentiated class, but you’re going to have to realize there’ll be some flexible grouping, some independent stuff from time to time, and you wax and you wane through all that. That’s alright. I mean seriously, one differentiating idea per month for three years, that’s a teacher on pace for learning this. Intv Laura Gurick GURICK : I know that one day I will be an expert in differentiated instruction. It will not be today, it will not be tomorrow, it just takes a lot of time. Graphic: End Credits

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20 Differentiated Instruction Strategies and Examples [+ Downloadable List]

Written by Marcus Guido

  • Game Based Learning,
  • Teaching Strategies

As students with diverse learning styles fill the classroom, many teachers don’t always have the time to plan lessons that use differentiated instruction (DI) to suit their distinct aptitudes.

no image

  • 1. Create Learning Stations
  • 2. Use Task Cards
  • 3. Interview Students
  • 4. Target Different Senses Within Lessons
  • 5. Share Your Own Strengths and Weaknesses
  • 6. Use the Think-Pair-Share Strategy
  • 7. Make Time for Journaling
  • 8. Implement Reflection and Goal-Setting Exercises
  • 9. Run Literature Circles
  • 10. Offer Different Types of Free Study Time
  • 11. Group Students with Similar Learning Styles
  • 12. Give Different Sets of Reading Comprehension Activities
  • 13. Assign Open-Ended Projects
  • 14. Encourage Students to Propose Ideas for Their Projects
  • 15. Analyze Your Differentiated Instruction Strategy on a Regular Basis
  • 16. “Teach Up”
  • 17. Use Math EdTech that Adjusts Itself to Each Student
  • 18. Relate Math to Personal Interests and Everyday Examples
  • 19. Play a Math-Focused Version of Tic-Tac-Toe
  • 20. Create Learning Stations, without Mandatory Rotations

As students with diverse learning styles fill the classroom, many teachers don’t always have the time, or spend additional hours to plan lessons that use differentiated instruction (DI) to suit students’ unique aptitudes.

Educator Carol Ann Tomlinson puts it beautifully in her book How to Differentiate Instruction in Academically Diverse Classrooms :

Kids of the same age aren't all alike when it comes to learning, any more than they are alike in terms of size, hobbies, personality, or likes and dislikes. Kids do have many things in common because they are human beings and because they are all children, but they also have important differences. What we share in common makes us human. How we differ makes us individuals. In a classroom with little or no differentiated instruction, only student similarities seem to take center stage. In a differentiated classroom, commonalities are acknowledged and built upon, and student differences become important elements in teaching and learning as well.

This can involve adjusting:

  • Content — The media and methods teachers use to impart and instruct skills, ideas and information
  • Processes — The exercises and practices students perform to better understand content
  • Products — The materials, such as tests and projects, students complete to demonstrate understanding

To help create lessons that engage and resonate with a diverse classroom, below are 20 differentiated instruction strategies and examples. Available in a condensed and printable list for your desk, you can use 16 in most classes and the last four for math lessons.

Try the ones that best apply to you, depending on factors such as student age.

Provide different types of content by setting up learning stations — divided sections of your classroom through which groups of students rotate. You can facilitate this with a flexible seating plan .

Each station should use a unique method of teaching a skill or concept related to your lesson.

To compliment your math lessons, for example, many teachers use Prodigy to simplify differentiation .  You’ll deliver specific in-game problems to each student — or distinct student groups — in three quick steps!

Students can rotate between stations that involve:

  • Watching a video
  • Creating artwork
  • Reading an article
  • Completing puzzles
  • Listening to you teach

To help students process the content after they've been through the stations, you can hold a class discussion or assign questions to answer.

Like learning stations, task cards allow you to give students a range of content. Answering task cards can also be a small-group activity , adding variety to classes that normally focus on solo or large-group learning.

First, make or identify tasks and questions that you’d typically find on worksheets or in textbooks.

Second, print and laminate cards that each contain a single task or question. Or, use Teachers Pay Teachers to buy pre-made cards . (Check out Prodigy Education's Teachers Pay Teachers page for free resources!)

Finally, set up stations around your classroom and pair students together to rotate through them.

You can individualize instruction by monitoring the pairs, addressing knowledge gaps when needed.

Asking questions about learning and studying styles can help you pinpoint the kinds of content that will meet your class’s needs.

While running learning stations or a large-group activity , pull each student aside for a few minutes. Ask about:

  • Their favourite types of lessons
  • Their favourite in-class activities
  • Which projects they’re most proud of
  • Which kinds of exercises help them remember key lesson points

Track your results to identify themes and students with uncommon preferences, helping you determine which methods of instruction suit their abilities.

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A lesson should resonate with more students if it targets visual, tactile, auditory and kinesthetic senses, instead of only one.

When applicable, appeal to a range of learning styles by:

  • Playing videos
  • Using infographics
  • Providing audiobooks
  • Getting students to act out a scene
  • Incorporating charts and illustrations within texts
  • Giving both spoken and written directions to tasks
  • Using relevant physical objects, such as money when teaching math skills
  • Allotting time for students to create artistic reflections and interpretations of lessons

Not only will these tactics help more students grasp the core concepts of lessons, but make class more engaging.

Prodigy Math Game , for example, is an engaging way to gamify math class in a way that worksheets simply cannot. 👇

To familiarize students with the idea of differentiated learning, you may find it beneficial to explain that not everyone builds skills and processes information the same way.

Talking about your own strengths and weaknesses is one way of doing this.

Explain -- on a personal level — how you study and review lessons. Share tactics that do and don’t work for you, encouraging students to try them.

Not only should this help them understand that people naturally learn differently, but give them insight into improving how they process information.

The think-pair-share strategy exposes students to three lesson-processing experiences within one activity. It’s also easy to monitor and support students as they complete each step.

As the strategy’s name implies, start by asking students to individually think about a given topic or answer a specific question.

Next, pair students together to discuss their results and findings.

Finally, have each pair share their ideas with the rest of the class, and open the floor for further discussion.

Because the differentiated instruction strategy allows students to process your lesson content individually, in a small group and in a large group, it caters to your classroom’s range of learning and personality types.

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A journal can be a tool for students to reflect on the lessons you’ve taught and activities you’ve run, helping them process new information .

When possible at the end of class, give students a chance to make a journal entry by:

  • Summarizing key points they’ve learned
  • Attempting to answer or make sense of lingering questions
  • Explaining how they can use the lessons in real-life scenarios
  • Illustrating new concepts, which can be especially helpful for data-focused math lessons

As they continue to make entries, they should figure out which ones effectively allow them to process fresh content.

But if you're struggling to see the value of journaling in a subject like math, for example, you can make time specifically for math journaling. While you connect journaling to your own math objectives, students can make cross-curricular connections.

If you want to learn more, check out K-5 Math Teaching Resources for a detailed overview . Angela Watson at The Cornerstone for Teachers also has great math journal resources you can use in your own class!

An extension of journaling, have students reflect on important lessons and set goals for further learning at pre-determined points of the year.

During these points, ask students to write about their favourite topics, as well as the most interesting concepts and information they’ve learned.

They should also identify skills to improve and topics to explore.

Based on the results, you can target lessons to help meet these goals . For example, if the bulk of students discuss a certain aspect of the science curriculum, you can design more activities around it.

Organizing students into literature circles not only encourages students to shape and inform each other’s understanding of readings, but helps auditory and participatory learners retain more information.

This also gives you an opportunity to listen to each circle’s discussion, asking questions and filling in gaps in understanding.

As a bonus, some students may develop leadership skills by running the discussion.

This activity makes written content — which, at times, may only be accessible to individual learners with strong reading retention -- easier to process for more students.

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Free study time will generally benefit students who prefer to learn individually, but can be slightly altered to also help their classmates process your lessons.

This can be done by dividing your class into clearly-sectioned solo and team activities.

Consider the following free study exercises to also meet the preferences of visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners:

  • Provide audiobooks, which play material relevant to your lessons
  • Create a station for challenging group games that teach skills involved in the curriculum
  • Maintain a designated quiet space for students to take notes and complete work
  • Allow students to work in groups while taking notes and completing work, away from the quiet space

By running these sorts of activities, free study time will begin to benefit diverse learners — not just students who easily process information through quiet, individual work.

Heterogenous grouping is a common practice, but grouping students based on similar learning style can encourage collaboration through common work and thinking practices.

This is not to be confused with grouping students based on similar level of ability or understanding.

In some cases, doing so conflicts with the “Teach Up” principle , which is discussed below.

Rather, this tactic allows like-minded students to support each other’s learning while giving you to time to spend with each group. You can then offer the optimal kind of instruction to suit each group’s common needs and preferences.

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Instead of focusing on written products, consider evaluating reading comprehension through questions and activities that test different aptitudes.

Although written answers may still appeal to many students, others may thrive and best challenge themselves during artistic or kinesthetic tasks.

For example, allow students to choose between some of the following activities before, during and after an important reading :

  • Participating in more literature circles
  • Delivering a presentation
  • Writing a traditional report
  • Creating visual art to illustrate key events
  • Creating and performing a monologue as a main character or figure

Offering structured options can help students demonstrate their understanding of content as effectively as possible, giving you more insight into their abilities.

Similar to evaluating reading comprehension, give students a list of projects to find one that lets them effectively demonstrate their knowledge.

Include a clear rubric for each type of project, which clearly defines expectations. In fact, some teachers have their students co-create the rubric with them so they have autonomy in the work they'll be completing and being assessed on. Doing so will keep it challenging and help students meet specific criteria.

By both enticing and challenging students, this approach encourages them to:

  • Work and learn at their own paces
  • Engage actively with content they must understand
  • Demonstrate their knowledge as effectively as possible

As well as benefiting students, this differentiated instruction strategy will clearly showcase distinct work and learning styles.

As well as offering set options, encourage students to take their projects from concept to completion by pitching you ideas.

A student must show how the product will meet academic standards, and be open to your revisions. If the pitch doesn’t meet your standards, tell the student to refine the idea until it does. If it doesn’t by a predetermined date, assign one of your set options.

You may be pleasantly surprised by some pitches.  

After all, students themselves are the focus of differentiated instruction — they likely have somewhat of a grasp on their learning styles and abilities.

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Even if you’re confident in your overall approach, Carol Ann Tomlinson — one of the most reputable topic thought-leaders — recommends analyzing your differentiated instruction strategies:

Frequently reflect on the match between your classroom and the philosophy of teaching and learning you want to practice. Look for matches and mismatches, and use both to guide you.

Analyze your strategy by reflecting on:

  • Content — Are you using diverse materials and teaching methods in class?
  • Processes — Are you providing solo, small-group and large-group activities that best allow different learners to absorb your content?
  • Products — Are you letting and helping students demonstrate their understanding of content in a variety of ways on tests, projects and assignments?

In doing so, you’ll refine your approach to appropriately accommodate the multiple intelligences of students . It's important to note, however, that recent studies have upended the theory of multiple intelligences. Regardless of where you stand on the multiple intelligences spectrum, the differentiated instruction strategy above remains valuable!

Teaching at a level that’s too easily accessible to each student can harm your differentiated instruction efforts, according to Tomlinson .

Instead, she recommends “teaching up.” This eliminates the pitfall of being stuck on low-level ideas, seldom reaching advanced concepts:

We do much better if we start with what we consider to be high-end curriculum and expectations -- and then differentiate to provide scaffolding, to lift the kids up .

The usual tendency is to start with what we perceive to be grade-level material and then dumb it down for some and raise it up for others. But we don’t usually raise it up very much from that starting point, and dumbing down just sets lower expectations for some kids.

Keeping this concept in mind should focus your differentiated teaching strategy, helping you bring each student up to “high-end curriculum and expectations.”

It has also grown particularly popular in the 2020s as educators have focused more on accelerated learning by "teaching up", as opposed to filling learning gaps.

As Elizabeth S. LeBlanc, Co-Founder of the Institute for Teaching and Learning, writes for EdSurge : "Accelerated learning approaches give a lower priority to repetition or 'skill-and-drill' uses of instructional technology. In other words, it’s not about memorizing everything you should have learned, it’s about moving you forward so you pick things up along the way. "

Differentiated Math Instruction Strategies and Examples

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Some EdTech tools — such as certain educational math video games — can deliver differentiated content, while providing unique ways to process it.

For example, Prodigy adjusts questions to tackle student trouble spots and offers math problems that use words, charts and pictures, as well as numbers.

To the benefit of teachers, the game is free and curriculum-aligned for grades 1 to 8. You can adjust the focus of questions to supplement lessons and homework, running reports to examine each student’s progress.

Join over 90 million students and teachers using Prodigy's differentiating power today. 👇

Clearly linking math to personal interests and real-world examples can help some learners understand key concepts.

Working with 41 grade 7 students throughout an academic year, a 2015 study published by the Canadian Center of Science and Education used contextual learning strategies to teach integers and increase test scores by more than 44%.

Striving for similar benefits may be ambitious, but you can start by surveying students. Ask about their interests and how they use math outside of school.

Using your findings, you should find that contextualization helps some students grasp new or unfamiliar math concepts.

There are many math-related games and activities to find inspiration to implement this tactic.

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Help students practice different math skills by playing a game that’s a take on tic-tac-toe.

Prepare by dividing a sheet into squares — three vertical by three horizontal. Don’t leave them blank. Instead, fill the boxes with questions that test different abilities.

For example:

  • “Complete question X in page Y of your textbook”
  • “Draw a picture to show how to add fraction X and fraction Y”
  • “Describe a real-life situation in which you would use cross-multiplication, providing an example and solution”

You can hand out sheets to students for solo practice, or divide them into pairs and encourage friendly competition . The first one to link three Xs or Os — by correctly completing questions —  wins. 

So, depending on your preferences, this game will challenge diverse learners through either individual or small-group practice.

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Provide differentiated math learning opportunities for your students by setting up unique learning stations across your classrooms, but forgoing mandatory rotations.

The idea comes from a grade 9 teacher in Ontario, who recommends creating three stations to solve similar mathematical problems using either:

  • Data — Provide spreadsheets, requiring students to manipulate data through trial and error
  • People — Group students into pairs or triads to tackle a range of problems together, supporting each other’s learning
  • Things — Offer a hands-on option by giving each student objects to use when solving questions

Only allow students to switch stations if they feel the need. If they do, consult them about their decision. In each case, you and the student will likely learn more about his or her learning style.

Supplemented by your circulation between stations to address gaps in prior knowledge, this activity exposes students to exercises that appeal to diverse abilities.

Downloadable List of Differentiated Instruction Strategies and Examples

Click here to download and print a simplified list of the 20 differentiated instruction strategies and examples to keep at your desk.

Differentiated Instruction Strategies Infographic

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Here’s an infographic with 16 ideas from this article, provided by  Educational Technology and Mobile Learning  — an online resource for teaching tools and ideas.

Wrapping Up

With help from the downloadable list, use these differentiated instruction strategies and examples to suit the diverse needs and learning styles of your students.

As well as adding variety to your content, these methods will help students process your lessons and demonstrate their understanding of them.

The strategies should prove to be increasingly useful as you identify the distinct learning styles in — and learn to manage — your classroom .

Interested in other teaching strategies to deploy in your classroom?

Differentiated instruction strategies overlap in important ways with a number of other pedagogical approaches. Consider reviewing these supplementary strategies to find more ideas, combine different elements of each strategy, and enrich your pedagogical toolkit!

  • Active learning strategies   put your students at the center of the learning process, enriching the classroom experience and boosting engagement.
  • As opposed to traditional learning activities,  experiential learning activities  build knowledge and skills through direct experience.
  • Project-based learning   uses an open-ended approach in which students work alone or collectively to produce an engaging, intricate curriculum-related questions or challenges.
  • Inquiry-based learning   is subdivided into four categories, all of which promote the importance of your students' development of questions, ideas and analyses.
  • Adaptive learning  focuses on changing — or "adapting" — learning content for students on an individual basis, particularly with the help of technology.

👉 Create or log into your teacher account on Prodigy — a game-based learning platform that delivers differentiated instruction, automatically adjusting questions to accommodate player trouble spots and learning speeds. Aligned with curricula across the English-speaking world, it’s used by more than 90 million students and teachers.

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Differentiated Instruction

When some teachers think of differentiating instruction, they imagine having to create a different lesson for every student in the room. “That insanity is not what differentiation is all about,” says veteran teacher and author Larry Ferlazzo. But what exactly is it? And how can teachers do it (without losing their minds)? In this series of videos, Ferlazzo and his co-author Katie Hull Sypnieski, also a veteran teacher, explain what it means to differentiate instruction, provide tips for doing so with English-language learners, and detail the questions they ask themselves when planning a lesson for students of all levels.

differentiated instruction video

Related Reading:

  • Q&A Collections: Differentiating Instruction (Opinion)
  • How Do You Differentiate Instruction for ELLs? (Opinion)
  • How Can Tech Help Teachers Differentiate Instruction? (Opinion)
  • Differentiated Instruction: A Primer

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Differentiated Instruction: Helping Every Child Succeed

Mix teacher collaboration and innovative leadership with a big dose of differentiated instruction and you get Mesquite Elementary’s winning recipe.

What is differentiated instruction? Carol Tomlinson provides a concise explanation of what it means to differentiate instruction.

A rationale for differentiation in today's schools Carol Tomlinson explains why it is imperative that we differentiate instruction in today's classrooms.


Two misconceptions about DI – that there is a disconnect with standards and that DI is only for certain students Carol Tomlinson explains how learning standards and differentiation are aligned with one another and that DI is not a restrictive approach designed for certain types of students.


A misconception about DI – that it is an 'add-on' activity Carol Tomlinson addresses a common misconception about DI by clarifying that it is not an extra thing to do in the classroom.


A misconception teachers sometimes have - "I already differentiate." Carol Tomlinson discusses a common misconception of teachers who lack a clear understanding of DI – they often believe they already differentiate.


Four common misconceptions about DI Kristina Doubet discusses some misconceptions about DI, clarifying that whole-class instruction occurs in a differentiated classroom, that DI is not a case of high-level versus low-level students, that it is a proactive approach to meeting the varied learning needs of students, and addresses students' differing interests and learning preferences as well as readiness.


Suggestions on how to begin differentiating instruction Carol Tomlinson offers insights to teachers for getting started with differentiating instruction in the classroom.

Next-step ideas on how to increase expertise with DI Carol Tomlinson provides suggestions for teachers who are already on the journey and are looking for next steps to increase their expertise in differentiating instruction.

http://differentiationcentral.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/45-Continuingjourney-with-CC.m4v Engaging resource specialists in planning differentiated lessons

Kelly A. Hedrick explains the important role resource specialists can play in collaboratively planning differentiated lessons with classroom teachers.


Quality curriculum is focused around important ideas worth understanding Jay McTighe describes the relationship of Understanding by Design, (a curriculum and assessment design model) and Differentiated Instruction, and explains how curricular units should be focused around important transferable ideas, or understandings.


Using essential questions as a path to understanding Jay McTighe discusses essential questions and how they can be used to help students examine important ideas and develop understanding.


Building a supportive community of learners in a differentiated classroom Carol Tomlinson describes the benefits of building a "sense of team" for both students and teachers in a differentiated classroom.

Building community in the secondary classroom Kristina Doubet offers ideas for building a supportive learning community in the secondary classroom, including ways for teachers and students to get to know each other, to help students understand differentiation, and to establish routines.


Using multiple intelligence activities to differentiate on the basis of learning profile Jessica Hockett offers tips for appropriately using activities based on Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences to differentiate instruction in response to students' varied learning preferences.


Using learning centers to meet students' varied needs Marcia Imbeau offers some insights into using learning centers and ensuring that they are differentiated for students varied needs.


Effective instruction begins with pre-assessing the students Catherine Brighton discusses the critical nature of pre-assessment when differentiating instruction and provides some guidelines for effectively pre-assessing students' knowledge, understanding, and skills.


Daily assessment serves as a compass for next steps in the classroom Catherine Brighton describes two ways to assess student learning on a daily basis and stresses the importance of using the data to plan your next instructional steps.


Determining if students have developed understanding Jay McTighe explains the need to align assessments within a curricular unit with the learning goals of the unit and describes what constitutes evidence of student understanding as a guide to determining if a student has achieved the expected level of understanding.


Providing students with different approaches to demonstrating what they know, understand, and can do Jay McTighe provides an example of how assessment of student learning can be differentiated, while focused on the same learning goals.


Some insights into grading in a differentiated classroom Carol Tomlinson provides guidance on appropriate grading practices and supports the use of the 3-P grading system developed by assessment experts.

Using the homework checkers strategy Marcia Imbeau explains homework checkers, a management technique that supports the use of differentiated homework.


Tips for assigning students to groups and organizing paperwork Marcia Imbeau shares some tips for identifying which groups or tasks students are assigned to and considerations for organizing student paperwork.


An illustration of differentiated instruction in a primary classroom Monica Harrold describes what a primary classroom can look like when students are working on differentiated activities.


Helping primary students become responsible, self-reliant learners Monica Harrold describes how to guide students in becoming responsible for their own learning by setting up classroom rules and routines including getting help in the classroom when the teacher is working with other students.


First steps for differentiating at the high school level Kristina Doubet offers suggestions for first steps in differentiating instruction in a high school class, including a quick way to assess student learning and how to determine when it makes sense to differentiate.

Tips for designing tasks that challenge students at different readiness levels and scaffolding for HS students Kristina Doubet offers ideas for designing tasks that challenge students at various readiness levels and for scaffolding learning for high school students.


Differentiating instruction in vocational and technology education classes Kristina Doubet discusses effective techniques for differentiating in project-based classrooms and using anchor activities to extend the curriculum.


Differentiating instruction in foreign language classes Cindy Strickland offers several practical ideas to foreign language teachers on ways to differentiate instruction for their students.

Differentiating instruction in music classes Cindy Strickland shares several ideas for music teachers on how to differentiate instruction in both instrumental and vocal classes.


A rationale for differentiating at the college level Carol Tomlinson offers a rationale for differentiating instruction in today's universities and colleges as well as ideas for implementing DI in your classes.


The need to prepare education majors in our colleges to differentiate instruction Carol Tomlinson highlights the changes needed in our university teacher education programs that will prepare tomorrow's teachers to meet the diverse needs of the students they will encounter.


Thoughts on differentiating instruction at the college level Kristina Doubet shares her thoughts on the need to differentiate instruction for college students and an example of how education majors often differ in their readiness for designing learning goals.


Create a vision and rationale to steer the change to differentiated classrooms Kelly A. Hedrick emphasizes the need for school leaders to set goals for the initiative by creating a vision and rationale for differentiating instruction.


A comprehensive long-range plan is critical to creating effectively differentiated classrooms Kelly A. Hedrick addresses the key components of a comprehensive long-range plan that will guide and support the implementation of differentiated instruction.


Barriers that teachers may encounter when implementing DI Catherine Brighton describes barriers that elementary and secondary teachers often encounter as they begin to differentiate instruction in their classes.


Helping teachers move along a continuum of increasing expertise with differentiation Kelly A. Hedrick discusses how administrators can build on existing strengths of the faculty and consider teachers' varied levels of expertise to provide appropriate support for implementing DI.


Leading the change to differentiation is a tender balance of pressure and support Kelly A. Hedrick describes how school leaders must clearly communicate expectations while providing support to teachers in the process of changing to differentiated instruction.


Ways to carefully use resources to support implementation of DI in a school or district Kelly A. Hedrick suggests ways administrators can carefully use limited resources and tools so they support teachers in their journey toward expertise in differentiation.

Tips for supporting teachers' professional growth with differentiating instruction Monica Harrold provides a few tips for working with teachers to support their professional growth as they develop expertise with differentiating.


Tips for coaching teachers as they learn how to differentiate instruction Kelly A. Hedrick provides tips for coaching elementary and secondary teachers as they learn to differentiate instruction.

Differentiating professional development on the basis of learning preference Cindy Strickland suggests a way to differentiate a professional development activity on the basis of learning preference, using Sternberg's triarchic intelligences.


Cindy Strickland describes a way to differentiate professional development for teachers using tiered activities designed for different readiness levels.


Differentiating professional development on the basis of interest Cindy Strickland shares an activity that she uses to differentiate professional development on the basis of teachers' varied interests.

Using lesson study to support the implementation of differentiated instruction Jessica Hockett describes how to use lesson study as a professional development tool to help teachers develop their understanding and skills in differentiating instruction in their classrooms.


Differentiation Experts

These experts on differentiated instruction appear in our video clips.

Video Archive


Marcia Imbeau - Associate Professor, Curriculum & Instruction, University of Arkansas


Kristina Doubet - Assistant Professor in Middle, Secondary, & Mathematics Education, James Madison University


Jay McTighe - Author and educational consultant


Monica Harrold - Principal, Northside Elementary School, Ann Arbor, MI


Cindy Strickland - Educational consultant and ASCD faculty member


Kelly A. Hedrick - Director of Gifted Education & Academy Programs, Virginia Beach City Public Schools, VA


Carol Tomlinson - William Clay Parrish Jr. Professor Emeritus, UVA School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia


Jessica Hockett - Educational consultant


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    First steps for differentiating at the high school level Kristina Doubet offers suggestions for first steps in differentiating instruction in a high school class, including a quick way to assess student learning and how to determine when it makes sense to differentiate.. Tips for designing tasks that challenge students at different readiness levels and scaffolding for HS students

  23. What is Differentiated Instruction?

    This video will give you a basic understanding of what differentiated instruction is and why it is importantCheck out my website on Differentiated Instructio...