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October 17, 2022 ELA PD - Literacy , ELA K-5 , ELA Focus - Reading , ELA 6-8 , ELA Resources - Tip Sheets , Core Literacy

13 ideas for differentiated reading instruction in the elementary classroom, by: erin lynch.

Differentiation has been a buzzword in education for years. As a literacy specialist, it is a critical part of my job. Differentiation is how a teacher adapts instruction to meet the specific learning needs of an individual or group of students. It means meeting the needs of all learners through differentiated instructional ideas. In this article, we’ll explore differentiated instruction in the classroom and opportunities to incorporate it into lessons. Also, available for download is a tip sheet with 13 ideas for differentiated reading instruction in the elementary classroom.

Differentiated Instruction in the Classroom

Differentiation can be applied to: the instructional approach, the subject matter, and/or to the learning environment. Differentiated lesson plans are based on learning styles and incorporate a variety of modalities in order to reach all learners. During differentiated student work time, students can work independently on a personalized goal or in small flexible groups based on interest, topic or ability.

There are endless opportunities to incorporate differentiation into your classroom!

13 Ideas for Differentiated Reading Instruction in the Elementary Classroom

With instruction…

Be sure to not only verbally explain the topic or idea you are instructing on, but also to have a visual. You can create an anchor chart to use as a reference guide or draw a picture/table/diagram/graph to foster a clearer understanding. If applicable, provide a video clip on the smartboard (this is a sure-fire way to engage students). Remember to always repeat what you are teaching with varying explanations. Also, tap into background knowledge for students to build upon, and pre-teach any vocabulary words that might be unfamiliar to your students.

With subject matter ...

Hold conferences with students to find out what they want to learn more about. Use surveys to incorporate student interests whenever possible. If students are interested in the topic, they are more likely to retain what you are teaching them. Use inquiry-based learning to allow students to investigate areas of interest. Inquiry-based learning is also great for cross-curriculum work!

With the environment...

There are many things you can do to design a classroom that promotes learning for all students. Some examples include preferential seating and seating that allows for movement, partnerships, or small group work. Anchor charts should be displayed for students to reference. Graphic organizers and resource guides should be readily available for students to take as needed. Students should have access to technology for many reasons. Of course, one important reason is for research, but for me as a literacy specialist a very close second is to help improve a student's reading ability. There are many online resources that support students in the areas of fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary by using leveled texts with corresponding reading exercises.

You can also differentiate based on ability!

Differentiated Instruction Ideas Based on Diverse Learners

For struggling students...

Scaffold your instruction by giving clear explicit explanations with visuals. Next, practice the strategy with your students. Then have your students try it independently. Offer a variety of graphic organizers to help focus their thinking. This method of scaffolded instruction is known as the I, We, You method. Be sure to give these students self-monitoring and fix-up strategies to allow them more independence when working alone.

For average students...

Offer opportunities for small group work or partnerships (often, hearing the thoughts of peers will inspire students, and being a member of a group can motivate students to contribute to the best of their ability). These are students you want to challenge, as well, so offer extension activities when they are ready. For example, a good extension activity in reading is to rewrite the end of the book or to write about what would you like to discuss with the main character or the author.

For above average students...

Raise the bar with challenge/enrichment activities ( Making Thinking Visible activity downloads, which encourage students to think more deeply about a topic or text, are great resources). Pull questions for these students from DOK levels 3 and 4.

Using Assessments to Guide Differentiation

Personally, I have found the best way to differentiate for my students is by using assessments to guide my instruction. Students need to be assessed in order to collect information about how much knowledge and skill they have acquired (assessment as a measurement tool). Students also need to be assessed so as to gauge the student's level of learning (assessment as an evaluative tool).

There are two basic types of assessments: formative and summative .

Formative assessments are assessments FOR learning and include journaling, conferring, observation, self-assessment, portfolios, and so on.

Summative assessments are assessments OF learning and include unit assessments, standardized assessments, portfolios, and so on.

Assessing students is critical for differentiation because it...

allows you to get to know individual readers

provides summaries of student learning

gives information about student learning progress

diagnoses strengths and weaknesses of an individual's learning

supplies direction for further learning

helps with goal-setting for very targeted instruction

I find the best way to differentiate for my students is to periodically set personalized goals with each student, based on formative and/or summative assessment data. I use a variety of assessments with my students to help them set these goals. Below are some resources you may find helpful in assessing individual students.

Ideas for Differentiated Reading Instruction In the Elementary Grades

1. Have students read books at their own level.

Level the classroom library in order to help students find appropriate books for independent reading time. Color-coordinating the shelves is an easy way for students to find books that are suitable for their reading skills.

2. Provide different levels of support after a class lesson.

Create a “Teacher Station” or “Center” and meet with your struggling learners to give them extra support and instruction. Have on-level learners work in small groups to complete a task. Invite above-average learners to complete the same task in pairs or alone.

3. Differentiate text assignments.

After students have read (or listened to) the same text, vary follow-up assignments. For example, after a read aloud, ask struggling learners to complete a simple story web. Have on-level learners complete questions about key ideas and details. Task above-average learners to retell the story from a character’s point of view.

4. Scaffold instruction by giving clear explicit explanations with visuals.

Verbally and visually explain the topic or idea you will be teaching. Use anchor charts, drawings, diagrams, and reference guides to foster a clearer understanding of the topic you will be reading about or teaching. If applicable, provide a video clip for students to watch.

To get nine more differentiated reading instruction, download my What Does Differentiation Look Like? Tip Sheet now.

Differentiation is how a teacher adapts instruction to meet the specific learning needs of an individual learner or of a group of students. It means the instructor is meeting the needs of all learners through differentiated instructional ideas and methods. Differentiation can be applied to the instructional approach, the subject matter, and/or to the learning environment. One key approach to differentiation is individualized goal-setting based on assessment data. Use formative and summative assessment data to differentiate instruction for individuals or small groups of students.

differentiated instruction reading examples

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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


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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50 Differentiated Instruction Strategies and Examples for K-12 Classrooms

Personalize the content, process, product, or learning environment.

Collage of differentiated instruction strategies, including the stoplight system and color coding

As a teacher, you already know that every student in your classroom is different. They have their own personalities, their own likes and dislikes, and their own ways of learning best. That’s why differentiated instruction strategies are so important. They give every kid a chance to succeed by adapting the learning to fit their needs. Add these examples of differentiated instruction strategies to your teacher toolkit so you can pull them out and use them as needed.

What is differentiated instruction?

Differentiated instruction (DI) means tailoring your teaching so all students, regardless of their ability, can learn the classroom material. During the 1990s,  Carol Ann Tomlinson  introduced the concept of differentiation, and it quickly gained traction. She identified four elements (content, process, product, and learning environment) that teachers could customize in their classrooms. Her work opened the door to a wide array of differentiation approaches and techniques.

So, what does this mean for teachers? Are you expected to create an individualized lesson plan for every student in your classroom? Fortunately, that’s not necessary. What you do need to do is ensure your lesson plans include a variety of activities, and provide options when students need them. Tomlinson recommends teachers consider how they can customize their teaching in four different areas: content, process, product, and learning environment. The differentiated instruction strategies and examples below all fit into one or more of these categories.

Learn much more about the details of this concept here: What Is Differentiated Instruction?

General Differentiated Instruction Strategies

You can use these DI strategies in almost any classroom or learning environment. For each, we’ve indicated which differentiated instruction areas apply (content, process, product, or learning environment).

Stoplight system

Three stacks of colored cups: red, yellow, and green

An important part of using differentiated instruction strategies is knowing when they’re needed in the first place. Try an easy way to check for understanding by giving students a nonverbal way to show where they are. Green means they’re good to go, yellow means they’re struggling, and red means they’re stuck entirely. Try this with sticky notes, folded desk tents, colored cups, and more. (DI Area: Process)

Learn more: Stoplight System at the Ardent Teacher


Getting ready to tackle a really tough topic? Try pre-teaching a smaller group of students first. This gives you a chance to try out your lesson plan, plus it creates a built-in group of “experts” to help you out when the whole class is learning. Use this strategy regularly, but switch up the student experts. Teaching others helps kids learn too. (DI Area: Process)

Learn more: Pre-Teaching at 3-Star Learning Experiences

Cooperative learning structures

Cooperative learning describes a strategy where students work together in small groups under supervision to accomplish a goal. These groups are carefully constructed based on student needs, abilities, and learning styles. It means knowing your students well, but once you do, you can put these groups together quickly depending on your current activity. (DI Area: Process)

Learn more: Top 10 Cooperative Learning Structures at Continually Learning

Projects with choices

When you offer choices, students feel more comfortable with the assignment. Plus, they often get a sense of ownership—being allowed to pick and choose encourages kids to take responsibility for their choices. To make this work, determine what goals all students need to achieve. Then, let them come up with ways to demonstrate those goals, or give them a few options that appeal to different types of learners. (DI Area: Product)

Learn more: How I Use Choice Boards To Increase Student Engagement at We Are Teachers

Self-paced learning

One of the best things technology has given us is a better ability to use self-paced learning in and out of the classroom. When you use computer programs and games, kids can advance at the pace that makes sense to them. Of course, you’ll need to ensure students stay on task when they’re working independently. Also, remember that a computer program may only have the ability to explain things one way, so be ready to step in and give kids information in other ways when needed. (DI Area: Product)

Learn more: How To Create a Self-Paced Classroom at Cult of Pedagogy

Color coding

Writing worksheet with different parts highlighted in different colors (Differentiated Instruction Strategies)

One of the best differentiated instruction strategies is color coding. It can work in all sorts of classroom applications, including organization and routines. But you can apply it to learning strategies too. Color helps kids see things more clearly, especially when the subject is complex. (DI Area: Process)

Learn more: Color-Coding in the Classroom

Small groups

Elementary teachers have been using small reading groups as a differentiated instruction strategy for years. Really, they work in any subject, offering teachers a chance to get more face time with their students. You can group students by skill level, but that’s not necessarily the best way to help learners. Consider grouping by learning styles instead, so you can tailor a lesson’s delivery specifically for those styles. (DI Area: Learning Environment)

Learn more: Small Group Instruction Strategies and Tips for Success

Student-led lessons

Assign students a topic or let them pick their own, then ask them each to become an expert and plan a lesson to share with the class. This goes beyond just giving a presentation. Encourage them to think of creative ways to share the information, planning interactive activities they themselves would like to do in the classroom. You’re bound to get a lot of new teaching strategies yourself! (DI Area: Process)

Learn more: Student-Led Lessons Rather Than Student Presentations at Faculty Focus

Question wait time

This one is all about teacher patience. When you ask your class a question, don’t immediately call on the first person to raise their hand. Instead, wait a few more seconds, and call on someone whose hand came up a little later. This allows slower, more thorough thinkers a chance to get their ideas heard too. (DI Area: Process)

Learn more: Wait Time: Making Space for Authentic Learning at Kent State University

Classroom environment

When you’re reading a book, what’s your favorite position? Curled up on the couch with a pillow under your head? Stretched out on your stomach on your bed? Sitting upright at a table with a cup of tea? Can you handle background noise like music, or do you prefer it to be completely silent? Your students’ choices would be just as varied as your own. Whenever you can, allow them to sit, stand, or even stretch out. Help them control distractions with noise-cancelling headphones, or let them listen to music with earbuds if it helps them concentrate. (DI Area: Learning Environment)

Learn more: 8 Types of Learning Spaces to Include in Your Classroom

Anchor charts

Collage of anchor charts (Differentiated Instruction Strategies)

Good news! Those anchor charts hanging all over your walls are a popular differentiation strategy. They help visual learners succeed, giving them strong images to relate to key skills and topics. You don’t need to be an artist to make great charts, but the more color, the better. (DI Area: Process)

Learn more: Anchor Charts 101


Just as students have different learning styles, teachers have different instructional styles as well. Use this to your advantage! You don’t necessarily need to co-teach full-time. Work as a team with your fellow teachers to learn what their styles are like, and consider switching things up from time to time by trading duties for certain lessons or subjects. (DI Area: Process)

Learn more: 8 Things Successful Co-Teachers Do

Peer buddy program

Pairing students of varying levels as buddies benefits all kids. Some schools pair those with disabilities with a buddy to help them as needed. Others pair older students with younger ones. Whatever you choose, plan your program carefully and monitor pairings to ensure they’re working out. (DI Areas: Process, Learning Environment)

Learn more: A Win/Win for All Students: Expert Q&A on Peer Buddy Programs at Brookes Blog

Must-dos and may-dos

Not all students need extra time; in fact, some finish everything up too quickly! That’s where the ability to provide enrichment activities comes in handy. For any lesson, be prepared with “must-do” and “may-do” activities. This helps kids prioritize the most important items and gives fast finishers meaningful work to do too. (DI Areas: Content, Process)

Learn more: The Case for Must-Dos and May-Dos

Multiple intelligences

You don’t necessarily need to create multiple activities to cater to your students’ multiple intelligences. For example, if you’re reviewing a timeline of the American Civil War for an upcoming test, give each student an index card with a major event (e.g., Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, etc.), and while playing Civil War–era music, ask students to line up in front of the class to put the events in order. This single activity activates brain stimulation for six different learning styles:

  • Visual-spatial learners use a mental image of the lineup as a mnemonic device.
  • Kinesthetic learners get to move around and create a life-size timeline.
  • Interpersonal learners communicate with one another to decide where to stand in line.
  • Musical-rhythm learners benefit from the background music.
  • Logical-mathematical learners thrive on creating a chronological line.
  • Verbal-linguistic learners review notes and their textbooks during the activity.

Learn more: Understanding Multiple Intelligences for the Classroom at ASCD

Reading is a key skill, no doubt about it. But when a student struggles with it, it can often affect their learning in other areas too. Unless reading itself is key to the topic you’re presenting, consider letting students listen to an audiobook instead. This lets them focus on the content, rather than just the words and sentences. (DI Area: Process)

Learn more: 10 Places Kids Can Listen to Free Audiobooks


Before you present a new topic, take a few minutes to find out what kids already know. Their responses might change how you decide to teach, especially if you find they’re lacking in prerequisite knowledge or already understand the new subject pretty well. Tip: Save time by checking out Kahoot! for pre-made quizzes on your topic. (DI Areas: Process, Product)

Learn more: 6 Benefits of Pre-Assessment at Minds in Bloom

Alternative assessments

Written tests aren’t the only way to check for learning, as teachers well know. Alternative assessments provide ways to differentiate in your classroom by giving students multiple ways to show what they know. For students who struggle with writing, consider a discussion instead (unless you’re specifically working on writing skills). Instead of a traditional book report, have students turn the story into their own graphic novel. Find ways to help students shine! (DI Areas: Process, Content)

Learn more: 25 Alternative Assessment Ideas

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

UDL offers educators a way to reduce the need for differentiation strategies and scaffolding, by building curriculum and lessons that include multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression. Look for learning materials that use UDL to use in your classroom, or take the time to design your own lessons using the UDL principles. (DI Area: Multiple)

Learn more: What Is UDL and How Do Teachers Make It Work in the Classroom?


An outside-of-the-box way to find more differentiated instruction strategies is to explore lists of the classroom accommodations used to created IEPs and 504 plans. These include terrific ways to differentiate, even when students don’t have specific written plans. You don’t need to be diagnosed with dyscalculia to benefit from using graph paper to line up your math problems. Typing is easier than handwriting for lots of people. Reviewing an example list can spark ideas for all of your students. (DI Area: Multiple)

Learn more: 80+ IEP Accommodations Every Teacher Should Bookmark

English Language Arts Differentiated Instruction Examples

Screen shot of Newsela showing ability to change reading level (Differentiated Instruction Strategies)

  • Leveled Reading Materials: Leveled books have been around for a long time, but today teachers can also use leveled reading sites like Newsela . (DI Area: Content)
  • High-Low Books: High-interest, low-readability level books keep readers engrossed page after page, without leaving them feeling frustrated or bored. Find a list of our favorites here. (DI Area: Content)
  • Literacy Centers: Center work allows kids to go at their own pace and work privately, without feeling the need to keep up with others. Explore our big list of literacy center ideas here. (DI Areas: Process, Learning Environment)
  • Varied Spelling/Vocabulary Lists: Offer shorter or longer lists depending on aptitude, using more-advanced words to challenge kids who excel in this area. (DI Area: Content)
  • Book Report Options: Give students a variety of ways to report back on the book they’ve read, including written papers, presentations, posters, skits, and more. Find 40+ book report ideas here. (DI Area: Process)
  • Writing Tools: If handwriting is a challenge, explore options like special pencil grips or try one of these easy hacks . When handwriting isn’t the learning goal, offer kids options like oral responses or typing instead. (DI Areas: Process, Product)
  • Reading Spaces: Provide spaces in your classroom where students can get comfortable while they read. Vary the lighting, seating, and noise levels to create areas for different styles. See some of our favorite reading nooks here. (DI Area: Learning Environment)
  • Diverse Materials: Ensure your reading choices include diverse and multicultural characters, settings, and authors . (DI Area: Content)
  • Flexible Groups: Instead of leaving students in the same-leveled reading groups at all times, mix up your groupings by interest, readiness, or learning styles. (DI Area: Learning Environment)
  • Writing Conferences: Meet with students individually to identify strengths and challenges. Or try peer writing groups that partner stronger writers with those who need more help. (DI Areas: Process, Learning Environment)

Math Differentiated Instruction Examples

Child writing a dollar amount next to a pile of coin math manipulatives

  • Manipulatives: These aren’t just for little kids! Make math manipulatives available to older students too, to help those who benefit from kinesthetic learning. (DI Area: Process)
  • Evens or Odds: When giving homework assignments or practice worksheets, give students who need extra time the option to complete only the even or odd questions. This gives them effective practice but keeps them motivated. (DI Areas: Content, Process)
  • Math Centers: Just like literacy centers, math centers let kids choose their pace and learning process. Try these 10 activities for secondary math centers. (DI Areas: Learning Environment, Process)
  • Small Groups: After teaching a concept, put kids in small groups to tackle practice problems together. Many times, students will show each other new ways of learning that teachers might not think of. (DI Areas: Learning Environment, Process)
  • Open-Ended Questions: Students think of math as having one cut-and-dried answer, but you can encourage more creative thinking with broader questions. Learn more from My Teaching Cupboard. (DI Areas: Process, Product)
  • Math Books: We’re not talking about textbooks. Use storybooks with a math theme to engage reluctant learners. (DI Area: Process)
  • Assessment Options: Give students different ways to demonstrate their knowledge, whether it’s answering flash cards out loud, writing an explanation of their solution methods, or drawing pictures to explain their thinking. (DI Areas: Product, Process)
  • Real-Life Math: Whenever possible, use real examples to show kids why math matters. Money activities can be especially effective in engaging students. (DI Area: Process)
  • Active Math Games: Many students learn best when their bodies are involved. Use active math games to engage students on a variety of levels. (DI Area: Process)
  • Pre-Teach Vocabulary: This may be especially important for ESL speakers. Ensure they know specialized terms (e.g., shape names) before tackling math concepts. (DI Area: Process)

Science and Social Studies Differentiated Instruction Examples

A variety of graphic organizers with pens and a clipboard

  • Graphic Organizers: This note-taking method encourages students to organize information visually. Kids might draw pictures or diagrams instead of writing words—whatever works for them. Learn about graphic organizers here. (DI Area: Process)
  • Audiobooks and Videos: Reading is an important skill, but it can hold students back in other subjects. Give kids the option to use audiobooks or videos that cover the same content. This is also helpful for different learning styles. (DI Area: Process)
  • Project Choices: Let students choose from different options to demonstrate their knowledge on a subject. They might write a paper, perform a skit, create a picture book, draw a poster, give a presentation, or more. (DI Area: Product, Process)
  • Diverse Materials: Use videos with diverse presenters, read books or articles by diverse authors, and explore stories of many cultures. (DI Areas: Learning Environment, Content)
  • Pre-Teach Vocabulary and Concepts: Just as in math, it’s important to ensure all students are on the same basic page before you begin instruction. Pre-assessments can help you learn which vocabulary terms or foundational concepts some (or all) students need reinforced. (DI Area: Process)

Examples of Special Education Differentiated Instruction Strategies

Note: Special education students usually have Individualized Education Plans (IEP) , with a variety of required accommodations and modifications. Always be sure to follow a student’s IEP requirements and recommendations. Learn more about special education here.

  • Time or Workload Modifications: Reduce the amount of work expected from a student, or increase the amount of time they have to complete it. The use of “evens and odds” for math worksheets is a good example of differentiated instruction for special ed students. (DI Areas: Product, Assessment)
  • Scaffolding: Provide support for students by breaking down learning into manageable chunks. Find multiple ways to scaffold instruction here. (DI Area: Process)
  • Tailored Learning Spaces: Some students need complete silence while they learn; others prefer background noise. Headphones can be a solution for both. Explore small environmental changes you can make to differentiate learning for all students. (DI Area: Learning Environment)
  • Routines: Special education students often benefit from established routines. Keep their learning schedule the same each day, and use proven instruction methods that they know and are comfortable with. (DI Area: Process)
  • Peer or Teacher Assistance: When possible, extra attention from a teacher, teacher’s aide, or peer can provide the support special ed students need. They might read questions aloud for students to respond to, explain things in a new way, or help them stay on task as they work. (DI Area: Process)

Resources for Differentiated Instruction Strategies

  • Carol Anne Tomlinson: What Is Differentiated Instruction? (Video)
  • Differentiating Instruction: It’s Not As Hard As You Think (Video)
  • Differentiated for Student Learning (Video Series)
  • How To Differentiate Instruction in Academically Diverse Classrooms (Tomlinson, 2017)
  • Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom (Sousa/Tomlinson, 2018)
  • How To Plan Differentiated Reading Instruction: Resources for Grades K-3 (Walpole/McKenna, 2017)
  • Differentiation in the Elementary Grades (Doubet/Hocket, 2017)
  • Differentiation in Middle and High School (Doubet/Hocket, 2015)

What are your go-to differentiated instruction strategies? Come share your ideas and ask for advice in the We Are Teachers HELPLINE group on Facebook .

Plus, read what is scaffolding in education.

Use these examples of differentiated instruction strategies in your classroom to ensure every student has a chance to succeed each day.

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What Is Differentiated Instruction and What Does It Look Like in the Classroom?

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20 Differentiated Instruction Strategies and Examples [+ Downloadable List]

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Written by Marcus Guido

Reviewed by Allison Sinclair, M.T.

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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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10 tips for differentiated reading instruction in K-3

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Looking for tips to achieve differentiated reading instruction in K-3 ? You’re in the right place!

differentiated instruction reading examples

(This post contains affiliate links.)


It’s the big buzz word these days, isn’t it?

But what does it really  mean?

Simply put, differentiation is tailoring your instruction to meet the needs of individual learners.

According to Carol Ann Tomlinson , “Differentiating instruction means ‘shaking up’ what goes on in the classroom so that students have multiple options for taking in information, making sense of ideas, and expressing what they learn.”

Differentiation is not …

  • giving the same instruction and assignments to the entire class, day after day.
  • giving busy work or extra problems to early finishers.
  • doing something different for every student in your classroom. (Whew!)

Differentiation is …

  • a flexible approach to instruction.
  • adjusting how we teach based on students’ readiness levels, interests, and learning styles.
  • changing the way we teach so that everyone – the advanced, struggling, and on-level readers, LEARN.

Here’s the thing.

Differentiation isn’t easy.

But here’s the good news!

By following a few key tips, you can learn to meet the needs of all your readers.

And you can do it with the time you have – without burning yourself out.

Let’s take a look at ten tips for differentiating reading instruction in K-3.

10 tips for differentiating reading K-3

1. take the time to teach structure and routines..

Boring, right? I mean, why spend a couple of weeks practicing routines when learning to read is so much more fun?

If you’ve taught for more than a week, you know the answer.

If we skip over the routines, it’s only a matter of time before our classrooms become a hot mess. Every time we try to sit down with a small group, we’ll be interrupted.  There will be commotion and quarreling at center time. Before long we’ll want to grab a stack of identical worksheets and throw our differentiation dreams out the window.

differentiated instruction reading examples

We all know that it’s important to teach structure and routines. But how do we begin?

The trick is to think about all the moving parts that will make your reading block run smoothly. Then model what you want to see. And practice, practice, practice.

  • How will students assemble for read aloud time?
  • How will they move through learning centers?
  • How will students choose their own books?
  • How will they “help themselves” when you are busy with a small group?
  • What will they do when they finish their work?
  • How will you minimize noise?
  • How will students work productively in small groups?

2. Organize your classroom library.

I used to recommend leveling much of the classroom library using Fountas & Pinnell’s guided reading leveling system.

I no longer recommend this, because after studying the science of reading I no longer support using the early predictable books with beginning readers.

Instead, I recommend building up your collection of quality decodable books and giving them their own bins.

I also recommend sorting books by series and topic.

3. Assess regularly, and plan how you’ll use the results.

When you think of assessment, what comes to mind? For many of us, assessment is that thing we do at the end of the unit to see if our students “got it.” But that’s just one way to assess – and considering it’s after the teaching has concluded, it’s not even the most effective!

Consider all the ways to gather information about your learners!

  • conversations with students
  • classroom discussions
  • student work
  • observation
  • formal assessments

Whether you’re referring to the results of formal instruction such as Acadience Reading (my favorite!)  or informal notes that you jot down during small groups  – you’ve got to decide what to do with the information.

I suggest recording the data on a spreadsheet. Use the chart to group students with similar needs. Then make plans for how to address their needs in small groups or in individual reading conferences.

4. Structure your reading block for differentiation.

If your reading instruction is typically a block of whole class instruction, it’s hard to differentiate.

I recommend starting the reading block with differentiated instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics, using small groups. If possible, involve other teachers at your school so that each of you teach just two total groups; that way, everyone can receive this instruction every day.

Then do whole class lessons in comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency.

differentiated instruction reading examples

A smart way to conclude your reading time is with an interactive read-aloud.

5. Rethink independent reading time.

Back when I was a student (ahem) years ago, silent reading time was about promoting the enjoyment of reading. In hopes of achieving that, teachers made sure that every child was occupied with a book. It could be ANY book, as long as it was made of paper and had words in it. The teacher read at the same time (or graded papers).

differentiated instruction reading examples

Times have changed. While we certainly want our students to learn to enjoy reading, our goals for independent reading time are bigger than that. It’s a teaching time.

I recommend giving each child a bag of books with books s/he is responsible for reading. For most early readers, these should be decodable books that feature phonics patterns you’ve already taught.

You might also include small versions of text you’ve read together during shared reading.

Finally, consider allowing kids to have “dessert books” that they enjoy looking at but cannot read yet. (Insist, however, that they practice their decodable books first.)

A final tip: Beginning readers should spend most of the reading block getting explicit instruction and reviewing previously learned skills, not spending 30-40 minutes doing “independent reading.” Increase the independent reading time when they are ready.

6. Don’t be afraid of explicit instruction.

For years I’ve been a balanced literacy advocate, but as I learn more about the science of reading I’ve experienced a shift in my thinking.

I used to be afraid of explicit instruction … to me it could only mean boring-snoring drill and kill.

But when you have a strong reading curriculum with hands-on materials, explicit instruction can be pleasant and – yes- even fun.

7. Use flexible grouping.

The reality is that you probably have your low, medium, and high readers. And there will be many times that it will make sense to group them accordingly. But not always.

Whatever you do, don’t create labeled, permanent groups that never change.

8. Give kids meaningful work, not busy work.

Your explicit, whole class lessons are important. Your explicit, small group instruction is important.

But your centers are important, too.

It’s tempting to create cute center activities without stopping to consider our goals and objectives. We might want to keep the kids busy so we can focus on the “important” learning in our small groups.

Rather than make the learning centers cute, isolated activities, use them as an extension of whole and small group instruction. Make sure the activities feature skills students have mastered; they can use the center to practice the skills to automaticity.

For quality centers, check out these!

  • Mega bundle of phonics centers
  • Mega bundle of fluency centers

9. Make the work for all learners equally appealing.

Don’t give your low learners worksheets while the advanced learners get to play a game.

10. Take it slow, and be easy on yourself.

During my first years of teaching I took one subject to improve on each year. I spent all summer reading, studying, and planning for how I was going to take my teaching to the next level.

You can have the same approach to differentiation.

Add new strategies to your toolbox each year.

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differentiated instruction reading examples

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Reader Interactions


September 14, 2018 at 6:04 pm

Hi Anna, Thank you for the information. How exactly do you use Book Wizard. Sorry, my keyboard’s question mark isn’t working. Anyway, I clicked on the link you gave but was a a quandary as to how exactly I wanted to level my books. I teach K and have a ton of books but was wondering if there was a way I could enter the titles and the system would tell me.

September 14, 2018 at 6:12 pm

I’m sorry. I went back and didn’t see the search bar. I got it now.

September 16, 2018 at 3:27 pm

May 4, 2017 at 8:49 am

Thank you for this information. I teach Adult Education at a non-profit Mental Health Facility. Some of our members are age 50+ and were “passed though” the public school system without them ever acquiring the most basic reading skills. I’m trying to assess their levels without any formal testing materials, then differentiating their materials to their abilities. For an adult, it can be difficult to find interesting materials at a 1-4 grade level. There is one man, with whom I’ve been working with for over a year, that just doesn’t get it still. It is difficult when I only work with him for 30 minutes to an hour a week…

Anna Geiger

May 13, 2017 at 5:09 pm

I can only imagine how challenging that would be, Cindy! Thank you so much for your dedication!

Lisa Dorsett

May 3, 2017 at 9:32 pm

This is excellent information and very informative. Thank you for sharing! ?

May 13, 2017 at 5:10 pm

Thanks for reading, Lisa!

Marya Fonsh-Mielinski

April 25, 2017 at 4:58 pm

Hi! I love all the freebies I can get now that I “belong” to your site and I loved the tips on this post. The drag is that I cannot figure out how to access the printable for differentiation tips! 😉 Am I just missing it somewhere on the freebies page? I don’t think that it was ‘sent’ directly to my inbox in the welcome email…sometimes my email at school is weird, and sometimes (she admits) I am not so good at technology 🙂 Thanks!

April 26, 2017 at 12:46 pm

Hi Marya! Feel free to send me an email, and we can figure it out: anna(at)themeasuredmom(dot)com.

Mahesh Kumar

April 20, 2017 at 12:12 am

Hi Anna, These are really some wonderful things you have mentioned here. My kid has just started in play school. I should keep these things in my mind, it’ll help me search a better school for my kid. Thanks a lot for sharing.

April 22, 2017 at 5:32 pm

You’re very welcome, Mahesh!

Jimmie Brown

April 18, 2017 at 10:43 am

Excellent information, thank you

April 18, 2017 at 3:13 pm

You’re welcome, Jimmie!

April 18, 2017 at 7:20 am

Great article, as always! Thank you for sharing from your treasury of knowledge.

Thank you, Robyn!

Jacqui Jacobs

April 18, 2017 at 1:51 am

THANK YOU for sharing! Awesome ideas. So grateful.

April 18, 2017 at 3:14 pm

You’re very welcome, Jacqui! 🙂

April 18, 2017 at 12:25 am

Very exciting to work like this.

April 17, 2017 at 10:34 pm

Thank you for sharing

You’re welcome, Elaine!

April 17, 2017 at 11:09 am

Thank you so much.

April 18, 2017 at 3:17 pm

You’re welcome, Tessy!

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differentiated instruction reading examples

  • Our Mission

A Reading List for Differentiated Instruction

You can find ideas on how to gear your teaching to meet the needs of all students even in works that aren’t explicitly about differentiation.

Image a bookshelf built in the shape of a tree positioned in front of a blackboard

One of the many hopes that we as educators have for our students is that they become lifelong learners. We want them to explore their passions, which in time might turn into career opportunities. Through conversations, books, and media, we plant ideas that may someday grow into something useful in a student’s life journey.

I often refer to the stories told by Steve Jobs in his 2005 commencement speech to Stanford University graduates as an example of a lifelong learning journey. Jobs discussed how following his “curiosity and intuition” led to “connecting the dots” of self-exploration, which led to professional opportunities and success.

Jobs’s words in that speech inspired over 27 million views. Through practicing lifelong learning, we can connect the dots with learners and model how they can accomplish much by following their curiosity and intuition.

Meeting the needs of all learners does not have to be difficult. Any instructional practice or system we explore that attends to student voice and agency can be personalized to individuals and groups—which is differentiation. I’ve written a book on differentiation, So All Can Learn , but you can get ideas on the topic from all sorts of sources. To that end, here are readings that encourage reflection and conversation about effective practices that we might include in our toolbox.

“Free Is Good” This article by Bethany Rayl is packed with ideas for accessing open educational resources (OER). Use it to differentiate by flipping its ideas and showing students how they can revise, remix, and redistribute content, sharing their voice with a public audience. Use the wealth of materials to personalize activities for individuals or groups in order to meet the needs of your learners.

Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement This classic book by Ceri B. Dean, Elizabeth Ross Hubbell, Howard Pitler, and Bj Stone covers nine practices that can provide high yields in learning. All of them can be differentiated by simply giving students options so they can make their own choices. Here are examples for differentiating each practice .

Developing Natural Curiosity Through Project-Based Learning: Five Strategies for the PreK–3 Classroom With this book by Dayna Laur and Jill Ackers, explore how young kids can do project-based learning (PBL) with strong authentic experiences beyond the traditional classroom. For example, the authors’ take on unpacking standards into powerful learning experiences is gold. Relating curriculum to students’ lives leads to differentiation connections by fostering voice and choice—key elements in PBL—and helps learners see relevance and purpose in assignments.

The Space: A Guide for Educators Rethinking and reimagining classroom space setups can develop a culture of learning if we include students in the shaping of the environment. Student voice is a powerful differentiation tool. This accessible book by Rebecca Hare and Robert Dillon provides a thoughtful way to rethink classroom space based on what students determine is valuable to their learning experiences.

Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools Be prepared to be challenged by what students need versus what is comfortable for adults. The ideas in this book by Ron Ritchhart, backed by powerful examples, will challenge most educators about what we know is best for students, and our perceptions of what can be done. If you believe that students should be at the center of all decisions, use this book to become an innovator of a can-do philosophy.

Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn This treasure trove of research-backed ideas by John Hattie and Gregory Yates will challenge cherished practices and inspire permission to expand one’s teacher toolbox to meet each student’s needs. The chapter “The Role of Feedback” alone makes this book a necessary read if we are to help all students achieve.

Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer’s Notebook Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing What a Writer Needs Ralph Fletcher is an essential mentor for all who teach writing. It’s hard to choose just one of his books, so here are three that help teachers understand the perspective of students, who typically do not view themselves as writers. Teachers can address the needs of diverse learners by using Fletcher’s concrete ways to transform fearful students into confident writers.

As Yoda says, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Being a lifelong learner requires perseverance and a willingness to be vulnerable with oneself. Choose a couple of these suggested readings. Find affirmation of what you already know is important, and explore ideas that might shift your thinking. Reflect with honest self-assessment on the weaknesses in your practice—we all have them. No apologies need be offered for being a flawed human being. So long as we strive and struggle to become better than our past self, there is renewed hope.

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The Foundational Guide to Differentiated Instruction

Voyager Sopris Learning Icon

  • Classroom Activities/Strategies/Guides

Most of us have experienced the frustration of one-size-fits-all clothing at some point. The concept or idea isn’t necessarily bad, but it just doesn’t work for everyone. The same can be said of education. Educators know that education does not work well as a one-size-fits-all approach. The more students in a classroom, the more diverse classrooms become. And with classrooms becoming increasingly diverse, the need for differentiated instruction becomes more critical.

Differentiated instruction is an approach to teaching that recognizes the diverse needs and abilities of students. Rather than offering a one-size-fits-all approach that forces students to fit into a predetermined box, instruction should  meet the individual, unique needs of the students. Differentiated instruction is extremely important because of its ability to foster equity and inclusion, create a more engaging and effective learning environment, and improve overall student achievement.

Ultimately, differentiated classrooms recognize students have diverse backgrounds, strengths, interests, and challenges, and a one-size-fits-all approach to instruction may not be effective for all learners. While differentiated instruction and its strategies may pose some challenges, the benefits of differentiation in the classroom are numerous and the challenges can be overcome.

Strategies for Implementing Differentiated Instruction

Simply put, differentiated strategies involve tailoring instruction to meet the diverse needs of all learners. This tailoring can be something as easy as identifying the learning styles of students or can involve some intentional structuring of assignments. The goal isn’t to put more work on teachers and make them feel they need to edit or recreate every assignment. Instead, the goal is to give teachers the freedom to make adjustments to their ideas and curriculum that will lean into students’ strengths and therefore increase student achievement.

Identifying Learning Styles and Preferences

Identifying learning styles and preferences is an important early step in implementing differentiation of instruction. By identifying these aspects, teachers can better tailor their instruction to meet each student’s unique needs. Every classroom is likely to have a combination of visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners, which means visual aids, lectures and discussions, and physical movement should be used in instruction. Student preference or interest is also a form of differentiation. Finding a strong combination of student readiness plus their interests equals deeper engagement and application of the learning.

Teachers can identify these a number of ways. First, general observations can often reveal how a student learns best. However, if this is unclear, then teachers may choose to experiment with several different activities and styles to see how students react and perform. For older students, self-reflection or learning styles tests may allow students to verbalize an awareness of their own learning preferences. 

Curriculum Compacting

Curriculum compacting is a process where teachers can modify certain curriculum to meet the needs of high-ability students. It is a way of streamlining grade-level curriculum for students who may have already mastered certain skills or content. Once a teacher has assessed a student’s level of mastery, they may make changes to parts of the curriculum that allow students to move more quickly through content they already understand to focus on new or more challenging material.

This is an important teaching method for the higher-achieving end of the differentiation spectrum because it can help prevent students from becoming bored or disengaged with curriculum.

Tiered Assignments

Using tiered assignments is a classic strategy where teachers create multiple versions of an assignment that have varying levels of complexity, skill, or depth that correlate with the individual needs and abilities of students. Therefore, it is important to select a writing program that supports individualized instruction by offering different levels of complexity to match student skill level. 

For example, during writing instruction , students may be given a variety of prompts to respond to, or they may be assigned different length requirements to meet. Programs like Step Up to Writing ® offer differentiated instruction tiers for emergent, grade-level, and advanced writers starting as early as kindergarten through 12th grade. It is important to select a writing program that supports the individuality of each and every learner, regardless of age or preparation, as Step Up to Writing does. 

Interest-Based Learning

Along with identifying learning styles and preferences, learning the interests of individual students leads to an opportunity to implement interest-based learning in class. By designing learning experiences that tap into students’ interests, teachers can create a more student-centered and personalized learning environment. Students are more likely to engage in reading, writing, and researching when it involves something that interests them.

This may be done in the form of an ongoing evaluation throughout the school year, or even a final formative assessment where students can apply the knowledge and skills they’ve learned to something that truly interests them.

Benefits of Differentiated Instruction

In today’s diverse classrooms, one-size-fits-all instruction is no longer effective in meeting the unique needs of every student. Therefore, differentiating instruction can be one of the most beneficial instructional strategies teachers can implement in their classrooms.

Differentiation can take place at both the curriculum and instruction level—and mutually benefit the teachers as well as the students. A little bit of extra thought and organization during the lesson planning process can create a learning environment that meets the needs of diverse learners, personalizes learning, promotes student engagement, and fosters collaboration and community.

Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners

Meeting the unique needs of all students during instruction is essential for success. A differentiated teaching approach is one of the most effective instructional methods, which enables educators to tailor their teaching to the students’ diverse learning styles and abilities. 

Personalizing Learning

The more personalized the learning experience, the more meaningful and enduring the lessons become. Differentiated instruction allows teachers to personalize learning by tapping into learning styles and learning profiles in ways that make students feel seen and valued.

Promoting Student Engagement

Many teachers struggle with classroom management, in part because some students act out when disengaged. Yes, part of classroom management is set from policies and expectations given at the beginning of a school year, but classroom management is maintained through effective classroom instruction. Therefore, differentiated instruction can be an effective classroom management tool for teachers.

Fostering Collaboration and Community

One of the most beautiful things education can provide for students is a sense of community and belonging. When teachers are able to differentiate their instruction, they are doing just that—fostering collaboration and community by meeting students where they are and giving them new ways to relate to and learn from each other.

Examples of Differentiated Instruction in Action

It is not an unlikely scenario for a teacher to have a classroom that includes some students with learning disabilities (like dyslexia ), some who are reading two levels ahead, some English language learners, and all with varying levels of intelligence and interest. Simply printing off different variations of worksheets is not an effective way to reach a group like this. A variety of instructional strategies in each content area is more likely to reach each student.

Teachers have an ideal amount of curriculum they want to get through within a given time frame, but they shouldn’t feel so locked into that curriculum that they lose student engagement in the process. Differentiated instruction can be used in all classrooms—no matter the age, grade level, or content—to the students’ benefit. There are many differentiated instruction strategies and examples available, and for each subject level, teachers can find the perfect fit for their curriculum and classroom.

Differentiating Instruction in Mathematics

An example of a simple way to differentiate instruction in mathematics may involve the use of equations. When it comes to assessments, some students may be provided with the equations while others are not.

But differentiation in math goes much deeper than that. One of the best ways to differentiate instruction in math is to allow students to connect the lesson to personal interests and everyday scenarios. For example, a budget project in math class will allow students to explore numbers in relation to what they like to buy or spend money on.

Differentiating Instruction in English Language Arts

Differentiated instruction is one of the key components when it comes to reading comprehension and reading intervention. One of the key questions when determining effective reading intervention is asking if the program allows for differentiated instruction. Differentiating instruction in English language arts allows teachers to more confidently teach any given combination of readers and writers.

Challenges and Solutions

While differentiated instruction has many benefits, it also presents some challenges for teachers. Adapting instruction to meet the diverse needs of each student can be time-consuming, and managing different groups of students working on different tasks can also present a challenge. Teachers may feel overwhelmed with time constraints or feel the need for additional training to be successful.

Both of these things, however, are avoidable. While additional training can be beneficial, it is not a requirement and shouldn’t feel like a burden. The truth is that the majority of teachers already differentiate their instruction to some varying degree whether they realize it or not—some may need a little encouragement and validation that what they are doing is working and beneficial.

Time Management

Teachers constantly feel crunched for time. It is challenging to plan lessons, organize materials, instruct students, build relationships, and grade assessments each day. Including more student-centered activities and choice into instruction will not only free up some of the teacher’s time during the day, but it will also allow the students to take a more active role in their learning.

Classroom Management

Classroom management always finds itself on the list of challenges for teachers. Differentiated instruction is a huge contributing factor to managing a classroom, along with the policies and procedures put in place at the beginning of the school year. When it comes to classroom management, some of the best solutions are to keep it simple. Have a few rules that are comprehensive and can cover a lot of behavior.

For example, Children’s Literacy Initiative suggests the Power of Three, which includes, “Take care of ourselves, take care of others, and take care of the classroom.” The same can be said of differentiated instruction. Don’t try to do too much at once. Choose a few differentiation strategies to work with at a time rather than overwhelming yourself—and students—with too many.

Assessment and Grading

One way teachers can avoid getting bogged down by assessments and grading is by taking a more holistic approach. Rubrics can help with this as well. Rubrics can be as detailed or as holistic as needed. While they may take a bit more time on the front end to make, a good rubric will be easy to use and will speed up the assessment process. 

Professional Development and Support

Ultimately, teachers must remember they are not alone. Teachers can sometimes feel isolated when they are spending the majority of their days surrounded by children or young adults. Being the oldest person in the room and the main authority figure throughout the day can create a false sense of needing to figure things out on your own.

Taking time to step outside of your classroom and curriculum is important. While it can be frustrating at first to have to take time away from an already busy day to attend professional development, the long-term benefits of professional development far outweigh the short-term inconvenience. Seeking support from colleagues, administrators, and professional development can make the challenges a little less challenging.

In her book How to Differentiate Instruction in Academically Diverse Classrooms, Carol Ann Tomlinson, professor at the University of Virginia’s School of Education and Human Development and one of the leading American educators on differentiated instruction, wrote: “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.” These words are a great reminder for teachers to lean in and embrace student differences and the opportunity to differentiate instruction as something special.

Voyager Sopris Learning ® offers additional support for educators looking for differentiated instruction and practice that is explicit, systematic, and research-based.

  • Strategies for Teaching Reading Comprehension
  • Creating Effective Rubrics: Examples and Best Practices

Step Up To Writing

Research-Based Writing Instruction (Grades K–12)


Engaging the 21st Century Learner

4-day workshop may 6 - 9, improving school culture & climate, full day workshop jun 19, social-emotional learning, full day workshop jun 20, close reading & text-dependent questions, full day workshop jun 21, the flipped classroom, 2-day workshop jun 25 & 26, effective classroom management, full day workshop jul 15, reclaiming the joy of teaching, full day workshop jul 16, growth mindset, full day workshop jul 17, project-based learning, full day workshop jul 18.

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Differentiated Instruction: Strategies and Examples for the Classroom

teacher pointing to the whiteboard

In today’s increasingly diverse classrooms, differentiated instruction has become a crucial component for ensuring all students receive the support and opportunities they need to succeed.

This article will provide K-12 educators, school administrators, and educational organizations with a comprehensive understanding of differentiated instruction strategies, their importance, and practical examples that can be easily applied in various classroom settings.

As we delve into the key principles, strategies, and real-life applications of differentiated instruction, you will gain valuable insights and tools to create a more inclusive and effective learning environment for every student.

Understanding Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction is an educational approach that focuses on adapting teaching methods and materials to accommodate the diverse learning needs of students in a classroom.

The primary goal of differentiated instruction is to ensure that every student has an equal opportunity to learn, engage, and succeed, regardless of their abilities, background, or learning style.

This teaching philosophy recognizes that students come from various backgrounds and have unique strengths, weaknesses, and preferences, making it essential for educators to cater to their individual needs.

Check Out Our Online Course: Engaging the 21st Century Learner: Classroom Strategies to Increase Engagement and Rigor.


Key Principles of Differentiated Instruction

teacher clapping with kids around her

This approach encourages active engagement and ownership of learning, helping students build on their existing knowledge and skills.

Flexible grouping is another fundamental principle of differentiated instruction. By organizing students into various groups based on skill level, learning style, or interest, educators can provide targeted instruction and support.

This allows for a dynamic learning environment where students can collaborate and learn from one another, fostering a sense of community and shared responsibility in the classroom.

Differentiated Instruction Strategies

Differentiated instruction strategies can be categorized into three main areas: content, process, and product. These strategies help educators create a more inclusive and effective learning environment for all students.

Content differentiation focuses on the material being taught and how it is presented to students. Tiered assignments, for example, allow teachers to provide different levels of complexity within the same assignment, ensuring that each student is challenged according to their ability.

Learning centers are another content differentiation strategy, where educators create stations with activities tailored to various learning styles and abilities, enabling students to work at their own pace.

Process differentiation addresses how students engage with and make sense of the content. Flexible grouping is a key strategy in process differentiation, where educators form groups based on students’ readiness, interests, and learning profiles. This allows for more targeted instruction and collaboration among students with similar needs.

Differentiated questioning techniques are another process differentiation strategy, where teachers pose questions at varied levels of complexity to assess and challenge each student appropriately.

Product differentiation involves giving students choices in how they demonstrate their understanding of the content. Product options can range from alternative assignments and activities to different assessment types.

For example, students may be asked to write an essay or create a podcast as part of their final project.

Rubrics and assessment tools can also be used to differentiate products, providing clear expectations and criteria for success while accommodating diverse learning needs and abilities.

Real-Life Examples of Differentiated Instruction in Action

In an elementary school setting, differentiated instruction can be effectively implemented through reading workshops and math centers.

Reading workshops allow students to engage with texts at their individual reading levels while participating in guided reading sessions, independent reading, and comprehension activities. This approach not only fosters a love for reading but also addresses the varying abilities of students in the class.

Math centers provide opportunities for students to practice and apply mathematical concepts through hands-on activities, games, and problem-solving tasks, tailored to their individual skill levels.

At the middle school level, differentiated instruction strategies can be applied in a science lab setting or during a social studies project.

In the science lab , students can be grouped based on their prior knowledge and skills, allowing them to conduct experiments and analyze results at a pace and complexity suited to their abilities. This ensures that all students are challenged and engaged while also providing opportunities for peer learning and collaboration.

In social studies projects, students can be given a choice of topics or formats, allowing them to explore an area of interest and demonstrate their learning in a way that best suits their strengths and preferences.

Integrating Technology in Differentiated Instruction

As technology continues to advance, educators can leverage various tools and resources to support differentiated instruction in their classrooms.

Online resources and digital tools play a significant role in facilitating differentiation by providing students with personalized learning experiences and helping teachers manage diverse learning needs effectively.

There is an abundance of online resources designed to help teachers differentiate instruction. Websites and platforms like Khan Academy, Edmodo, and Google Classroom offer customizable learning materials, including videos, texts, quizzes, and interactive activities, which can be tailored to individual student’s needs and interests.

These resources enable teachers to provide targeted support and enrichment opportunities, ensuring every student receives an appropriate level of challenge and support.

In addition to online resources, classroom technologies can be utilized to promote differentiation. Interactive whiteboards, tablets, and document cameras enable teachers to present information in various formats, accommodating students’ diverse learning styles.

For example, visual learners may benefit from watching videos or interactive presentations, while auditory learners may prefer listening to podcasts or recorded lectures.

Moreover, adaptive learning platforms can be employed to track student progress and provide real-time feedback, allowing teachers to make data-driven decisions when adjusting instruction for different learners.

These platforms help identify areas of strength and areas that require extra support, ensuring all students are on the right path to achieving their academic goals.

Tips for Implementing Differentiated Instruction in the Classroom

kid answering on whiteboard

Teachers can use surveys, interviews, and observations to gather information about their student’s learning preferences, strengths, and challenges. This information can also help in establishing a positive learning environment where every student feels valued and supported.

Planning and organizing for differentiation is another essential step in creating an inclusive and effective learning environment. Educators can start by reviewing their curriculum and identifying areas where differentiated strategies can be applied.

This may involve modifying lesson plans, creating tiered assignments, or incorporating learning centers.

Educators should plan for ongoing assessment and feedback to evaluate student understanding. This can be done through formative assessments such as observation notes or quick checks.

Strobel Education’s Role in Supporting Differentiated Instruction

Strobel Education is dedicated to empowering educators with the tools and strategies necessary to implement differentiated instruction effectively in their classrooms.

These programs provide educators with an in-depth understanding of differentiated instruction principles and practical applications, such as how to adjust lesson plans for learners at various readiness levels or incorporate technology into the classroom.

In addition to our professional development programs, Strobel Education also provides numerous resources and tools that educators can use to enhance their differentiated instruction strategies.

Differentiated instruction is an invaluable approach to teaching that ensures equitable access and opportunities for all students. At Strobel Education, we understand the importance of differentiated instruction and are committed to supporting educators in their journey to create more inclusive classrooms.

At Strobel Education , we understand the power and importance of differentiated instruction. It is essential for achieving success in our professional and personal lives. We offer the Engaging the 21st Century Learner professional development training in two formats.

  • Our Engaging the 21st Century Learner through Differentiated Instruction On-site PD is great for learning how to provide differentiated instruction and gain strategies for engaging today’s learners.
  • The Engaging the 21st Century Learner Online Course delivers the same information but in a self-paced course, which offers teachers more flexibility. Teachers also get access to the course for nine months should they wish to implement it in small doses.

We get high-quality professional development into teachers’ hands so they have everything they need for immediate implementation and support. Our professional development workshops, courses, keynotes, and coaching services provide practical tools, resources, and mindset shifts that will help you enhance your classroom instruction strategies. Join our community of passionate educators today and let us help you transform your teaching practice to better serve your students. Together, we can make a lasting impact on student success.

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Number Dyslexia

14 Examples Of Differentiated Instruction In Reading To Understand It Better

Reading is an essential skill that underpins learning across all subject areas. However, as every teacher knows, students come to the classroom with different levels of reading ability, background knowledge, and learning styles. To ensure that every student has the opportunity to develop their reading skills to the fullest, educators must provide instruction that is tailored to their individual needs. This is where differentiated instruction comes in. 

By recognizing and addressing the unique learning needs of each student, differentiated instruction in reading has the potential to transform the classroom into a space where every student can succeed. In this article, we will explore the benefits of differentiated instruction in reading, and provide practical tips for implementing this approach in your classroom.

What is differentiated instruction in reading

Differentiated instruction is an approach to teaching that acknowledges the differences among students and adapts instruction to meet each student’s unique needs, strengths, and interests. In the context of reading, differentiated instruction means that teachers use a variety of strategies and techniques to support students as they develop their reading skills. 

Think of it this way: imagine you have a group of students who are all reading the same book. While they may have the same goal (to understand what the book is about), each student may have a different approach to reading and a different set of needs. Some students may be visual learners who need to see pictures and graphics to fully understand the content, while others may be auditory learners who need to hear the words being read aloud. Some students may need additional support to help them decode words and build their vocabulary, while others may struggle with comprehension and need help connecting the text to their own experiences.

Strategies that support student success through adaptive learning

By using a variety of strategies and taking into account the unique needs and learning styles of each student, teachers can create a dynamic and engaging learning environment that supports student success:

1. Flexible grouping

Teachers can group students based on their reading abilities and provide targeted instruction to meet the needs of each group. For example, one group may work on decoding words while another group works on comprehension strategies. This type of grouping allows teachers to provide customized instruction that meets the needs of each student. Small group instruction can also work for the same. 

Text sets

2. Text sets

Teachers can create a collection of texts at different levels on a similar topic so that students can choose books that match their abilities and interest. This allows students to read texts that are challenging, yet manageable, which promotes success and engagement. By having a variety of texts to choose from, students can select books that are interesting and relevant to their lives.

3. Graphic organizers

Teachers can use graphic organizers, such as Venn diagrams and concept maps, to help students make connections between the text and their own experiences. This visual representation of information helps students better understand and retain the content. By using graphic organizers for reading , students can see the relationships between different ideas and concepts, which enhances their understanding and retention.

Multisensory instruction

4. Multisensory instruction

Teachers can incorporate movement, hands-on activities, and other kinesthetic learning opportunities into the reading lesson. This type of instruction appeals to different learning styles and helps students connect with the content in a meaningful way. By engaging students in hands-on, multisensory activities , they are able to build a deeper connection with the material and retain it better.

A good example of multisensory instruction is the Orton-Gillingham approach , which is widely used to teach children with dyslexia and other reading difficulties. This approach is based on the idea that many students with reading difficulties learn best through the simultaneous use of multiple senses, such as sight, sound, touch, and movement.

 Audio books and reading apps

5. Audiobooks and reading apps

Teachers can use technology, such as audiobooks and reading apps, to support students who have difficulty with traditional print materials. This allows students to access the content in a way that works best for them and helps them build their reading skills. By using technology, teachers can provide students with a variety of reading materials and support their success, regardless of their reading level.

6.  Independent reading

Teachers can encourage students to choose their own books for independent reading and provide opportunities for students to discuss and share their thoughts about the books they have read. This allows students to pursue their own interests and develop their own reading tastes. By reading books that are of personal interest, students are more likely to be engaged and motivated, which leads to success.

7. Adaptive learning software

Teachers can use adaptive learning software, which provides personalized instruction and feedback to students based on their performance. This type of technology can help students improve their reading skills at their own pace. By using adaptive software, teachers can provide individualized support to each student, which helps them make progress and build their skills.

One example of adaptive learning software is Duolingo, which is a language learning platform that uses adaptive algorithms to personalize the learning experience for each individual user based on their performance and progress. The software adapts to the difficulty of the lessons and the frequency of review based on the user’s performance and mastery of each topic.

Reader's theater

8. Book clubs

Teachers can form small groups of students who are reading the same book and provide opportunities for them to discuss the text and explore different perspectives. This allows students to engage in deep discussions and develop their critical thinking skills. By participating in book clubs, students have an opportunity to discuss their thoughts and ideas with others, which helps them see the text from different perspectives.

9. Comprehension strategy instruction

Teachers can teach students specific comprehension strategies, such as summarizing, questioning, and making connections, and then provide opportunities for students to practice and apply these strategies. By teaching these strategies, students have a toolkit to use when they encounter challenging texts. By having a variety of strategies to use, students are better equipped to understand and engage with complex texts.

10. Reader’s theater

Teachers can have students perform a play based on a book they have read, which allows students to act out the story and make connections between the characters and events in the text. This type of activity also helps students build their fluency and oral expression skills. By performing the story, students are able to bring the text to life and engage with the material in a meaningful way.

11. Text-to-self connections

Teachers can encourage students to make connections between the text and their own experiences, which helps them personalize the material and see its relevance to their own lives. By making these connections, students are able to see how the text relates to their own experiences and perspectives, which enhances their understanding and engagement.

 Differentiated assessments

12. Differentiated assessments

Teachers can use a variety of assessments, such as written responses, presentations, and projects, to assess students’ understanding of the text. This allows teachers to assess the full range of students’ abilities and see what they know and are able to do. By using a variety of assessments, teachers can get a more complete picture of students’ understanding and provide targeted feedback to help them improve.

13. Word Study

Teachers can provide students with opportunities to study words and build their vocabulary, which helps them better understand the text and make connections between words and their meanings. By studying words, students are able to expand their knowledge and develop a deeper understanding of the text.

14. Collaborative learning

Teachers can provide opportunities for students to work together to solve problems and explore the text. This allows students to build their social and collaborative skills, as well as their understanding of the material. By working together, students are able to learn from one another and build a deeper understanding of the text and the world around them.

Benefits of differentiated instruction in reading: Empowering students through customized learning

Additionally, it is beneficial in several ways:

  • Meets the needs of all students: By taking into account the diverse learning needs and styles of students, differentiated instruction ensures that every student is challenged and supported in their reading journey.
  • Increases engagement and motivation: When students feel that their unique needs are being addressed and that they are making progress, they are more likely to be motivated and engaged in the reading process.
  • Improves reading skills: By providing customized support and opportunities for growth, differentiated instruction helps students develop their reading skills more effectively.
  • Builds confidence: When students are successful in reading, they build confidence in their abilities and are more likely to continue reading and learning.
  • Encourages critical thinking: Differentiated instruction often requires students to think deeply about the text and make connections between the content and their own experiences, which can foster critical thinking skills.

By teaching students to be flexible and adaptable in their learning, differentiated instruction helps them develop the skills they need to be successful in school and in their future careers. This method acknowledges that students learn in different ways and provides opportunities for students to learn in ways that are best for them.

Overall, differentiated instruction in reading is a highly effective approach that benefits both students and teachers. By creating a learning environment that is tailored to the needs of each student, teachers can help students achieve their full potential as readers and learners.

differentiated instruction reading examples

I am Shweta Sharma. I am a final year Masters student of Clinical Psychology and have been working closely in the field of psycho-education and child development. I have served in various organisations and NGOs with the purpose of helping children with disabilities learn and adapt better to both, academic and social challenges. I am keen on writing about learning difficulties, the science behind them and potential strategies to deal with them. My areas of expertise include putting forward the cognitive and behavioural aspects of disabilities for better awareness, as well as efficient intervention. Follow me on LinkedIn

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Initial Thoughts

Perspectives & resources, what is differentiated instruction, page 1: defining differentiated instruction.

  • Page 2: General Principles

How do teachers differentiate instruction?

  • Page 3: Know Your Students
  • Page 4: Differentiate Instructional Elements
  • Page 5: Differentiate Content
  • Page 6: Differentiate Process
  • Page 7: Differentiate Product
  • Page 8: Evaluate and Grade Student Performance

How do teachers prepare their students and their classrooms for differentiated instruction?

  • Page 9: Communicate with Students and Parents
  • Page 10: Organize the Classroom
  • Page 11: Employ Effective Behavior Management

What does differentiated instruction look like in the classroom?

  • Page 12: Classroom Implementation
  • Page 13: References & Additional Resources
  • Page 14: Credits

Students in a classroom

  • Employing effective classroom management procedures
  • Grouping students for instruction (especially students with significant learning problems)
  • Assessing readiness
  • Teaching to the student’s zone of proximal development

Although differentiated instruction as a whole is yet to be validated by scientific research, a growing body of evidence shows that the approach has positive effects on student learning.

Research Shows

  • Strategies used to differentiate instructional and assessment tasks for English language learners, gifted students, and struggling students were also effective for other students in the classroom. McQuarrie, McRae, & Stack-Cutler (2008)
  • Students with learning disabilities received more benefits from differentiated instruction than did their grade-level peers. McQuarrie, McRae, & Stack-Cutler (2008)
  • In one study, the reading skills of elementary- and middle-school students who participated in a reading program that incorporated differentiated instruction improved compared to the reading skills of students who did not receive the program. Baumgartner, Lipowski, & Rush (2003)

In addition to using the kinds of evidence-based strategies listed above, teachers who differentiate instruction often:

  • Use a variety of instructional approaches
  • Alter assignments to meet the needs of the students
  • Assess students on an ongoing basis to determine their readiness levels
  • Use assessment results to adjust instruction as needed
  • Provide a variety of options for how students can learn and demonstrate their knowledge
  • Strive to make lessons engaging and meaningful
  • Employ different grouping formats for instruction (e.g., whole-class, small groups, independent instruction) and use flexible grouping

flexible grouping

A fluid or dynamic method of grouping students. Rather than being set, group membership changes to meet the different needs of the students.

Click here to see the attributes of a traditional classroom contrasted with those of a differentiated classroom.

Teachers often have a number of misperceptions about differentiated instruction. Carol Ann Tomlinson addresses two of these (time: 1:33).


Carol Ann Tomlinson, EdD Professor of Educational Leadership, Foundations, and Policy The University of Virginia Charlottesville, VA

View Transcript

Transcript: Carol Ann Tomlinson, EdD

One is it takes too much time to plan, but the other is it takes too much time in a classroom to differentiate. The planning piece, of course, is a matter of saying differentiation doesn’t say spend an hour planning tonight like you always did and then add differentiation to it. What it would say is, if you have an hour to plan, think about how you can do that in a way that’s going to work for kids. And, again, if you go slowly it doesn’t need to eat your life in any way at all. But the issue in terms of it takes too much time in class is an intriguing one to me because it turns out that differentiation is not what takes extra time in class. What takes extra time in class is giving kids chances to work with ideas and manipulate ideas and come to own the information. It doesn’t take as long just to tell kids things or just to cover standards, but we also don’t have any evidence that students come away with understanding or the capacity to use what they’ve learned to transfer knowledge. When you take time to let kids think and make meaning of stuff, that slows us down some in terms of coverage. If you let kids make meaning of stuff in two different ways, or if you let kids make meaning of stuff working alone or working with somebody, or if you let kids making make meaning working independently or working with a teacher, that doesn’t take any longer. Where it got to take longer was in the making meaning part.

For Your Information

What is the difference between differentiated instruction and Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

Both attempt to maximize the learning of all students by offering multiple ways to learn content or skills and to demonstrate that knowledge. Additionally, both emphasize learning environments that are engaging and utilize ongoing assessments to make adjustments to meet the instructional needs of students. So what is the difference? The difference is in when and how changes are made to address the needs of students.

CAST, Inc. (2007)

How does response to intervention (RTI) fit in with differentiated instruction?

response to intervention (RTI)

A multi-tiered method for delivering instruction to learners through increasingly intensive and individualized interventions.

Both are instructional frameworks. Whereas the purpose of differentiated instruction is to address the needs of all students, the purpose of RTI is to identify and address the needs of struggling students. Though the two frameworks overlap—differentiated instruction is often provided in an RTI classroom—under RTI, students may receive more intensive levels of instruction than they would normally receive in a differentiated classroom.

How do adaptations (i.e., accommodations and modifications) fit with differentiated instruction?

Differentiated instruction might not be enough for some students to succeed. Those with disabilities might need additional supports—accommodations or modifications—to learn the concepts and skills being taught. These supports are identified in the student’s individual education program (IEP) .

individualized education program (IEP)

A written plan used to delineate an individual student’s current level of development and his or her learning goals, as well as to specify any accommodations, modifications, and related services that a student might need to attend school and maximize his or her learning.

differentiated instruction reading examples

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

Utilization of differentiated instruction in K-12 classrooms: a systematic literature review (2000–2022)

  • Review Article
  • Published: 15 February 2024

Cite this article

  • Linlin Hu   ORCID: 1 , 2  

Differentiated instruction (DI) is a beneficial approach to addressing students’ diverse learning needs, abilities, and interests to ensure that each student has the opportunity to make academic progress. To answer the question of how teachers utilize DI in K-12 classrooms, this systematic review was based on 61 empirical studies on DI published between 2000 and 2022. It examined the current status and trends of implementing DI in K-12 education and integrated various factors involved in the process of DI, including educational levels, subjects, student difference analysis, instructional methods, content, tools, assessment methods, and instructional effectiveness. The findings indicated that (1) DI was most commonly used in primary school mathematics and language classrooms, with the majority of studies having sample sizes exceeding 100 and lasting for more than 6 months; (2) The most frequently employed form of DI was ability grouping, often grouped based on academic achievement; (3) Information technology tools and resources can empower differentiated instruction; (4) Most studies utilized standardized tests, questionnaires, and scales as evaluation tools, with a focus on the impact of DI on students’ academic achievement and skills; and (5) The effectiveness of DI was controversial and influenced by multiple factors, such as may be associated with the instructional methods. In response to these findings, the study introduces a comprehensive DI model. This model, rooted in the perspective of instructional design, elucidates the interconnected factors of DI. It serves as a valuable reference for the future design and implementation of DI, offering a practical guide for educators aiming to create inclusive and effective learning environments.

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This work was supported by (The National Social Science Foundation's “14th five-year Plan” 2021 Pedagogy General Project) under Grant (Number BCA210083). At the same time, I would like to thank the experts who helped complete the literature screening and coding.

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Hu, L. Utilization of differentiated instruction in K-12 classrooms: a systematic literature review (2000–2022). Asia Pacific Educ. Rev. (2024).

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