Differentiated instruction in the classroom is a teaching strategy that involves varying lessons to meet the needs of all students.
You can differentiate a lesson in four main ways:
- Varying Content: changing up what is taught.
- Varying Process: changing up how it is taught.
- Varying Assessment: changing up how it is assessed.
- Varying Learning Environments: changing up the context of learning.
Below are 31 examples of differentiation in the classroom.
Examples of Differentiated Instruction
Varying the Content
1. Providing students with different fiction books to critique depending on their interests.
2. Letting each student choose their own time in history to explore in order to meet the same history outcome in the curriculum.
3. Letting each student choose their own person to study for black history month.
4. Having students choose an ‘elective’ topic to study in high school so they can specialize before college.
Some people will also differentiate content by actually changing the difficulty level. This should be approached with caution as at times this can lead to lowering expectations. At other times it is appropriate for helping advanced students to progress while giving appropriate difficulty level support to intermediary students:
5. Separating students into low, medium and high ability groups for mathematics and giving each group a different level of content to study.
6. Giving a student an easier book to read than other students.
7. Letting advanced students steam ahead to do independent study while the teacher works on remedial tasks with lower and intermediate level students.
8. Providing weekly spelling or vocabulary lists at a student’s ideal.
Varying the Learning Process
9. Teaching the same underlying understandings or skills, but presenting it with different levels of complexity to each ability group.
10. Turning written material into a podcast so it can be presented through both auditory and visual learning modalities.
11. Letting students learn according to their preferred learning style, such as letting them choose between watching videos, reading books, and being told a story.
12. Mixing up learning modalities within the same lesson so students have more entry points to understanding the content. Let them learn through visual, audio, tactile and kinesthetic methods.
13. Having extra study groups to re-teach content in an new or more guided manner for struggling learners, or to provided extended lessons for advanced learners.
14. Coming up with an individualized plan for each student so they can choose which tasks to tackle first, second and last – while they will all cover every task by the end of the unit. This can allow advanced students to steam ahead.
15. Flipped learning, where the core ‘group content’ is introduced via videos during homework time, and individualized active learning occurs in class. This gives the teacher additional time to spend one-on-one with their students.
16. Allowing advanced students to work alone, while using manipulatives (hands-on props) for students who need them.
17. Varying how much time you give students to complete a task depending on your assessment of their ability level. This can help them to challenge themselves to become more efficient at a task.
18. Allowing some students to progress after they have demonstrated mastery, while holding others back for more classes until they are ready to proceed.
19. Delivering content in culturally appropriate ways, and letting all students learn through their preferred cultural paradigm.
20. Letting students choose how to present their work, such as through a video, performance, essay or poster.
21. Using different assessment outcomes or assessment rubrics depending on a student’s ability level.
22. Giving students a choice of whether to present their work as a group or individually.
23. Changing up when the assessment can be presented in order to ensure a student is ready before they are assessed.
Varying the Learning Environment
24. Developing workstations in the classroom which each has a different environment. A mixed classroom layout can be used here to encourage this sort of learning.
25. Creating quiet spaces for students with sensory processing disorders or who are vulnerable to sensory overload (such as students with autism).
26. Providing research stations and study desks where students can access computers in order to do independent research during a lesson.
27. Getting two classrooms with two different sets of rules around talking, and letting students choose which room to study in.
28. Letting students choose between studying online or in-person.
29. Providing standing and seating desks for students with different needs.
30. Allowing kinesthetic learners to learn outside or frequently do exercise to let off excess steam.
31. Placing posters and prompts on walls strategically near students who need them the most.
I hope these examples of differentiation in the classroom have helped get you thinking about some differentiation ideas for your own lesson plans.
If you need to find scholarly information on differentiation, check out my full guide on differentiated instruction. In that article, you’ll find:
- Scholarly Definitions of the Concept
- Pros and Cons
Good luck with your teaching!
– Prof. Chris.
All references are in APA style:
Dixon, F. A., Yssel, N., McConnell, J. M., & Hardin, T. (2014). Different instruction, professional development, and teacher efficacy. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 37(2), 111-127.
Tomlinson, C. A. (1995). How to differentiate instruction in mixed ability classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Tomlinson, C. A. (1999). The differentiated classroom: responding to the needs of all students. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Tomlinson, C. A. (2000). What is different instruction? In: Callahan, C. M., & Hertberg-Davis, H. L. (Eds.). (2012). Fundamentals of gifted education: Considering multiple perspectives. (pp. 287-300). London: Routledge.
Watts‐Taffe, S., Laster, B. P., Broach, L., Marinak, B., McDonald Connor, C., & Walker‐Dalhouse, D. (2012). Differentiated instruction: Making informed teacher decisions. The Reading Teacher, 66(4), 303-314.