5 Ways To Differentiate Instruction and Support Every Student

Two kids sitting next to each other reading

Differentiating instruction isn’t just about giving students more or less work than others. Students who have mastered a topic or skill don’t need to be forced to do double the math problems than everyone else. They have already mastered the concept. Instead, higher level students should be directed to move beyond what the class is doing. To try something more difficult or to apply the skill in a different way.

Students who are lower level and struggle with a topic or skill may need a reduced work load but they might need differentiation in another way. They might need more work on a foundational skill.

Below are some simple ways you can incorporate differentiation into your classroom.


Lower level students may need to practice abstract concepts with manipulatives. For example, if your class is working on addition give a struggling student some beads or lego blocks or plastic bugs (whatever might spark their interest). Have them use these to practice adding.

Higher level students could use manipulatives to begin exploring a future topic. For example, have them explore multiplication as repetitive addition.

Make It A Writing Assignment.

A simple way to differentiate is to add a writing component for higher level students. For spelling work ask higher level students to write the words in full sentences. All my students get the same spelling word list but they do slightly different homework activities with the words. My lower level students simply trace the spelling words. Middle level students write the words 3 times (without having the words on the page to trace). My higher level students write the spelling words in a sentence. This is a really simple way to differentiate spelling. I also include 2-3 challenge words each week. Students who want to can practice spelling these slightly more difficult words. If students don’t spell those words correctly on the test Friday it isn’t counted against them.

Writing sentences is also a way you can add an extra challenge for students learning new vocabulary. Instead of just identifying the word that relates to a picture. Ask students to give the answer back in a full sentence either orally or in writing.

Centers/Small Groups

Most people think of centers as something used only in the lower levels (preschool- 1st grade?) However, I used “centers” in my classes from 1st grade- 5th grade. They can definitely be utilized beyond 5th grade too! Centers or rotations are a fantastic was to differentiate instruction in your classroom. The ideas of centers/small group work assignments is that students have the opportunity to practice skills in a low-stress, hands-on environment. Plus, you can tailor students’ tasks to skill level…. can someone shout DIFFERENTIATION?!

When I taught 5th grade I did centers in my class once a week during math class. I would find FREE, printable games or word problems online and my students would rotate around to each center in their assigned group. At some centers there would be color coordinated tasks/games set out for students. Students learned that if they are in the green group that they always complete the task set in the green tub at each station. The green group of students may be my lower level students who need more practice in basic multiplication tables. Another group, let’s say the purple group may have already mastered the skill that we are working on in class right now. This is their opportunity to get challenged more and to be introduced to a higher skill in a simple way.

I used centers in my 1st grade ESL classroom as well. I organized students by their English level and gave extra practice on skills students needed to work on. I gave more challenging tasks to my high level students.

Every time I incorporate centers into my classroom, students LOVE it! Yes, it does take some preparation on my part. But most of the centers I used I easily found online and just need to print and cut. One tip if you plan to begin centers in your classroom is to make sure and set clear expectations before you start. Explain expectations for how to work in groups, what to do with the materials when you are finished, how students will rotate to a new center etc. One time I had to step into the hallway for a few minutes while my 5th graders were in centers and I came back and everything was exactly the same as if I had been in the room the whole time!

You can find some of my favorite centers/games on my Pinterest boards below. Be sure to follow me!

Choice Boards

Choice boards are another great way to differentiate instruction. Choice boards are like Bingo cards. They have 9-20 squares on a single page. Each square describe a different activity or assignment for students to complete. As students complete assignments they cross them off on their choice board. Students must complete a row just like in Bingo. Choice boards can be created for any subject matter and grade level. It’s important to include activities that tailor to all types of learners (activities related to drawing, movement, music, nature etc).

I love the math choice board pictured above from Krejci Creations because it ensures students are interacting with math concepts in all the important ways while still providing choices!

Classroom Freebies collected 64 different choice boards created by a group of teachers for different subjects. You can download it for free. They specifically designed these choice boards for distance learning if you’re looking for a great at home learning option for your students!

Let Students Use Technology To Expand Learning

There are plenty of great educational websites students could get on to practice a skill they are weak in.

Students who have mastered a topic can use technology to research more information in depth. They could even research a different topic than what is being discussed in class, something that they are specifically interested in.

You can also ask your higher level students to use technology to present the information you are working on in class in a fun way. The link below describes three awesome websites students can use to create their own presentations and stories.

Differentiation is about making sure all your students are engaged and supported. It is just as important for your lower level students to be supported as it is for your higher level students. Hope these tips have helped give you some strategies you can incorporate in your classroom.

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