Examples of How to Differentiate Instruction in the Classroom

Every student is unique, just like everyone has a unique fingerprint. There is a good chance that not all your students will grasp the subject the same way. How can you make your lessons more accessible to all students? Everyone What is the purpose of class? Differentiated instruction is a technique you might have heard of but not explored. This is why you are here. This article will explain what differentiated instruction is, how it works and its pros and cons.

Differentiated instruction: Definition

Carol Ann Tomlinson, a leading figure in differentiated learning, is an educator at the University of Virginia and a professor of educational leadership and foundations. Tomlinson defines differentiated instruction as a way to consider students’ learning styles and readiness before designing a lesson plan. This method is effective for a broad range of students, including those with learning disabilities and those who are high-able.

Differentiating instruction could mean that the teacher teaches the same material to all students using different instructional strategies or may require that the teacher teaches lessons at different levels of difficulty depending on each student’s ability.

Differentiation in the classroom can be a benefit to teachers

  • Learners’ learning styles are used to design lessons.
  • Students can be grouped by their shared interests, topics, or abilities for assignments.
  • Formative assessment is used to assess students’ learning.
  • You can manage the classroom to create a supportive and safe environment.
  • Assess and adapt lesson content continuously to meet student needs.

History of differentiated instruction

Differentiated instruction has its roots in the early days of the one-room schoolhouse. One teacher could have students from all ages in one room. It was assumed that all children learn the same way when the educational system switched to grading schools. Achievement tests were introduced in 1912. These scores showed the differences in student abilities between grades.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was passed by Congress in 1975. It ensured that all children with disabilities could access public education. Many educators used differentiated instruction strategies to reach this student population. In 2000, No Child Left Behind was passed. This law further encourages skill-based and differentiated instruction. Leslie Owen Wilson conducted research that found lecture to be the most effective instructional strategy. It only has 5-10 percent retention after 24 hours. Learning retention is more easily achieved by engaging in discussion, practicing with the content, and teaching others.

There are four ways to distinguish instruction

Tomlinson states that teachers can distinguish instruction in four ways: 1) content; 2) process; 3) product; and 4) learning environment.

1. Content

You already know that fundamental lesson content must meet the state or school district’s learning standards. Some students might not be familiar with concepts, others may not be able to grasp the concept completely, while others may have some knowledge.


You could differentiate the content by creating activities for students at different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. This is a classification of intellectual behavior that ranges from lower-order thinking skills up to higher-order thinking. These six levels include remembering, understanding and applying, as well as analyzing, evaluating, evaluating, and creating.

Students unfamiliar with a lesson might be asked to complete tasks at the lower levels of remembering and understanding. Students who are proficient in the subject could be required to apply and analyze it, while students with high levels of mastery might be asked to perform tasks related to creating and evaluating.

Here are some examples of activities that are different

  • Match definitions with vocabulary words.
  • Answer the questions related to the passage.
  • Consider a scenario that occurred to a character in the story, and how it could have led to a different outcome.
  • In a story, you should distinguish fact from opinion.
  • Identify the position of an author and present evidence supporting it.
  • Make a PowerPoint presentation that summarizes the lesson.

2. Process

Every student is different. Successful differentiation involves delivering the material in each of these learning styles: visually, auditory, kinesthetic, or through words. This process-related approach also considers the fact that students may not require the same level of support. Students can choose to work individually, in small groups, or in pairs. Some students may need one-on-one support from the teacher or the classroom assistant, while others may be able progress on their own. Support based on student needs can help teachers enhance student learning.

Here are some examples of how to differentiate the process

  • Make textbooks available for word and visual learners.
  • Auditory learners can listen to audio books.
  • Interactive assignments online are available for kinesthetic learners.

3. Product

To demonstrate mastery of the material, the product is the final project that the student creates. These can take the form of projects, reports or tests. Students could be assigned to complete tasks that demonstrate mastery of an educational concept according to their learning style.

Here are some examples of how to differentiate the final product

  • Writers and readers can write book reports.
  • Visual learners can create a graphic organizer for the story.
  • An oral report is given by auditory learners.
  • Kinesthetic learners create a diorama to illustrate the story.

4. Learning environment

Both psychological and physical elements are necessary for optimal learning. Flexible classroom arrangements are key to optimal learning. They should include a variety of furniture and arrangements that can be used for individual or group work. Psychologically, teachers should employ classroom management techniques that promote a supportive and safe learning environment.

Here are some examples of how to differentiate the environment

  • Divide students into groups of three to discuss the assignment.
  • If preferred, allow students to read independently.
  • You can create quiet spaces that are free from distractions.

Differentiated instruction: The pros and cons

Of course, the benefits of differentiation in the classroom often come with the downside of a growing workload. These are some things to remember:


  • Research has shown that differentiated instruction works for students with high abilities as well as those with mild to severe disabilities.
  • Students are more likely to take responsibility for their learning when they have more options.
  • When teachers give differentiated lessons, students seem to be more engaged and have fewer discipline problems.


  • Differentiated instruction requires more planning and work, which is why many teachers find it difficult to find the time.
  • It can be difficult to learn and schools may not have the right resources for professional development.
  • Critics claim that there isn’t enough research to prove the benefits of differentiated instruction over the extra prep time.

Different instruction strategies

What are some differentiated instructional strategies you can use in your classrooms? There are many methods that can be tailored to different subjects. Kathy Perez (2019 ) and the Access Center , these strategies include tiered assignments and choice boards. Tiered assignments can be used to teach the same skill, but the students will create a new product to demonstrate their understanding. Students can choose which activity they want to do for the skill that is being taught. There are often options for different learning styles on the board, including kinesthetic and visual, auditory and tactile. When students have mastered the material being taught, compacting allows them to guide them to the next level of learning. The teacher evaluates the student’s knowledge and makes a plan to help them learn. They also excuse them from reading what they know and give them time to practice an accelerated skill.

Students can learn autonomously through interest centers or groups. Flexible grouping allows for more flexibility depending on the topic or activity. Learning contracts are created between student and teacher. They outline the expectations of the teacher for the required skills and the components of the assignment. The student then specifies the method they will use to complete the assignment. These contracts allow students to learn at their own pace, plan independently and can encourage independence. These are some strategies that can be used to teach core subjects.

Differentiated instruction strategies in math

  • Students can be provided with a choice board. Students could choose to learn probability through a game, reading a textbook, or solving problems on a worksheet.
  • You can teach mini lessons to students or groups that didn’t understand the concept in the larger group lesson. This allows you to simplify activities for students who are proficient in the subject.
  • For students who have difficulty understanding a concept, it is a good idea to use manipulatives.
  • Students who are proficient in the subject matter should create notes for those who are just starting out.
  • Students who have learned the lesson will be able to provide a detailed, step-by-step explanation. However, they should not be rigid about the process for students still learning the fundamentals of the concept.

Science instruction can be divided into different strategies

  • Emma McCrea (2019). recommends setting up “Help Stations,” which are places where peers can help each other. As an extension activity, those with more knowledge will be able teach others who are struggling and those who are struggling will get help.
  • In order to help fill in the knowledge gaps, set up a “question-and-answer” session where learners can ask their teachers and peers questions.
  • Make a visual word wall. To help students remember terms, use pictures and the corresponding labels.
  • Establish interest centers. You might set up interest centers for learning about dinosaurs.
  • You can present content learning in a variety of formats, such as showing a video on dinosaurs or handing out a worksheet containing pictures and labels about dinosaurs.

Different instruction strategies for ELL

  • ASCD (2012) states that teachers must become language teachers in order to convey the content to students whose first language does not include English.
  • Begin by giving the information in the student’s native language, then pair it with some of the English vocabulary.
  • Even though ELLs only need a small amount of vocabulary to remember, they should be exposed to as much English as possible. Teachers should also be able to use adjectives and verbs that are related to the topic when they teach.
  • It is important to work in groups. They will be exposed to more language by doing this. However, they should be placed with other ELLs if possible and given tasks that are within their grasp, such as researching or drawing.

Different instruction strategies for reading

  • Students can use grouped assignments in reading to help them show the material at a level that suits them. One student might make a visual storyboard, while another might write a book review.
  • Reading groups can choose a book based upon their interest or assign books based on their reading level.
  • Erin Lynch (2020). suggests that teachers use visuals to scaffold instruction. The topic can be explained verbally or visually. To help you understand the topic better, use anchor charts, drawings and diagrams as well as reference guides. Students can view a video clip if it is possible.
  • Utilize flexible grouping. Flexible grouping is a good idea. Students could be placed in one group to learn phonics, based on their assessment level, but they might choose to read in another group if they are more interested in the book.

Writing instruction strategies that are different

  • You can hold writing conferences with students individually or in small groups. Begin with the topic of your students and move on to grammar, composition, editing.
  • Students should be allowed to choose their own writing topics. Students will be more likely to learn and put more effort into assignments if the topic is interesting.
  • Throughout the year, keep track of student writing progress and evaluate it. This can be done with a journal or a list. This will enable you to provide individual instruction.
  • To help students organize their writing, hand out graphic organizers. For those who require additional help, fill-in the blank notes can be used to guide students through the writing process.
  • Lined paper can be used instead of a journal for primary grades. You can give different amounts of lines depending on your ability. To encourage writers who excel at writing, give them more lines and pages. Give fewer lines to those who are just starting out with writing so they don’t feel overwhelmed.

Special education: Differentiated instruction strategies

  • Multi-sensory learning is a good idea. Use all five senses, taste, smell and touch in your lessons.
  • Flexible grouping can be used to form partnerships and to teach students how to collaborate on tasks. Partner with students who are equal in ability. This will create partnerships where one student is challenged by the partner, and the other time the partner will push and challenge the student.
  • Special education often includes assistive technology as a component of the differential instruction. Students who need it can be provided with screen readers, personal tablets, voice recognition software, and personal tablets for communication.
  • The article Differentiation and LR Information for SAS Teachers suggests that teachers should be flexible in giving assessments. “Posters, models performances, and drawings can help students show what they have learned, while also highlighting their individual strengths.” Rubrics can be used to test knowledge, and you could even create a portfolio of student work. They could also answer questions orally.
  • Utilize explicit modeling. Special needs students need a step-by, detailed guide for making connections, whether it’s notetaking, problem solving in math or making sandwiches in home life.

Refer to these resources and other references

Books on differentiated instruction