Harry Wong
Dec 2017
Vol 14 No 4

9 Tips for Quick Differentiation of Instruction

By Alison Whiteley

Quick Differentiation

These quick tips are meant to help with differentiation on the fly as you’re planning your lessons…kind of a “cheat sheet.” I find it helpful when thinking about how to reach small pockets of like needs in a classroom. Differentiation is designing and implementing curriculum, instructional strategies, and assessments that are responsive to the needs, background, interests, and abilities of students.


First, three ways to differentiate K-6 lessons:


1. Modify the student independent practice.


  1. Change how students are required to demonstrate mastery – multiple choice, open response, illustration, or dramatic performance.
  2. Provide word banks to written response questions.
  3. Provide texts on students’ reading level when-ever reading a text is a requirement for the student independent practice.

2. Modify how you teach the lesson. 


Add or revise visual scaffolding during the lesson, such as charts or graphic organizers.

  • Teach the lessons in small groups.
  • Vary the allotted lesson time by breaking up the lesson into two days, focusing on more modeling examples in day one.
  • Allow students to preview the text used for the lesson before the lesson.

3. Modify the content used to teach the lesson.


  • Choose a text for the lesson that is at the reading level of your students.
  • Add supporting learning objectives to the lesson to help students master the original learning outcome.

Six Rules of Differentiating

1. Students should always be grouped based on their needs and abilities.

  • Sometimes whole class, sometimes small group, and sometimes individual.
  • Individualized instruction at 20 – 30 levels.

2. Student work should always measure a specific learning outcome explicitly taught in class.

  • It is Responsive to the learning outcome of the lesson.
  • It is not Busy work or separated from intentional instruction.

3. Students’ needs and abilities change over time and therefore groupings should reflect that change.

  • Flexible groupings that change based on student abilities.
  • It is not: Static groupings that stay the same throughout the year.

4. Students’ work should be done at their level.

  • It is Qualitative student work.
  • It is not Quantitative student work in which some students do more and some do less.

5. Decisions about differentiation should be based on assessment and anecdotal evidence of students’ needs and abilities.

  • It is Using assessments to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses.
  • It is not Using assessments as a pass or fail approach.

6. True, responsive differentiation will not look the same in each lesson.

  • It is sometimes necessary to change the student independent practice, other time requires changing how the lesson is taught, and other times it will require changing the text of the lesson.
  • It is not: The same differentiation plan for every lesson.

About the author

Alison Whiteley is a K-6 Elementary Special Education Resource Teacher in a small urban school outside Denver Colorado. She is the author of Toad-ally Exceptional Learners Blog at Her blog has many timely articles from RTI to reading and math for parents and general education teacher alike to support all learners.



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This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 1st, 2013 and is filed under *ISSUES, Alsion Whitely, January 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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