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An extension of my blog post- "Differentiation.  Stop rolling your eyes..."-

Practical List of Ideas for Differentiation (inspired by #edchat conversation on 7-20-10):

1. Upon reading a book in an elementary school classroom at the "carpet area," allow
students with attention concerns, sensorimotor problems, or other
sensory issues to sit in chairs, bean bags, or in a defined space on the
carpet away from other wandering hands.

2.  While reading a
story to elementary school students, stop to ask questions to help make
connections.  Being aware of students' baseline levels, ask one student
to name the characters in the story.  Ask another student to tell which
character is his favorite and why.  Ask the nonverbal student with
autism to point to a verbally named character.  

3. @suedensmore gave a great
example from her music class during #edchat-
"Differentiation: some kids can play the lead
part, others play more supporting w/less notes. We all play the same

4.  In a 3-8 math
class where students are expected to know the times tables, place a
multiplication table on the desk (or inside a notebook or the front
cover of a text book to be more discreet).  Better yet, hand the student
a calculator!

5.  If you know that one of
your students works at a slower pace than the others and you hand out a
worksheet that needs to be completed, why not CUT THE WORKSHEET IN HALF
for that student.  OR, do it for half the class (no one will know which
students need less work).

WITH WORKSHEETS! But, if you must, alter the worksheets for students. 
Remember that students with special needs like autism or Down syndrome
are often visual learners, but so are many others.  Take out extraneous
detail or distracting content.  Limit text on the page.  Provide visual
cues and less answer choices. (If you didn't create the worksheet, but
are photocopying it, use White Out or place a Post-It over the section
you want to delete while you copy the page.)

7.  In high
school, let the student decide what grade to work for.  Give out a
rubric for an A.  Give out a rubric for a B.  Give out a rubric for a
C.  Tell the students that they can choose to get any grade they want
A-C depending on the work they complete.

8.  While
lecturing and expecting students to take notes in a high school or
middle school class, consider handing out a template ahead of time to
students who may need it.  Allow students to record lectures.  Consider
recording your own lectures using a Flip
and post your lectures online to help students make connections
between their notes and your presentation.

9. In an
elementary classroom where students are learning to add and subtract,
try using Touch Math.  Teach
this method of counting touch points to the whole class, and let
students choose to use the strategy or not.  Do the same with touch
points for coins.

10.  In a Kindergarten when writing their names, some students can use a
#2 pencil, some students may need a fat tipped marker, some students
may need to use stamps, while other students may need to use a keyboard
to type the letters.

11.  In P.E. class, if a student cannot perform the assigned task, can
it be modified?  If the student can't do jumping jacks, how about just
the legs?  or just the arms?  How about running in place? 

12.  Writer's Workshop.  One student may be encouraged to write a
paragraph and type it on the computer.  Another student may be
encouraged to write a complete sentence and check it with a proofreading
checklist.  Another student may still be asked to draw a picture.  
Another student might make a graphic image or even post his work on

Please share more!!!

Tags: collaboration, differentiation, learning, needs, special

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I like the idea of allowing students to choose what grade they want to work for. Eliminates their abilities to complain about why their grade is so low at the end of the marking period, if they want to work only for "C"s.

Thanks for sharing!

No problem Brian. I am hoping to add to the list after spending the weekend attending sessions of the Reform Symposium. :) Glad I could be useful.
Hi Morgan,
Thank you for these hands on, practical suggestions! I can see myself using a few of these in my 4/5 class, particularly the literacy connections. By allowing kids to choose a follow up activity that attracts their interest, rather than forcing them to do what everyone else does, I think they'll be more motivated to put forth their best effort.
Hi Alison,

I agree. I like to give kids choices. I think that kids can be in tune with their own learning styles and might choose what's best for themselves, especially by the time they get to 4 or 5th grade...

Having said that, one year for a class project, we tried a Tic, Tac, Toe board approach for a book report. Every student (this was for grades 1, 2, and 3 in a resource room) was required to choose one book and read it. Then, each student was given the tic, tac, toe board that listed 9 possibilities for follow up activities. The 9 activities included different learning styles and modalities. Depending on the grade level, students had to choose 1, 2, or 3 activities to complete about the book. (The activities could include making posters, creating shoebox dioramas, writing letters to the characters, making up songs or poems, etc.)

Because this was several years ago, I was not yet including much technology into projects. If I were to do this project again, I would list things such as create a blog post, create a web in Kidspiration, create a glog in Glogster, use a Flip Cam to record a scene from the book, etc.

It may take some time to create a rubric to grade each of the 9 project types, however, it would be well worth it. OR, you could throw out the rubric and use OBSERVATION as your grading method. Did the student do the best work they could possibly do? Did they understand the concept? Did they fulfill the purpose of the assignment?

Sounds like differentiation to me. :)
If you have an analog clock in class, from time to time, point to the analog clock and ask the class to whisper the time. Start with the hour time, then half hour time, five minute, and one minute. When the class is proficient then call on individual students. Guide the students who have difficulty telling time.
Provide bean bags or sponge balls for some overly active students to hold and squeeze and see if it makes a difference in their behavior.

Hi Morgan,

 Thanks for sharing such an informative tips with the best and most practical ideas in implementing tiered assignments, identifying readiness levels, student interests and learning styles, responding to multiple intelligences and multi-modality outcomes.

Students in our highly stimulating and fast-paced world are now requires differentiation, multi-modality and choices to meet their interests and improve motivation.

For any kindergarten teachers out there, Marsha M. M. McGuire at A Differentiated Kindergarten does a great job of differentiating instruction for her students and explaining how to do so.  Check out to see an explanation of differentiating math centers.

Thank you for this!

Students teaching students!  At times during math, I will have students "re-teach" others the math skill with which they are struggling.  It actually gives students a chance to work on communication skills and allows them to focus on using clear, precise vocabulary.  This strategy NEEDS to occur in a classroom that is built on a community of trust and positivity, so that no one feels they are better or smarter than the others.

Also, modifying math games to increasing levels of difficulty is something that can often be done easily while all students are playing the same math game, just at different levels.  This needs to be done carefully by selecting partners carefully.  Even better, is to plan this when a support teacher is available (or parent volunteers), allowing for guided supervision of student learning during games.

These are all wonderful ideas of how to differentiate instruction. I am starting student teaching soon and was wondering if anyone could provide me with ideas or tips on how to differentiate instruction for students who have special needs and are all on different grade levels. What would be some good ways to provide the best instruction to each individual child?



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