differentiating instruction

Science proves that when we teach to a variety of learning styles and vary our delivery techniques, we will consistently reach more students.

Many of us still struggle with how to differentiate instruction in ways that can reach those students who struggle without singling them out in the inclusive classroom.

This list of ideas for differentiating instruction that can work in your classroom to help all students succeed was crowd-sourced from teachers in the classroom, just like you, so we know they work!

Strategies for Differentiating Instruction for Social Studies

  • Decorate the classroom with students’ drawings of the culture being studied.
  • Make a historical comic strip that meets specific criteria.
  • Compile a notebook of history jokes. Work facts into the jokes.                     
  • Play charades with “significant” events from the unit you are studying.
  • Create history raps that identify key dates and people.                     
  • Play “What’s my line?” or “Pictionary” with names, dates, places.
  • Create time sequence charts with titles for major eras of history – then create a mnemonic out of the sequence of the titles.            
  • Write a skit or play from a period in history, or as a typical day in a specific culture. Example: Sparta or Athens.
  • Make a game of predicting what will happen in several current event stories.
  • Play “guess the culture” based on artifacts in a time capsule.
  • Debate important issues and decisions from the past.               
  • Generate an illustration which best depicts what democracy* means to you. (Engages brain to store data.) *Example.
  • Create limericks about important historical events.                     
  • Make visual diagrams and flow charts of historical information.
  • Have students conduct imaginary interviews with people from the past.        
  • Send a postcard from one historical character to another historical character.
  • Have students draw a mural that reflects a specific time period.                    
  • Role-play a conversation with an important historical figure.
  • Make maps out of salt dough and show geographical features and key places.                  

Strategies for Differentiating Instruction in English/Language Arts/Foreign Language

  • Teach “concept mapping” to help remember content or take notes.
  • Create song rap to teach grammar and syntax.
  • Write a sequel/next episode to a story or play.                 
  • Use different kinds of music for different kinds of writing.
  • Create crossword puzzles/word jumbles for vocabulary words.                     
  • Analyze literature for “connections to our lives today.”
  • Practice impromptu speaking and writing.            
  • Predict what will happen next in a story or play.
  • Experiment with joint story-writing – one starts then pass it on.                
  • Analyze a story and describe its message – reach a consensus.
  • Use a “human graph” to see where a group stands on an issue.            
  • Analyze similarities and differences of various pieces of literature.
  • Use a “story grid” for creative writing activities.              
  • Read poetry from different perspectives and in different moods.
  • Play vocabulary words “Pictionary.”           
  • Conduct language drill exercises with partner.
  • Draw pictures of the different stages of a story you are reading.                  
  • Write an autobiographical essay: My life to date, my life in the future.
  • Use highlight markers to “colorize” parts of a story or poem. (Option: highlight tape.)          
  • Write a new poem each day of the week on “Who Am I.”
  • Use sticky notes to make predictions as you read a story or novel.                 
  • Imagine being a character in a story/play – what would you do.
  • Write a letter to the author telling him/her how well you liked (or didn’t like) his/her book.            

Strategies for Differentiating Instruction for Math

  • Write a series of story problems for others to solve.                     
  • Learn mathematical operations through songs and jingles, rhythm.
  • Explain how to work a problem to others while they follow.                     
  • Use a formula card for tests.
  • Make up puns using math vocabulary or terms.                   
  • Provide tables, graph paper, lines, and space for working problems.
  • Solve problems with a partner: one person solves, and the other explains the process.
  • Make up sounds for different math operations and processes.
  • Create poems telling when to use different math operations.                     
  • Solve complex story problems in a group.
  • Teach how to use a calculator for problem solving.          
  • Do a statistical research project and calculate percentages.
  • Create number sequences and have a partner find the pattern.                     
  • Use “each one teach one” for new math processes/operations.
  • Mind-map proofs for geometry theorems.               
  • Describe everything you do to solve a problem to a partner.
  • Design classification charts for math formulas and operations.                     
  • Have teams construct problems linking many math operations, then solve them.
  • Do a survey of students’ likes/dislikes, then graph the results.                    
  • Track thinking patterns for different math problems.
  • Estimate measurements by sight and by touch.           
  • Bridge math concepts beyond school. (What? So what? Now what?)
  • Add, subtract, multiply, and divide using manipulatives.                     
  • Imagine using a math process successfully, then really do it.
  • Learn metric measurement through visual equivalents.                     

Strategies for Differentiating Instruction in Practical Arts & Physical Education

  • Give verbal explanation of sport routines.                 
  • Have students imagine the computer is human – draw how it works.
  • Have students tell one another how to run a word processing program – then do it.
  • Have students perform physical exercise routines in sync with music.
  • Have students pretend they are radio sportscasters describing a game in progress.  
  • Play “Recipe Jeopardy” – make questions for answers given.
  • Use music to help improve keyboarding skills and speed.                     
  • Teach and play a series of non-competitive games.
  • Use peer-coaching teams for individual shop projects.              
  • Assign teams to prepare and serve meals from foreign countries.
  • Have students draw pictures of how to perform certain physical feats. 
  • Have students work in pairs to learn and improve sports skills.
  • Teach a series of “spatial games” (e.g. horseshoes, ring toss).            
  • Create cooperative computing teams to learn computer skills.
  • Create visual diagrams of how to use shop machines.                  
  • Have students list how things learned in shop can help in your future life.
  • Teach students to imagine a skill, and then try to do it exactly as they imagined. 
  • Capture a process involved in art or sports on video or camera, and create a step-by-step manual or review materials using the images.
  • Choose textbooks with CD-Rom companion materials.

Strategies for Differentiating Instruction in Science & Health

  • Write a humorous story using science vocabulary.           
  • Group research projects in which each group designs and implements plans.
  • Create a diary on “The Life of a Red Blood Cell.”                
  • Use lab teams for science experiments and exercises.
  • Write steps used in an experiment so someone else can do it.                
  • Discuss controversial health topics and write team position papers.
  • Make up an imaginary conversation between parts of the body.                
  • Describe the “before and after” of key scientific paradigm shifts.
  • Give a speech on “Ten steps to healthful living.”                
  • Learn the pattern of successful and reliable scientific experiments.
  • Use the symbols of the Periodic Table of Elements in a story.                     
  • Practice webbing attributes of various systems of the body.
  • Find five different ways to classify a collection of leaves.                     
  • Draw pictures of things seen under a microscope.
  • Create montages/collages on science topics (e.g., mammals).                     
  • Create posters/flyers showing health processes.
  • Use vocabulary games to study and review science vocabulary.                     
  • Use concrete models to demonstrate science concepts and/or parts.
  • Use concrete models as metaphors for systems in the human body.           
  • Use forensic science activities to create interest in scientific method, research, etc.

Excerpted from Special Needs in the General Classroom, 3rd Edition

Special Needs and DifferentiationCLICK HERE to discover a wealth of teaching strategies and resources for maximizing student success!.

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