Differentiated Instruction Strategies to Use in the Classroom

Dr. Lyne Ssebikindu
Dr. Lyne Ssebikindu
Elementary school principal; Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction
Teacher sitting with students at a table working.

What is Differentiated Instruction?

The purpose of this article is to look at differentiated instruction strategies to use in the classroom. Teachers who use only traditional classroom instruction and materials might discover that they are leaving some of their students behind. The strategies that work in education have changed over time. In order for our students to succeed, they need differentiated instruction to meet multiple learning needs.

Differentiated instruction has been defined as changing the pace, level, or kind of instruction you provide in response to individual learners’ needs, styles, or interests (Hencox, 2012).

There are four ways to differentiate:

  1. Content: Students can do independent projects based on their strength and interest.
  2. Product: The teacher can give students different assignments and performance tasks. In this situation, students need to be assessed with the same learning expectations.
  3. Process: In this case, the teacher gives students unique opportunities to learn simultaneously.
  4. Environment: This situation involves accommodating individual learning styles. When we look at differentiated instruction, the student interacts with his/her environment and as a result they gain an understanding of the skills and content. The teacher is just a facilitator.

Why is It Important?

When we try to examine education, a lot of frameworks have come and gone. Many school districts mandate all students to be integrated in the general education classrooms. Students do not need to be isolated. All students have some strength they can contribute to the classroom. At the beginning of the year, the classroom teacher can administer a survey to find out the interests and strengths of each student. It is up to the classroom teacher to find each student’s strength and their learning style. Our classrooms are made up of high, middle, and low performing students. It is up to the classroom teacher to develop and meet the needs of each student. So our classrooms must be inclusive.

Everyday students walk in our classrooms with different learning experiences. Students come to our classrooms with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. All classroom materials, activities, and methods must be proportionate with a child’s level of development. Across the United States, we need to increase emphasis on differentiated instruction in order to improve student achievement. Therefore, teachers need to address every student’s needs. They need to adopt practices that will help all their students. Educators need to develop innovative ways to address these needs. One way of doing this is to differentiate classroom teaching and learning. Differentiated instruction enhances learning for all students by meeting them “where they are” in their journey of education. The goals for differentiated instruction are:

  • Address the needs of all students
  • Provide opportunities for teacher facilitated classrooms
  • Provide student-centered classrooms; Edgar Dale (1969) states that student-centered learning results in greater retention
  • Establish teacher-centered relationships
  • Provide tiered tasks for students

Differentiated Instruction Strategies to Try

Sometimes teachers feel like they have to break up their students into different instructional groups, but there are several ways you can differentiate your instruction. Below are different strategies you can try in your classroom:

  1. Asking Questions: You can ask targeted, rigorous questions to different students as you assess their mastery of the subject. This is a great way of meeting students where they are and pushing them to a higher level.
  2. Small Group Instruction: In small groups you give students specific, concrete, sequential and observable directions. You must express your expectations. Give students actionable tasks. Make sure your steps are simple and clear for students to follow. You can give students tasks or activities according to their level. In small groups students will have an opportunity to grow socially and academically within the context of the classroom.
  3. Hot Potato Strategy: You use a softball strategy. Throw the ball to a student. Pose a question to a student according to their level. A student throws a ball to another student. The teacher asks a question to that student. Continue with the game until every student has been given an opportunity to answer a question.
  4. The Writing Strategy: Give each group chart paper and markers. Assign a topic according to the level of the students. Students can write paragraphs or sentences. You continue the process until all students have had an opportunity to participate.
  5. Envelope Strategy: Read a text to the students. As you read the text, point out the vocabulary the students may not be familiar with. Let the students make predictions. Give an opportunity to the students to practice reading the text. Give out an envelope to each student with questions according to their ability. Let the students answer the questions and share with the class. Let the students explain their answers. The teacher clarifies any misconceptions
  6. Picture Strategy: This is another strategy that can be used for differentiated instruction. The teacher creates different literacy stations to accommodate all levels in his/her classroom. She/he places pictures in each literacy station. Each picture portrays a different story. Students are given a set of questions depending on their ability. Students reflect and respond to their questions. The answers maybe in a form of a picture, poem, a word, sentence or a paragraph.
  7. All Students are Writers: Some students have difficult producing several sentences, while other students can come up with several pages on any assigned topic. This strategy will get all students to think and respond to a story. You open up the lesson with reading and discussing a story. Then, you assign each student with a section of the story. Let the student add on to the assigned section according to their level.
  8. Let us Play with the Sounds: This strategy helps students with phonemic awareness. The teacher selects a group of words. You start with one word and let the students change the word. They can change the word by using another beginning or ending sound, spelling homonyms, or any changes the teacher can think of.
  9. Choral Readings: This strategy encourages students to practice reading with their peers. Let the children re-read the text until they can read it fluently.
  10. Word Walls: As you introduce new vocabulary to the class, add them to your word wall. Encourage your students to contribute to your word wall. Let the students create their individualized word library. As their vocabulary grows, they will be able to incorporate these words in their writing as well.
*Updated January, 2021
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