WeAreTeachers is excited to welcome back guest blogger Jen Lillis, a marketing communications manager at Brookes Publishing, an independent publisher of books and resources for people who work with children with developmental disabilities or learning delays. Check out the other articles in her series on differentiated instruction here.

When you have a large classroom of diverse students, it can be tough to keep up with everyone’s individual strengths and needs. As you get in gear for the new school year, here are some practical tips adapted from a few of our favorite books for easily incorporating differentiated instruction into your lessons—and helping all your students get what they need to succeed.

1. Try service-learning.

Service-learning projects are a creative and rewarding way to differentiate instruction while helping out your community at the same time. If you’re teaching students to add decimals and round numbers, have them create emergency kits to donate to a local relief agency. Set up learning stations with different assignments, such as estimating the cost of the items for each kit and completing graphic organizers. Students who need extra practice can work with you while others complete tasks like clipping coupons.

—Adapted from Great Ideas by Pamela Gent

2. Offer more choices.

When you allow your students to make choices about the activities they’ll do in class, they become more productive learners. Try having young students first complete one “must-do” learning center activity and then choose between two “can-do” activities. Allow older students to pick three activities from a menu of nine to show their understanding of a concept.

—Adapted from Quick-Guides to Inclusion edited by Michael Giangreco & Mary Beth Doyle

3. Tap into multiple intelligences.

You don’t necessarily need to create multiple activities to cater to your students’ multiple intelligences. For example, if you’re reviewing a timeline of the American Civil War for an upcoming test, give each student an index card with a major event (e.g., Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, etc.), and while playing Civil War-era music, ask students to line up in front of the class to put the events in order. This single activity activates brain stimulation for six different learning styles:

  • Visual-spatial learners use a mental image of the lineup as a mnemonic device.
  • Kinesthetic learners get to move around and create a life-size timeline.
  • Interpersonal learners communicate with each other to decide where to stand in line.
  • Musical-rhythm learners benefit from the background music.
  • Logical-mathematical learners thrive on creating a chronological line.
  • Verbal-linguistic learners review notes and textbook during the activity.

—Adapted from Strategic Co-Teaching in Your School by Richael Barger-Anderson, Robert S. Isherwood, & Joseph Merhaut

4. Ask students what they need.

Sometimes students know just what they need to help them learn best. You just need to ask them! Try creating a “working-with” environment in your classroom by sharing decisions about lesson planning and classroom routines with your students. For example, ask students to work in small groups to brainstorm activities to help them reach their goal of learning multiplication facts, or ask for their suggestions on your classroom seating arrangement.

—Adapted from Quick-Guides to Inclusion edited by Michael Giangreco & Mary Beth Doyle

5. Let students tell you if they “get it.”

A paper-and-pencil test doesn’t work for every learner. Ask your students how they think they can best show you they understand what you taught them. Try checking in with your students throughout a lesson using stoplight colors. Students hold up a green card if they are “good to go,” yellow if they need more practice and red if they don’t “get it.”

—Adapted from Quick-Guides to Inclusion edited by Michael Giangreco and Mary Beth Doyle


5 differentiated instruction strategies to try out this year