The Do's of Differentiated Instruction: How To Help Each Child Excel

By: Carol Carmichael


From ability and skill level to interests and home life, every student is unique, and so is his ability to learn. To complement your students’ schooling needs, try an approach that all of them are able to comprehend. Differentiated instruction allows you to tailor lessons to meet the needs of an individual student or a small group of students, opening the door to a more personalized approach to learning success.

Tailoring Lessons to Meet Students’ Needs

  • Pre-Assessments – Before you design a lesson to meet individual needs, establish how much each student already comprehends. For example, if you are planning to teach a unit on comparing fractions with unlike denominators, it is imperative to know if students are able to understand the lesson, if students have already mastered comparing with unlike denominators, and if students are ready to learn how to compare these types of fractions. Once have an understanding for what each student knows, planning lessons for differing needs is easier.
  • Flexible Grouping – After you analyze your data from the pre-assessments, you will be able to form groups based on need. The objective is to help each student successfully grow as a learner. One group could consist of students who are ready to work with mixed numbers, while another could review how to compare like denominators. These groups revolve as lessons move from one objective to the next.
  • Same Topic, Varying Questions – Oftentimes, it’s appropriate to teach a whole group while varying the delivery of the questions. If the topic is “making inferences,” some students may prefer direct questions like “What does Monica say when she falls down?” or “What did her brother do the last time Monica fell?” For other students, the questions might be: “What will Monica's brother do next? What clues from the text did you use to answer this question?”
  • Modified Assignments – Modified assignments help students achieve success at their various ability levels. One example of this type of assignment may look like this: You assign students to read pages in their social studies book and take notes. You may hand out some papers with a brief outline for note taking. Other outlines may have notes that you have pre-filled for the students to complete.

Ready for Some Help?

Differentiated instruction can require a great deal of time and energy to be used effectively in the classroom. To support this detailed approach to learning, Carson-Dellosa offers ideal resources to ease the level of stress while raising the bar on how to successfully incorporate individualized lesson planning.

Interactive Notebooks

These grade-specific resource books are filled with hands-on activities that help introduce new topics or review subjects students already learned. Interactive Notebooks explain how students can set up their notebooks, while providing an example of a scoring rubric and covering a variety of topics in the areas of language arts, math, and science. Available for grades K-8, you can use these notebooks with the whole class or on a more individual basis for students who could use a more in-depth discussion on a particular concept.  

Differentiated Reading for Comprehension

These teacher resource books each contain 15 pieces of nonfiction text, each one written for below-grade level, on-grade level, and above-grade level students. These excerpts are followed by comprehension questions in the forms of multiple choice, true/false, and short answer. You can easily use the text portions for a whole group, small groups, or as an individual assessment.

Paired Passages

Paired Passages matches a fiction text with a nonfiction text on a topic of interest ranging from literature to social studies and science. Each set of passages is followed by comprehension questions and graphic organizers. Paired Passages helps students compare fiction to fiction, nonfiction to nonfiction, and fiction to nonfiction. This resource is aimed at grades 1–6, and you can use it during whole group or flexible group time.

Using Primary Sources

Available for grades 1–6, each document in this series is from the Library of Congress and contains actual photographs of people and places, as well as background information written for below-, at-, and above-grade level readers. After completing each passage, students explore what they read by answering questions aimed toward high-level thinking skills. You can use this resource across subject areas, with whole group or flexible group instruction.

Guided Reading

Guided Reading is an ideal resource for teaching nonfiction text. Each book in this series contains 36 pieces of text—six copies of six nonfiction topics—and focuses on one of the following comprehension targets: Infer, Connect, Question, and Summarize. The articles contain photographs, maps, and charts for enhancing learning. These are great for flexible groups in grades 1–6.