When it comes to everyday instruction and learning activities, everybody — that includes you and your students — benefits from a little variety. If your students don't seem to be interested in a lesson one day, try coming at it from a different direction the next day. That's what differentiated instruction is all about — finding ways to make lessons appeal to students with different interests, experiences, abilities, and learning styles. Here are some ways you can vary instruction and connect with your students:

  1. Demonstrate: Show students what a successful performance looks like.

  2. Read to Think: Read excerpts or short texts aloud as a means of introducing a subject or getting students to think about it from different perspectives.

  3. Write to Learn: Have students write formally or informally to discover what they know about a subject or to synthesize learning.

  4. Investigation: Design an inquiry for your students in the library, classroom, or computer lab that asks them to find and make sense of information.

  5. Simulation: Provide a range of roles students can play in reader's theater, mock trial, or role-playing sessions.

  6. Construct: Provide materials and ask students to design and create an original project — a model, a poster, or a poem.

  7. Discussion: Create a structured, purposeful discussion of material after dividing the class into different configurations — pairs, trios, or large groups.

  8. Reciprocal Teaching: Ask students to teach what they have learned to others in a group or the class as a whole.

  9. Problem-Solving: Place students in the middle of a problem they must solve using their understanding of the material.

  10. Generate: Require students to be thinkers who come up with their own questions and problems, answers and solutions.

  11. Use group configurations, such as lab teams, which allow students to assume different roles, some of which make greater cognitive demands than others.

  12. Provide a range of problems, texts, or projects to choose from, each one representing different levels of difficulty, but all based on the same subject or text you are trying to teach. For example, in a middle-school social studies class, you might allow students to choose from an article in Time, a local paper, or a primary source document on World War II, each one more difficult than the last.

  13. Assign support materials, such as word lists or graphic organizers, which students can use at different levels of ability.

  14. Give students a variety of topics to choose from when writing, some of which make greater demands and allow for a greater range of responses than others. Depending on the grade level and writing skills being taught, writing topics could range from summarizing to comparing and contrasting to analyzing cause and effect.

  15. Provide alternative routes, such as audio books, so that students with special needs can complete your class assignments.


This article was adapted from The Teacher's Essential Guide Series: Effective Instruction by Jim Burke, © 2008, published by Scholastic.