9 Easy Strategies for Differentiation

Teachers are expected to differentiate their lessons to meet the needs of all students in their classroom. It sounds like a wonderful idea, but in practice, it can be difficult to differentiate every lesson every day.

These differentiation strategies in the classroom are perfect for middle school and high school students. I use these ideas in secondary math, but they would even work in elementary.

My last year teaching I had what I consider a "moderate load". I had three preps and I was the only teacher teaching them (aka, no planning help). I was on a team to completely re-write the standards and curriculum map for our school. I tutored every day during lunch and after school and I was pregnant with my second baby. I was lucky that I had planning time in my day, but many teachers do not. To get through all of this, you NEED easy strategies for differentiation.

What Differentiation IS and IS NOT


Differentiation IS
  • dynamic and proactive
  • a bland of different types of instruction (whole group lecture, individual tutoring, small group, etc.)
  • tailoring lessons to meet the needs of all students

Differentiation IS NOT
  • individualized instruction
  • giving students more work or letting students skip assignments
  • only for students with learning challenges
These differentiation strategies in the classroom are perfect for middle school and high school students. I use these ideas in secondary math, but they would even work in elementary.

Remember, DIFFERENTIATION IS NOT INDIVIDUALISED LEARNING. Many teachers are overwhelmed with differentiation because they think they need to come up with separate lessons for many students in their classes.
Basically, differentiated instruction is doing what you can to help each student be successful in your classroom. Many teachers do this naturally. However, it is SO HELPFUL to have additional tools in your arsenal so that you can help students.  

Easy Differentiation Strategies

Use Task Cards - You can give students problems that will be appropriately challenging for them. Students can work individually or in pairs.  Color coding different "levels" of problems is helpful and students can decide when they are ready to move to another level.

These differentiation strategies in the classroom are perfect for middle school and high school students. I use these ideas in secondary math, but they would even work in elementary.


Offer Choices - Give students choices about how they will review or demonstrate their learning.  When reviewing, students could play games, make flash cards, work on a test review, or create their own test questions. 

Use Learning Stations - Some lessons lend themselves to stations.  This leaves you time to work with individual groups and individual tutoring.


Use Guided Notes - Using guided notes makes it easier for students to copy class notes from the board.  Also, you can provide filled in copies for students that have difficulty writing and blank copies for students that need more of a challenge.

Use Technology to Help - So many schools have technology built into the budget now.  Try to leverage this in your favor!  Use apps to help with differentiation.  You can use apps to help with remediation or for challenge activities for gifted learners.


Model and Speak Clearly - Chances are, you're going to have English Language Learners in your classroom every year.  It's a good habit to model what you want students to do and speak slowly and clearly.  One year, I had a student that had just moved from Vietnam.  I have a pretty thick Texas accent and had to concentrate to make sure I was speaking as clearly as possible.

Use Interactive Notebooks - Foldables are GREAT for students that need to keep their hands busy during a lesson.  If you use foldables in a "guided notes style", you can also vary the amount of information that students fill in themselves.  You can also have students color-code and put activities in their notebooks.

These differentiation strategies in the classroom are perfect for middle school and high school students. I use these ideas in secondary math, but they would even work in elementary.


Assign Open-Ended Projects - Create a list of projects and rubrics, letting students choose the project that is best for them.

Group Different Ability Levels - When having students work in groups, sometimes group students by different ability levels.  I love using Sum 'Em activities because I can give students work that is appropriate at their level, and no student can be "dead weight" in the group.


Differentiated learning doesn't have to be time-consuming.  Little tweaks to your day can help meet the needs of all of your students!

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