Differentiating Instruction in the Elementary Classroom

Differentiated instruction allows students to feel respected and builds confidence in the classroom. View easy to use strategies to help make differentiated learning work in your classroom.

Let’s take it back…way back… back to the one-room schoolhouse. A time where one teacher had students of all ages in a single classroom and was faced with the daily challenge of meeting each of their individual needs. It’s here where we find the roots of differentiated instruction!

So while we may have swapped out chalkboards for Smartboards and rows of desks for flexible seating arrangements, one thing remains the same…there is still a big focus on differentiated instruction.

As teachers, we all have an endless list of things we want (and have) to do for our school, classrooms and students, so WHY should we make differentiating our instruction a top-priority?

Differentiated instruction is respectful

Differentiated instruction helps students feel a sense of dignity in the classroom. When we create lessons catered to the specific needs of a student, we are showing we value them and see them as capable and worthy. When students feel trusted and respected in the classroom, they are better able to engage and participate in learning experiences and behavioral issues are likely lessened. Less behavioral issues = more instructional time! #winwin

Differentiated instruction keeps students motivated and engaged

Differentiated instruction can keep children wanting to learn! Carol Tomlinson explains that sustaining learning requires a balance of effort and success. When the two are out of balance the student is more likely to lose interest and give up. Tasks that provide students with their own appropriate balance of effort and success will help build motivation and maintain engagement.

Differentiated instruction helps students to develop a growth mindset

Carol Dweck shows us that talents CAN be developed through hard-work, effective strategies, and input from others. Growth mindset learners more readily accept feedback, persist longer, embrace challenge and grow more academically than those with fixed mindsets. When we differentiate we help our students develop the belief that they are capable of learning, can persevere, and find success!

While we can likely all agree that differentiating instruction is important, it seems the bigger issue is HOW we make this work in our classroom. It often feels like such a huge, daunting task! How can we plan differentiated activities without making even more work for ourselves?

Differentiating does not have to mean more work for you! I’m excited to share with you some of my go-to resources that I hope will help you see how easy it can be. These resources provide my students with choice and scaffolds of support that result in success for all. They are activities that keep them motivated and engaged and ones that my students have come to know and love!

Write the Room Differentiated Sentences

write the room differentiated sentences

For this learning task I simply post two versions (emergent and advanced) of sentences throughout the classroom and place a copy of a recording sheet in a bin with clipboards for my students to use.

Students  move around the room to locate the sentences, choose a “good fit” sentence, record it, and practice their reading fluency.

Prior to introducing this independent center, my students and I have held several conversations about how we as learners all have strengths and weaknesses. As we set goals together, my friends are more in tune with their exact areas they are looking to improve, so choosing a appropriately leveled sentence is satisfying to them no matter what level is a good fit for them.

I’ve used this activity during literacy centers, for morning work, for early finishers, etc. It’s differentiated task that can be done at anytime! Get Write the Room Differentiated Sentences Here

write the room differentiated sentences

Sentence Building Center:

At this center students have the choice to build an emergent or an early fluent sentence. Again, just as my students are urged to pick “good fit” books, this task encourages them to build the sentence that best matches their ability level.

In addition to building the sentence, students have the opportunity to self edit their work using the checklist and to practice their reading fluency by reading to themselves and a friend as indicated on the bottom of the worksheet. Get Sentence Building Center Here

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Writing Picture Prompts:

These prompts are powerful, my students often ask me to write during indoor recess!

Each prompt has a very basic picture and list of vocabulary words to support students in their writing. They naturally lend themselves to narrative, informative and opinion writing.

The picture on the prompt is intentionally very simple so that students can use their own creativity to build their story.

Emergent writers are able to be successful by writing sentences that simply describe the object, while my more fluent writers may compose a more detailed and complex piece.

It’s a single tool that my students can grow with and use throughout the year as they become more proficient writers! Get Writing Picture Prompts Here

Writing Picture Prompts

writing picture prompts

I hope these few examples of learning activities help you see that differentiating your instruction doesn’t have to mean more work for you. With the right resources students will be engaged and motivated to work hard!

What are your thoughts on differentiated instruction? Do you find it challenging? I’d love to hear any tips you might have, feel free to share in the comments below!

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how to differentiate instruction
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