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5 Ways to Help All Students Succeed in a Differentiated Classroom

by Model Teaching | March 19, 2019.

The key to success for all students is easier than you might think! Designing a differentiated classroom is one of the most impactful ways to progress the learning of each and every child. Today’s classroom is more diverse than ever before which is why it is crucial for educators to implement differentiation strategies that address each child’s readiness, interests, and learning profile. Learn how you can simply and effectively help your students on their road to success through differentiation in your classroom.

Fair doesn’t mean giving every child the same thing, it means giving every child what they need.
Rick Lavoie

Differentiated Classroom

There are countless methods to help all students succeed at school and beyond. Perhaps one of the most notable ways in today’s diverse society is through classroom differentiation. Within the realm of differentiation there are also countless ways to differentiate and improve each student’s learning experience by adjusting the content, processes, and products. Differentiated classes entail flexibility and the use of a wide range of instructional strategies and resources for students to use. Here we will discuss 5 elements of a classroom that are vital to consistently differentiate in order to ensure that we respond to the needs of each and every student.

1. Technology

It is no secret that we live in a digital era requiring us to utilize technology in education. Technology in a differentiated classroom is most effective when it adjusts to each student’s ability and provides consistent feedback about the student’s performance and progress to the student as well as to the teacher and parents. Another element to look for in technology for differentiation is that it promotes critical thinking while also enforcing collaboration among peers and educators. Technology should also provide opportunities for students to engage in projects that encourage design and research.

Listed below are some easy-to-differentiate technology resources:

  • Online Research
  • Google Classroom
  • Presentations
  • Blogging/Electronic Journaling
  • Digital Cameras

2. Small Group Instruction

With small group instruction (think guided reading and teacher table time) teachers have the opportunity to work closer with groups of students at similar readiness levels, with similar interests, or with similar learning profiles. Although the lesson content in each group may be alike, the delivery method, complexity, activities, pacing and materials may differ between different student groups. Another benefit of differentiated small groups is that teachers can monitor each student’s progress and learning profile more effectively and accurately. Most students also tend to feel more at ease surrounded by their peers who share certain similarities and qualities as they do. This leads to a safe learning environment where students can prosper and succeed.

3. Learning Stations

Implementing differentiated tasks in your classroom’s learning stations helps ensure that each student stays focused and engaged in their learning. It is important that, while working in learning stations, students have access to various learning materials that aid in their understanding and task completion. When learning stations are differentiated it is unnecessary to group similar students together. Instead, it is beneficial to group students heterogeneously so that they can assist each other when needed. Planning for differentiated learning stations may seem a little daunting to some educators, however, it can be achieved in as little as three simple steps: First, determine the at-level task. Then, tweak it to make it attainable for novice learners. Lastly, add complexity to the at-level task to challenge your advanced learners.

4. Whole Group Instruction

Whole group instruction is typically the simplest to differentiate. With only a few changes teachers are able to help more students reap the benefits of the lesson. During whole group instruction it is essential to remember to include the four different learning styles – visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile. Visual learners may benefit from seeing real life examples of what is being taught and also by creating visual anchor charts as a class. Auditory learners may prefer to learn by using songs or chants, such as the water cycle song for example, during instruction. For kinesthetic learners, it is important to include movement such as dancing and acting out. Tactile learners benefit from hands-on learning such as using actual manipulatives during a math lesson rather than only seeing pictures. Using these learning styles will ultimately reach every student. You may also find it helpful to make other adjustments to your whole group instruction such as being accessible to students, incorporating strategic seating arrangements, and being flexible with timing.

5. Classroom Management

Classroom management is often one of the aspects of a classroom that is overlooked when differentiating. In order to effectively implement differentiation it is critical that the teacher sets high expectations while establishing routines and procedures. Is there a chance that behavior issues may arise? Most certainly so. As each student’s behavior may differ so does his or her response to intervention. Individual student behavior charts, for example, are useful for struggling students. While we encourage all students to strive for excellence, not all students require an individualized behavior plan. Intervention strategies will likely vary per student – some students may respond well to a reward system while others may necessitate parent phone calls.

So where should you go from here, and how can you effectively begin to consider implementing differentiated instruction into your classroom? Knowing your students and their individual needs is the first step to grouping and targeting students in your classroom. Only when you understand your individual students, and their academic strengths and weaknesses, can you effectively begin to utilize different elements of your classroom to truly differentiate instruction. Use our student profile document, available for download below, to help gather the important information you’ll need to plan instruction for your students. Complete this form for each of your students, and consider ways of grouping your students so that you can provide the right instruction for each of their needs. Then, start off slow, and select one classroom element you can target for purposeful differentiation. As you improve your own teaching practices, you can expand differentiation across several elements of your classroom.

To learn more about the benefits of differentiation and gather more ideas on how to design lesson plans to target your individual student needs, explore the additional resources provided below!

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Student Differentiation Profile Template

This tool helps educators gather important information about each student’s readiness, interests, and learning preferences. The teacher, student, and/or parents may complete the form. This form will help teachers to better understand and analyze their students’ needs when planning for classroom differentiation. It includes questions about students’ academic history, strengths and weaknesses, and preferred learning styles (i.e., visual, aural, tactile, kinesthetic).

Student Differentiation Profile Template-SAMPLE

This is a sample completed copy of the Student Differentiation Profile Template.  Use it as a reference when completing your own Differentiation Template.


Try this: Complete the student profile resource for the students in your classroom. Then, choose one element of your classroom that you will focus on first to better differentiate your instruction. What will your instruction look like? How will you track progress of your students? Make sure to narrow down your focus when building your lesson plans to include differentiation to make sure that you design a lesson that is realistically achievable for you to reach all students at their individual levels.

Then, during a PLC or other planning session after implementation, reflect on whether how you could have been more deliberate in improving individual student progress and revise a lesson plan to better address differentiation within that specific element.


Carol Ann Tomlinson.  The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners, 2nd Edition

David Sousa and Carol Ann Tomlinson.  Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom

Tomlinson, C.A., et. Al.(2003). Differentiating Instruction in Response to Student Readiness, Interest, and Learning Profile in Academically Diverse Classrooms: A Review of Literature. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 27, 119-45.

McTighe, J. and O’Conner, K. (2005) Seven Practices for Effective Learning, Educational Leadership, (63)3), 10-17.

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