Differentiated Instructional Strategies for Social Studies

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

In this lesson, teachers will learn some methods for differentiating instruction for students in social studies class. The strategies presented are applicable to a variety of age and grade levels, and they can be adapted to meet the needs of all learners.

Reasons for Differentiation

A typical social studies class can be challenging for students with varied learning needs. Listening to lectures, memorizing dates, and conceptualizing historical events and timelines can seem overwhelming. Differentiating your instruction will help ensure that you are able to meet the various needs of all learners and provide them with equitable access to the curriculum.

Differentiated instruction requires changing content, delivery, and assessment methods based on students' needs while maintaining the same standards and objectives for all learners. Let's look at some specific strategies that you can use to differentiate instruction in your social studies classroom.

Flexible Grouping

One simple way to provide differentiated instruction is to allow flexible grouping in your classroom. Flexible grouping allows students to work with their classmates in group structures that work best for them. For one assignment, a student might do best in a mixed-ability group so that each student can contribute his or her individual strengths. On another assignment, that same student might work best in a homogeneous group structure. Students' needs are constantly changing depending on several factors, and flexible grouping takes that into account.

There are many types of grouping strategies, including:

  • Interest grouping: grouping students based on topics they want to study
  • Ability grouping: putting students with similar skills and ability levels together
  • Cooperative grouping: giving each student within the group a specific role according to his or her interests and skills, such as the writer or presenter
  • Mixed-ability grouping: putting students with varying strengths and weaknesses together to learn from one another

Student Choices

Students should be encouraged to demonstrate learning in a way that is interesting to them and well-suited to their individual strengths. If you assign all students an essay about the causes of the Civil War, students who strongly detest lengthy writing assignments may not put forth their best effort. As a result, you will assume that those students have not mastered the skill.

Instead, what if you gave students a menu of assessment options to choose from? Students who prefer art projects could create a poster or visual chart showing the causes of the Civil War. Musically gifted students could compose and perform a song about the causes, while those with a preference for movement-based activities could perform a dialogue or short play between key figures at the start of the Civil War.

Providing students with choices in how they demonstrate learning offers a more accurate reflection of their skills than a one-size-fits-all approach.


The R.A.F.T. strategy stands for 'Role, Audience, Format, Topic.' This is a writing strategy that provides differentiation through student choice. It is ideal for a social studies activity or assessment because it naturally lends itself to analyzing the attitudes and actions of historical figures within the context of a historical setting.

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