Differentiation of Instruction in Teaching Mathematics

Instructor: Lori Sturdivant

Lori has a specialist's degree in Instructional Leadership/Mild Moderate and currently serves as the Lead Teacher for The University of Southern Mississippi's Autism Project.

Discover ways you can implement differentiated mathematics instruction in your classroom! This lesson will teach you multiple strategies that can improve the quality of instruction for all learners.

What is Differentiated Instruction?

Do you want to increase academic engagement while simultaneously decreasing off-task behavior? You can do this by simply implementing differentiated instruction into your lessons starting today!

Differentiated instruction (DI) is using a variety of instructional strategies to meet the needs of diverse learners. DI benefits all students by providing multiple pathways to academic success. You can differentiate the way the material is delivered, what materials are used, what end products are created, and even how the students are assessed.This article will describe how to differentiate the instruction of math lessons and why it can be be beneficial to all students.

You should begin by giving a Learning Styles Inventory. There are a plethora of free ones online. It is also suggested that you talk with your school's guidance counselor or academic coach to see if they have some available to use. This inventory will help understand how your students learn best. The surveys are generally questionnaires that offer multiple choice answers. Students are asked to pick their favorite, or the best option. There are no wrong answers!

Example Question on a Learning Styles Inventory:

What do you think of when you see the word football?

A. You picture a football in your mind (This answer suggests you are a visual learner.)

B. You say the word in your head (This answer suggests you are an verbal learner.)

C. You picture yourself playing football (This answer suggests you are a physical or social learner.)

Different Learning Styles

The following list will help you understand what your students will respond best to based on their learning style.

Visual: Pictures/Images/Colors

Physical: Movement/Role-Playing/Tangible Objects

Auditory: Sounds/Rhymes/Music

Verbal: Words in Reading/Words in Writing/Scripting

Logical: Analyzing/Reasoning Skills

Social: Group Work/Partners

Solitary: Independent Activities

The results of the surveys are beneficial because they help you differentiate your instruction to specific or struggling learners. However, you can help all students without knowing their learning styles by consistently differentiating the content, the process, and the product of your lessons. Use the following examples of a DI math lesson to guide you.

Examples of a Differentiated Math Lesson

The following are examples of how to differentiate the different parts of a lesson.

A math teacher is teaching students how to determine the perimeter of different polygons.

Non-differentiated: The teacher works several problems on the board then gives students three problems to work independently.


1. The teacher pre-tests the students and groups them together based on their understanding of the skills needed to master the objectives. Some students may serve as peer tutors, and the teacher may work with a small group.

2. Have the student practice on objects that are relevant to their lives. Let them find the perimeter of their cell phones, etc. This will increase the engagement of the activity.

A math teacher is teaching students how to find the volume of different objects.

Non-differentiated: The teacher provides students with a formula sheet. The sheet has the formula for finding the volume of a cube, a sphere, a cylinder, and a prism. The students are given problems to solve using the worksheet formula. The students will be asked to use the formulas to solve problems on their test, and they will not be allowed to use the formula sheet.


1. Break students into four groups. Give each group a formula. Have each group teach the formula to the rest of the class.

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