Differentiation Strategies In The Primary Classroom

Instructor: Elizabeth Hemmons

Beth has taught early childhood education, including students with special needs, for the past 11 years. She has a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education.

Meeting the needs of diverse learners can be challenging. In this lesson, we will look at some practical differentiation strategies that can be used for a variety of lessons in the primary classroom.

Differentiation Strategies in the Primary Classroom

Are you ever overwhelmed when you think about meeting the needs of every student in your classroom? Every student is an individual with a specific set of strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles. Some students have special needs or are gifted. How is one teacher supposed to provide instruction for all of these different levels and needs?

You need to differentiate instruction to meet the varied needs of all your students. Differentiated instruction is the process of modifying instruction to meet the needs of all learners in the best way possible. This lesson presents some practical strategies that can help you effectively differentiate instruction.


A basic approach to differentiation is grouping. Grouping your students based on needs is a simple way to differentiate instruction in your classroom. You can form groups initially using your observations, assessments, and other data. Then you can change groups as often as needed, e.g., when students make progress or you learn more about personalities and learning styles.

Mini-Lessons/Small Group Instruction

Mini-lessons are a great way to teach to different levels. Within one subject period, you can reach all of your students with small group instruction. One way this can work is to break your students into three leveled groups and provide each group with a fifteen-minute mini-lesson to focus on the instruction that that particular group needs. When students have finished their mini-lesson, the group can next complete independent work or group tasks based on what was covered in the mini-lesson.

Let's consider another way you can use grouping. In primary math instruction, you can begin the lesson by giving a general overview of the lesson to all of the students and provide an activity for all students to complete independently. While the students are working, pull a small group of students aside to target specific math skills from the lesson. Continue to pull groups until the end of the lesson when all students can be brought together again to wrap it all up.


Giving your students the opportunity to work with you one-on-one is a simple way to differentiate instruction. Conferencing is a brief meeting you have with a student to specifically discuss goals for that student and provide an individualized mini-lesson for the student. For example, conferencing is great for writing instruction because you can meet with a student regarding a certain writing piece and give specific feedback based on the work that the student completed. It completely individualizes the instruction and specifically addresses the needs of the student.

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