A Guide to Differentiated Instruction

What is Differentiated Instruction?

Differentiated instruction describes the variety of methods teachers use to accommodate a diverse range of learners. Teachers observe students carefully and reflect on activities completed in class and assignments set in order to design experiences that match the learning styles of the class and as well the differing levels of ability and understanding.

Being a teacher is challenging for many reasons, including the fact that each student has a different learning style and learns at a different pace. On top of covering certain content to satisfy district and state standards, teachers want to effectively tailor and pace their lessons to each student's needs and learning styles.

As many teachers experience, fulfilling the needs of each student in class can be demanding. Thankfully, differentiated instruction can be the solution. Differentiated instruction is a strategy to ensure that every student masters any given concept, no matter his or her learning style.

The Benefits of Differentiating Instruction

The important benefits of differentiated Instruction for students include the ability to:

  • Learn the same material as their peers at a level of challenge appropriate to each student
  • Incorporate the learning style(s) that help them to learn most effectively
  • Increase student engagement in materials
  • Enhance motivation to learn
  • Take more responsibility for their learning by providing options to choose from
  • Improve additional skills such as collaboration, cooperation and critical thinking

Whereas traditional teaching methods involve an instructor lecturing from the front of the room with minimal interaction between students, differentiated instruction encourages students to work together and with their teacher to become actively involved in the learning process.

Critiques of Differentiating Instruction

Like any other teaching style, there are downsides to differentiated instruction. Teachers already spend about eight hours of teaching each day at school, not to mention multiple hours spent on lesson planning, grading, school district meetings, parent-teacher conferences, emails, and so much more. By differentiating instruction, teachers will have to spend even more time on lesson planning due to the differences in the learning styles of each student.

Key principles of differentiated instruction

Simply put, content is the concepts that students need to learn from lessons, and each lesson should align with the requirements from the school district and state educational standards. To deliver the content according to student's needs, teachers can use Bloom's Taxonomy to determine the level of student thinking. The six levels of Bloom's Taxonomy are knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, evaluation, and synthesis. By understanding the level of each student, teachers are more equipped to accurately differentiate lesson content.


After students are introduced to the concepts, they move on to mastering the content through various activities. Depending on the student's learning style, these activities can be visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social, or solitary. Some students prefer to process information by working by themselves whereas others like to collaborate with another student or in a group. The activities included as part of a differentiated lesson plan should align with the student's preferred way of learning.


To assess how well students have understood the lesson, teachers can use various products of learning, including tests, projects, presentations, reports, and many more. By varying assessment methods, you allow students of all learning types to demonstrate mastery, express their creativity, and further their knowledge.

Learning Environment

When first starting out with differentiated instruction, it can be challenging to set the dynamic or the tone of the classroom. The concept is unfamiliar and can easily become chaotic. Because students will be working in small groups around the classroom, it is important to provide students with a clear understanding of the layout and structure. They should know where to go and when to move. Creating an organized, welcoming space fosters a smooth transition to differentiated instruction.

Differentiated Instruction Teacher Grant from
Receive $1000 to spend on the resources and training you need to differentiate effectively in your classroom.
  • Receive $1000 and a 12-month membership to supplement your teaching
  • Must be a full time preschool to 12th grade teacher
  • Apply today!
Congratulations to our recent winner! Jennifer Tice, Science Teacher; West Lafayette, IN
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