20 Ways to Differentiate

Differentiating instruction lets educators reach every single student in their classrooms. Here are 20 simple ways to differentiate in reading and writing classrooms:

1. Writing Conferences

Writing conferences are a teacher’s opportunity to get one-on-one time with students. By conducting private conferences, teachers can offer specialized instruction for each individual learner.

2. Reading Conferences

Like writing conferences, reading conferences allow teachers to assess if students understand and enjoy their books. Personalized instruction makes learning more meaningful for students.

3. Project-Based Learning

Also known as PBL, this instruction technique calls for each student to explore their own inquiries. Because every learner creates their own driving question and conducts their own research, low learners AND high learners are on their own paths to achievement

4. Cooperative Learning Groups

Also known as CLGs, let students interact with one another. Because CLGs are not ability-based, diverse groups let students, who normally do not socialize with one another, an opportunity to enrich their connections


5. Sharing Circles

Sharing circles follow the same premise as CLGs, but sharing circles are only for the purpose of sharing. For instance, sharing circles could be formed after students have written a narrative piece. This way students get to hear each other’s pieces.


6. Graphic Novels

Graphic novels are great for unmotivated students, visual learners, English Language Learners, and reluctant readers, just to name a few. These books come in a variety of reading levels and range from serious topics to the classics.

Goodreads has a great list for getting started: Best Graphic Novels.

photo 5 photo 1

7. Writer’s Notebook

At the heart of writer’s workshop is the writer’s notebook. Teachers should not dictate what students write in their notebooks. This way, students can feel safe and learn to enjoy writing.

photo (7)

All students should have writer’s notebooks so they can practice writing daily. The purpose behind the writer’s notebook is to create lifelong writers.

8. Reading Journal

Much like the writer’s notebook, the reading journal is also a place for students to practice writing daily. Reading journals should be fun for students. ELLs should be able to write in their native language and students with disabilities should not feel inferior when writing in their own reading journal.


9. Writing Portfolio

Every piece of writing students complete should be put in their writing portfolios. At the end of the year, teachers can grade based on the growth of each learner. The writing portfolio is great for collection evidence of improvement and growth.

photo (3)

10. Writing choice

Although CCSS mandates that students write certain types of pieces, teachers can easily provide choice within the writing genres. For a narrative essay, students could write an autobiography or a poem about their childhood. The more choice provided, the more students will be reached.


11. Reading choice

Reading choice is at the heart of the reader’s workshop. The more reading choice the student has, the more motivated they will be to read.


12. Book talks

Book talks allow students to start a conversation about books they love. If students are nervous about public speaking, they can record a book talk and then present their recording during class time.

Book talks should be done by every reader in the reading community so everyone can get excited to read a variety of titles.

13. Multimedia presentations

If students need to present their understanding, they should have a variety of options to respond and communicate their understanding. For instance, learners could create a blog, video, or podcast to present their findings.


This method of differentiation is great for high-ability learners and learners with disabilities and all other students in between.

14. Classroom Setup

The classroom should be setup for success. Spaces in the classroom should foster imagination, exploration, and critical thinking. Students with physical handicaps should be able to maneuver with ease around the classroom.

photo (17)

KatSok’s classroom is differentiated in setup (watch the video at the end of the blog post).

15. Handwritten Note

Although many people say that it is impossible to reach every student, teachers can try and try again. Writing students encouraging notes can become monotonous, but who knows, maybe that will be the only encouragement a student gets all day…or all week…or all year.

photo (4)

16. Class Hashtag

Instead of forcing students to create a long list of classroom rules, why not have them work together to create one class hashtag for the year. Mr. Gomez’s Kindergarten class chose #BeBrave.


17. Grading Contracts

To ensure every student is grade fairly, teachers can have students write their own grading contracts for an assignment, unit, or for the entire year. Writing the contract itself would be a great learning opportunity! In fact, there are many alternatives to letter grades!


18. Self-Reflecting Assessments

Especially in the writing classroom, feedback is linked with success. Writers and readers need feedback, not evaluations. At the end of a writing or reading unit, students can reflect on their learning and, in turn, learn about themselves as writers/readers.


19. Reading Community

In this post, Donalyn Miller writes about her struggle with rigid rules during read alouds. In the end, the most important instruction reading teachers can do is to create a reading community. When a reading community forms, ALL learners, regardless of ability or disability, can come together and learn.


20. Sharing Yourself

Teaching is a taxing job. Teachers must adhere to standards, school boards, and principals. But at the center of it all, students need you. Sharing pieces of yourself humanizes you and identifies you as a learner, just as your students are learners, too.

photo (20) graduation scan0500 Photo_00015 zoe