Differentiation is about making sure that all students are appropriately challenged Content that is too hard and students will not get the satisfaction of solving a problem and tune out. Too easy, and students will get bored, often leading to poor behaviour.

For some teachers differentiation  sounds like a lot more work but I don’t think the answer is to give every student an individual worksheet slaved over for hours, produced in different colours and so on. The reason this doesn’t work isn’t just because it’s time consuming but it assumes the teacher has an accurate and complete understanding of where each student is on that topic, before the lesson begins. This is of course unrealistic – understanding fluctuates and the key is to be flexible, respond in live time to the needs of the students and this can only be achieved when the teacher checks for understanding. If students are finding  the work easy then the scaffolding is removed and more complexities introduced. If students are struggling then get modelling and adapt your teaching approach, not your expectations of what can be achieved – differentiation is not about lowering the bar.


In your planning make sure you have a proper understanding of progression for the concept you are teaching; this will allow you to select which of the knowledge and skills  could be taught and should  be taught. Why not give some of the suggestions below a try…


  • Repeat initially difficult questions in simpler language
  • Give an either/ or option when asking questions
  • Vary difficulty of question according to ability of pupil
  • Use Blooms Taxonomy when devising questions to vary difficulty
  • Ask students to write questions on post-its and swap them with other students / you swap them with other students of a similar ability
  • Use mini whiteboards when asking questions so that you can quickly check for misunderstandings and intervene as necessary


  • Start with easier ones and then make them progressively harder, with the intention that only the more able will finish or set different targets for how many of the questions students should aim to complete. Set the level of challenge as high as you reasonably can!
  • Colour code certain questions, seemingly randomly, varying the colours across the term
  • Give students of different abilities or different areas of weakness a particular colour to follow, or saying, ‘Tackle red first, then purple…’
  • Give students a choice of which questions to respond to asking them to challenge themselves to complete the hardest ones that they can to see how much they have learnt and reward those who stretch themselves


  • Place vocab lists on desks
  • Oral rehearsal of written tasks through presentations, debates, pair work
  • Think – pair – share
  • Silent debates – students face each other, a large piece of paper between them and have to write their arguments down, responding to one anothers’ ideas
  • Create success criteria/ writing frames as a class to use in written work and then gradually take them away
  • Paired writing/ pair work with students selectively paired
  • Create a model response as a class, involving students of all abilities in suggesting what should be included
  • Working on different materials in similar ability groups
  • Working on same materials in mixed ability groups
  • Limit group size to 3 and give each group member a specific role linked to ability e.g. spokesperson , scribe and team leader
  • Use visual prompts
  • Share key words at start of lesson, define and then use repeatedly during lesson
  • Guided reading/ writing
  • Use of moving image/ audio to support understanding
  • Provide list of key words to include in a written response
  • Model how to write a response, talking through the choice that you make


  • Give some students cloze activities to aid written responses
  • Give some students either/or options and ask them to circle the correct response
  • Break down written tasks into 3 smaller tasks, adding question prompts to guide students
  • Use visual aids to support understanding
  • Use story boarding to support students to show their understanding
  • Vary task using Bloom Taxonomy e.g. some students could evaluate, whilst others show understanding


Drama can be used in many ways to support understanding, with roles assigned by the teacher according to ability

  • Hot-seating of a ‘character’
  • Role-play
  • Modelling
  • Creating freeze frames that sum up key concepts – students have to guess which

I asked the HODS at my own school to give me their ‘go to’ strategy, to ensure the needs of all learners was met. Click here for their response


 © nqttips.com



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