New Book: So All Can Learn – A Practical Guide to Differentiation


Ishutterstock_174221555t’s been a crazy, busy summer. But the work has paid off as I’ve completed the work on my new book, which comes out in February 2017:

So All Can Learn – A Practical Guide to Differentiation

by John McCarthy

Published by Rowman & Littlefield

Register for news of when pre-orders go live,
and other news related to this innovative book.

“So All Can Learn” is one of the few that connects teaching pedagogy with practical means to implement differentiation. Over the years, I’ve received many questions about what is differentiation, how do you actually implement in a meaningful way, and how do you address the obstacles for differentiation to happen. The answers will be found in this book 🙂

  • Guide for understanding the “Why” and “How” of effective differentiation
  • Strategies for improving the learner experience
  • Examples and case studies to help educators transform practice
  • Reflective questions for study groups and coaches of groups to ground their learning
  • Addressing answers to the common obstacles that teachers express for differentiation to occur

Subscribe for Updates about the book

In the next several months, I will send updates regarding where and when to pre-order the book, as well as when the companion website is available: Subscribe for email updates using the form on this website.

Follow me on Twitter: @JMcCarthyEdS. Get the updates as they come.

Learning through Pokemon Go – 15+ Resources


When Pokemon Go launched it created quite a buzz that continues to resonate. As an extension to my article, Pokemon Go… and Global Success Skills? via Edutopia, here are some resources to learn more about the game itself and possible uses for publication and other Authentic Learning Experiences for students. I’ll be adding to this list periodically.


  1. Pokemon Go Wiki Guide by IGN
  2. Pokemon FAQ on Polygon
  3. Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I Started ‘Pokémon GO’
  4. Beginner’s guide: How to play Pokémon Go!
  5. Pokemon Go Beginner’s Guide
  6. The Ultimate Guide to Pokemon Go
  7. How to Use a Pokemon GO Lure Module
  8. Pokémon Go players can now submit PokéStop, gym location requests
  9. Pokemon Go site
  10. Visual guide by Tech Insider
  11. Background history about Pokemon Go (Wikipedia)

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IMG_7951Take a position on these issues and activities:

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Examples of published content by professionals that students could do:

Student Learning Wall Guide: Empowering Student Voice

Checkout ALE/PBL Guide

2016-03-16 08.19.52

Entering most classrooms, there is information about the learning outcomes and assignments posted. The purpose is to let students know what is the focus and follow up work that is connected. This information is like the billboards along the highways. People drive by without paying attention to the signs that become lost in the scenery background. There have been initiatives to use such “billboards” to help teachers structure the work for students. Some initiatives include the Blackboard Configuration by Dr. Marilyn Monroe, Bell work, and the Project Wall used with Project-Based Learning. These different approaches have mixed results because they tend to address what teachers need to do with students, instead of how to support student learning. The key to turning these tools into more consistent success if to re-frame the purpose.

Make Instruction Transparent for Students

For innovative practices like Authentic Learning Experiences, PBL, Design Thinking, and STEM/STEAM, it’s important to bring learners inside the instructional circle. This is the traditional space of teachers. It’s like learning the magic tricks of the magicians. This approach may put magicians out of business, whereas the work of teachers improves and elevates in quality because students understand what’s behind the wizard’s curtain.

Students need to know the focus and outcomes so that they feel comfortable about the journey. I remember in both undergrad and graduate courses watching the professor enter the room and start to lecture. Every student promptly took notes on what was said. I’d struggle trying to figure out the big focus and outcomes. Most times I did not figure out the purpose until later while puzzling through the notes. Yet, at staff meetings, there was usually an agenda that helped me understand the purpose and outcomes to be accomplished. Churches, theaters, and graduations provide a program that shares the purposes and activities to take place. When this transparency of operations happens in units and lessons, students reap the benefits.

Student Learning Wall Guide Chart image

Student Learning Wall Guide Components

  1. Driving Question
  2. Unit Outcomes
  3. Lesson Outcomes
  4. Need to Know List
  5. Calendar
  6. Anchor Charts: Focused Global Success Skill(s)
  7. Checklists, Rubrics, & Key Products/Tasks

The components serve the dual purpose of communicating important information to students and helps include them in internalizing the big picture of the unit and the focus needs of the focused lesson. Most of these items should be visibly positioned where the teacher tends to begin instruction. Placing the only copy at the back of the room makes the item unimportant to students. Out of sight, out of mind. When the items are addressed by teachers on a regular basis—some daily, others weekly—sends a message of value. What gets monitored gets done.

Driving Question

The Driving question should be banner size so that students see it from anywhere in the room. The teachers relate the question to that day’s learning outcome and/or standard. This important sound byte reminds students of how the current lesson connects to the big picture of the unit. Sometimes, the driving question is addressed near the end of the lesson as formative assessment. Ask students how the lesson’s learning outcome relates to the driving question. A result of doing this daily is that students understand the major focus of the work. A byproduct is that students communicate better at home about their work. They can discuss their day with details of the work, instead of answer the question: “What did you do today?” with “nothing” or “stuff.” Being able and willing to tell about their learning journey reassures parents and families of the productive things taking place at school.

References on Driving Questions

Unit Outcomes

List the standards that are being taught, coached, and assessed during the course of the unit near the location of the Driving Question. This list gives students and guest a broad understanding of the depth of the learning taking place. When first introducing a standard into a lesson, refer to it from the list. This does not have to happen every day. After the first intro, refer to the standard where it best helps the students. Doing this enough times and students should be able to identify the focus standard, which aids their understanding of the connections being made. I was impressed with how students at Arsenal New Tech High School in Indianapolis IN were adept at knowing which standards they were addressing.

Lesson Outcomes

Where the Driving Question and the unit outcomes are the framework of the learning home, the lesson outcomes are the bricks that shape the experiences. Posted near the Driving Question, students need to understand what is the focus of “that day’s” focus. It is the anchor for the work and the assessments that occur by the end. Tie the lesson outcomes with the Driving Question so that students know how the lesson’s focus fits into the big picture, so that it’s worth doing.

Need to Know List

Use this protocol at the start of a unit. Keep a copy of the list along with the Driving Question at the front of the class for easy reference. Use it as formative feedback for instructional decisions for Differentiation and to track whole class growth. Refer to it several times a week to check for understanding and to gather more student questions. Learn how to implement this protocol.


Students need to know the key activities and deadlines for the current week. Being aware of these important dates helps present the scope of the work as it fits the larger vision of the unit. It’s best to not show the dates for the future weeks as that’s not relevant to what students need to deal with in the current week.

Global Success Skills Anchor Charts

There are many skills that businesses, universities, and other professions need to successfully thrive in their respective environments. Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Agency, and Self-Management are some that are considered for student development. is a rich resource for these and more skills.

When choosing Global Success Skills, it’s best to choose 1-2 for a unit that will be taught, coached, and assessed. It’s easy to discuss or touch upon a skill, but if it’s not being taught, coached, and assessed, students are not knowingly developing understanding. Once the skills are identified, create an anchor chart that describes the skill in actionable language so students can use for themselves and to manage the success of their teams. Place a copy of the chart on each wall, so that students can use the chart that’s closest to their table group.

Here’s an example:

Collaboration is…

  1. Being a good listener
  2. Helping others
  3. Being dependable with completing tasks
  4. Contributing ideas

Such an anchor chart gives students common language for collaboration. When there are problems they can address the team or team member. During feedback assessments of the team’s level of collaboration, the students can be specific, constructive, and kind.

Checklists, Rubrics, & Key Products/Tasks

Criteria for assessments and descriptions for key tasks are important to share with students. Knowing, helps them to prepare work with a clear understanding of guidelines. But remember—this information is only provided on a “Need to Know Basis.” If the essay is not started until the second week, students do not need to see the rubric and assignment description until the first day they start that work. Posting everything ahead of time becomes a mash of stuff that students will likely tune out, because it’s not important to do at the moment.

Student Learning Wall Guide: Classroom Posting versus Online Posting

Wall space can be a challenge for some for putting up these components for supporting students. The information can be posted on one or two chart papers. This is useful to teachers who have two or more preps. They can quickly put up the chart that is needed for course being taught. Here are some options to consider:

Option One: Post everything in three steps

Place everything on the walls that are closest to where the teacher starts instruction. It’s important that a teacher need only take three steps to address any of the posted information. If the front wall is not available, then use one or both adjacent walls. Avoid using the wall opposite of where the teacher leads instruction. Out of sight is out of mind.

Option Two: Blended Posting

Sometimes wall space is lacking. In this case, part of the Student Learning Wall Guide can be inside the classroom. The rest can be posted in the hallway or online. The non-negotiables are:

  1. Driving Question
  2. Unit and Lesson Outcomes
  3. Need to Know list
  4. Global Success Skills Anchor Charts

The other items need to be available for students to see and/or refer to. All parts can be online, but the list above also needs to be present in the classroom as they can be used frequently each day for teachable learning moments.

Some may think that this is a lot of work, but the information is already present in one’s unit. What’s needed is to make these public and easily accessible for learners. The result is greater awareness and support of students—having the big picture is a good development of Student Voice.

Check out this photo gallery of Student Learning Walls

These are examples by teachers who are learning and growing with their development of Student Voice.

Formative Assessments for Innovative Instruction & Learning


Assessment is a major topic that teachers discuss when implementing innovative instruction, such as PBL or Authentic Learning Experiences (ALE). When the PBL/ALE unit starts at the beginning of your instruction, students do better. Makes your use of assessment stronger. PBL/ALE “after” a unit is dessert, which makes learning difficult. Here are some sources for formative assessment ideas:

Networks for Gamification Resources


Professional Learning Network

ISTE has a good group that focuses on Gamification called Games & Simulations Network. ISTE members get access to emails regarding the ongoing conversations in the forum. It is a wealth of information that helps practice and innovation in this area. It’s worth becoming an ISTE member just for this resource, but there is much more.

Networking & Learning Collaboration

Consider following on Twitter:

Here are rich opportunities to have ongoing conversations with other educators who, like you and me, are exploring the use of Gamification and Game-based Learning to engage students into deep substantive learning, while having fun 🙂

Starting Place

The site that I like the most is: Badgeville.

Best place to think about gamifying lessons and units. It provides a wealth of ideas about different elements a teacher can pick from to customize the gaming experience for their students. Besides badges, consider use of experience points and levels. Turn major assessments into Boss rounds after students have accumulated enough experience points (practice) to level up for the showdown.

I teach an online course on Gamification for Dell and MI TRIG. Registration is free to Michigan Teachers. (Registration) Come check it out.

Here are other articles on this topic:

Mythbusting Differentiation: Solutions to Make Differentiation a Reality

Debunk myths that make differentiation seem impractical and impossible. Differentiation is more than strategies and more practical than a pedagogical ideal. Here is a companion post to my presentation for the ASCD Conference. This article and the list of referenced articles at the end debunk myths about Differentiation with solutions that offer success to diverse learners under challenging conditions. My book addresses these challenges and more: So ALL Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation.

Order at: R&L | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Barnes & Noble| Amazon UK


Be empowered to make real change through differentiation.

Is Differentiation just too difficult?

One of the biggest illusions is that Differentiation can’t be done under the conditions that many teachers find themselves with various challenges, such as class size, shorten time, and curriculum constraints—just to name a few. Yet the reality is that differentiation happens all the time.

Differentiation occurs during lessons when a teacher answers questions from individual students to help them understand the content and skills, provide different choices for how work can be done, or change instruction in the middle of the lesson because too many learners are either not understanding, or already know the content. In-the-moment support is Intuitive differentiation.

Like a practitioner of a martial arts school or an RPG gamer, Differentiation has many levels of complexity and skills. Intuitive practice is the beginning level. The next levels of growth relates to Intentional Differentiation, which is where pre-planning occurs. Teachers analyze students’ needs based on assessment data, and craft learning experiences that meet their needs.

What research supports Differentiation?

When looking a wide body of research about Differentiation, it’s best to focus on systems and structures that collect and use data to inform how best to meet the needs of learners. Some include

  1. Response to Intervention
  2. Guided Reading
  3. Assessment For Learning

Another place to look are researched strategies that have an impact on improving learning. Consider the 9 Strategies from Classroom Strategies that Work. Each of the 9 strategies can be differentiated based on the needs of learner groups and individuals.

  1. Identifying Similarities and Differences
    Use charts to compare and classify, i.e. Venn Diagram & Comparison Matrix, or create metaphors.
  2. Summarizing and Note Taking
    • Use oral or written summaries, or a combination via Think-Pair-Write. Craft images or diagrams (nonlinguistic representations) that capture the key ideas.
    • Teach 3 forms of note taking, and allow students to choose the one they prefer.
  3. Reinforcing Effort and Providing Recognition
    • Maintain learning portfolios that students use to reflect on their growth based on academic criteria.
    • Use Growth Mindset language to encourage students via their achievements and growth.
  4. Homework and Practice
    Provide purposeful practice as homework that addresses specific needs of students for academic growth. Homework is leveled to each student’s skill level needs.
  5. Nonlinguistic Representations
    Use a combination of images and words, such as with Frayer Model and chunking videos with questions via and
  6. Cooperative Learning
    Create groups where everyone can contribute to the learning, i.e. Learning Profile Cards, Clock and Elbow Partners, Critique & Reflection, Fishbowl
  7. Setting Objectives and Providing Feedback
    Need to Know activity, K-W-L, Student-led Feedback groups, Gallery Walks, “Be Specific, Constructive, & Kind”, “I like…, I wonder…, & What if…”
  8. Generating and Testing Hypotheses
    Work in cooperative or collaborative groups, explore labs, scenarios, and case studies that are tiered to different readiness groups of students.
  9. Cues, Questions, and Advance Organizers
    Use a variety of advance organizers, or provide a advance organizer pre-filled to different levels based on the needs of students, coach students on the Question Formulation Technique, practice both “wait” time and “think” time.

Are Learning Preferences relevant for learning, if they even exist?

Sit in any classroom lesson or professional development. It becomes obvious that people have preferences for how they learn. Depending on the mode(s) of instruction used, watch for who is focused and engaged. Also notice who are not. People’s engagement can shift through the course of a lesson or activity.

How we provide experiences that incorporate ways of processing and understanding content and skills is crucial to meeting the goal of all students learning. How we include learners in the conversation and task formations acknowledges the preferences of our students.

There are many approaches and inventories to choose from. Cross-train by using at least two approaches for collecting data about learners—such as Robert Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory and Meyrs & Briggs. This form of planning ensures that students are not identified as having only one learning preference, when the reality is far more diverse. Consider strategies like Learning Profile Cards as start to incorporating the Interests and preferences that students have about their learning.

Explore ways to provide learning experiences that address concepts in multiple ways based on learning preferences. For example, Frayer Model, Thinkdots, Task Cards, and Learning Menus.

There is no time to Differentiate?

Time is an interesting challenge. Most educators who raise the issue of time also express strong agreement that differentiation is important for learning. If all students should learn and grow is a a priority, but is lost in the feeling that there is not time to implement, then how is time used? One answer is teacher-led instruction where the educator ensures that curriculum is covered within the limited time. We all feel that conflict of getting across content inside a time frame that feels too short. Yet, just because something is “taught” or covered, does not mean that the students learned.

Stephen Covey’s habit of Put 1st Things 1st represents the need to identify what is important and then prioritize it. This is best illustrated in the jar of rocks analogy.


Short term investment, which may take more up front time, can pay long lasting dividends in the deeper learning that the students experience. If we agree that Differentiation should become a real priority that is implemented, then there are ways to begin the process.

  • Use frequently “wait” time and “think” time so that students have needed time to process understanding.
  • Implement learning stations both physical structures for movement and virtual experiences for more accesses to resources.
  • Use learning profile cards for thoughtful grouping of students around tasks.

Who should control learning?

The answer is obvious: Student. The means to enabling students to be in “full” control relies on teachers willingly giving up control. This is a difficult move when teachers are held accountable for student achievement. Consider the previous statement. Teachers can not take the student assessments for which they may be evaluated by. My nature of students taking those assessments places the teacher’s fate into the learner’s hands. Why not give students overt control of their learning by including them in how they process, explore, and demonstrate what they understand and do not understand? In sports, effective coaches build a team’s confidence to run the game plans on the field. Successful teams understand how to adapt and change as needed to counter the moves of their opponents. The coach can call time outs and offer suggestions, but it’s the players who execute. The same can be said of students.

Teachers design the sandboxes, and can let students create their own inner spaces. Standards and curriculum are the frames that teachers use to structure learning so that students feel supported to participate. Include students in determining how some activities will take shape. Having them participate in authentic learning experiences for deeper engagement as the work becomes real world and purposeful. In some learning centers, the students help create their own sandbox or design an entire beach.

There are other myths about Differentiation

The best way to face them is to remember that assessments tell what students know and do not know; also the shed light on what students need. Once it’s known what students need to grow, then how we choose to act in meeting those needs requires differentiation.

Consider these articles for extended exploration of making Differentiation Real:

10 Writing Strategies to Differentiate So ALL Students Can Write

Writing is such an important skill set that requires a combination of honed skills and physical stamina to complete drafts and turn them into published products. Even though writing is an important part of professional life and work, it is likely that many people lack confidence, skills, and/or stamina to write well. This may be equally true in Education.

Here are ten strategies to add to your toolbox. If you have some already, then consider this an opportunity to further hone these approaches to improving the writing skills of ALL students. But to apply any of these strategies with effectiveness, the first step is to establish with students that they are writers. When talking about writer’s craft, frame the conversations and work where students reflect and work “as writers” or “authors”. This culture setting viewpoint is key to student writers coming to the belief that they can write and write well.

Screenshot 2016-03-18 22.04.35

1. Window Activity

This strategy helps unlock the inner writer in every participant. The Window Activity uses a picture that contains many details for igniting ideas to write about. This visual strategy helps students explore a theme or concept and immerse the writer with their words. The result are writers having higher confidence in their word-smithing capabilities. More details here.

Here’s an example of a picture that could be used to study the American Revolution or to spark a later conversation about such concepts as: revolution, core democratic values, or strategy.


Emanuel Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851, oil on canvas,

2. Social Media Publication

Social Media tools provide many ways for expressing student voice as part of engaged communities. Students can play roles from different professional fields to apply concepts and skills in related occupations. There are many different forms of publication:

Collaborative content development: Padlet – Thinglink – Stormboard

Reflection on content and concepts: Blogs

Expressing opinions or evidenced-based perspectives – reviews on products (Amazon or MetaCritic, travel (TripAdvisor), food (Yelp) and article critiques (Yahoo News)

Posting original ideas – Blogs and Wikis

More details here based on this article.

Consider using the SAMR Model as a guide when using Social Media to support writing and learning. Here is a good image of the SAMR Model. Also, here is a Pad Wheel that connects use of Social Media tools to the SAMR Model.


3. Fastwrite – Freewrite Strategies

Fastwrites help writers get their ideas down on paper. Consider it a writing sprint. Part brainstorm and part exploration, students are able to unload from their mind the many ideas that peculate consciously and unconsciously. It’s a great way to breakthrough writer’s block and excavate gems of ideas.

Freewrites is a thoughtful plodding process of reflecting and expanding on ideas. It works best when there are ideas on the page or images to react about. Freewrite allows writers to take time to simmer and develop ideas.

Use a combination of these two strategies to powerful effect.

5. One-Foot Voice revision strategy + Whisperphone and Recordings

Reading one’s writing aloud helps writers to identify areas for revision and edits. The One-Foot Voice provides concrete steps for coaching students on how to take charge of their self-edits and partner critiques and revisions.

The Whisperphone is a tool that studnets can use to reassure themselves that they are the only one who can hear the read aloud. All that is needed is a PVC “C” shaped pipe from a hardware store. Another option is to give students headsets so that they can auto record and then listen to their read-aloud to do the One-Foot Voice.

More details here.

8. Thinkdots and Virtual Dice

Use Thinkdots to explore author’s craft. This strategy helps students to think deeply about the focused skills such as writer’s Voice. Thinkdots provides 6 different tasks based on learning preferences or thinking styles. Students usually work in teams to accomplish all tasks based on the random order of rolling a die. Here is an overview and template.

Virtual dice are a nice touch, especially ones such as this program that allows you to custom the content on each side. For example, put a topic on each side so that students must write about the topic or use the listed part of speech.


Role, Audience, Format, Topic, and Strong Verb are what composes a RAFTS. The strategy supports students’ writing as they develop a sense of audience and purpose. Highly engaging and motivating when students have choices of different RAFTS to write about.

More details here.



  1. Inspiring the Writer in Everyone:
  2. Igniting Student Writer Voice:
  3. Empowering Student Writers:
  4. 5 Good Tools to Differentiate:
  5. RAFTs articles 3-in-1:
  6. 50+ Social Media Tools:

Ways to Empower Student Voices–Now!

Student Voice is key to student learning. Think about what motivates you more to learn something. Likely it’s where you have a say in what is being explored and/or how the practices and products will take shape. Our learners are no different.

Here are resources of guides and strategies to empower student voices. It begins with key steps for planning, which is a good reflective framework to ensure that the use of any strategies listed below have the desired effect. The articles at the end of this post offer deeper perspective if you so choose 🙂


Planning for Student Voices


Additional Readings

High Impact Feedback & Formative Assessment Resources



Guides for giving good feedback and using formative assessments are many and varied. Here is a distilled list of articles that create a solid foundation for doing both and extends practice for the veterans who seek to build on what they already do. If you have suggestions for other resources to add, please post in the comments section below. I’ll review and add to this list.





Resources on Feedback

  • 7 Keys to Effective Feedback (ASCD) – Grant Wiggens
    These 7 guides are powerful words of wisdom by the late Grant Wiggens. Each key is concrete and impactful on their merit. Bring all 7 into practice and great things happen for student growth.
  • How am I doing? (ASCD) – Jan Chappuis
    An important consideration for feedback is the learner’s perspective. Jan’s helpful guides address characteristics of effective feedback, and how to provide it so that students are receptive.
  • 7 Keys to Effective Feedback (ASCD) – Grant Wiggens
    These 7 guides are powerful words of wisdom by the late Grant Wiggens. Each key is concrete and impactful on their merit. Bring all 7 into practice and great things happen for student growth.
  • Making Time for Feedback (ASCD) – Douglas Fischer and Nancy Frey
    Feedback is critical. Fischer and Frey offer ways to work smarter, not harder, in a time-efficient manner. The results can be a win-win for teachers and learners.

Resources on Assessment

  • Formative Assessment Cycle – A necessary good
    Understand and explore a means for how assessment data can be used to diagnose the needs for struggling and advanced learners.  Schools spend a lot of time looking at classroom trends. This formative assessment cycle is a means to also look at personalized needs.
  • 3 Guidelines to Eliminating Assessment Fog (Edutopia)
    Formative assessment is dependent on clean data. This article unpack 3 ways to ensure that formative assessments actually collect what is needed to support students.
  • Assessing What Matters (ASCD) – Robert Sternberg
    Read this for dynamic non-traditional approaches to assessments that give all students an authentic chance to show what they know. The article goes beyond traditional assessments to recognizing that learners develop skills and concepts in a variety of ways.
  • Levels of Understanding: Learning That Fits All (Edutopia) – Charity Stephens
    Combine formative assessments with high quality differentiation practice through this practical guide.
  • Dipstick: Efficient Ways to Check for Understanding (Edutopia) – Todd Finley
    Needing a new assessment strategy to use? Peruse over 53 strategies. There is something for everyone and situation.



6 Good Tools to Differentiate Instruction

Last year I wrote for Edutopia a six-part series that’s spanned two months. What a great experience it’s been to share ideas. The response by readers has been amazing. So what follows is that deeper dive, including added resources since the posting of the original article. Here’s an article that goes to the heart of student choice.

Join me through this blog on Opening Paths, especially the resources and follow me on Twitter @JMcCarthyEdS for open dialog about what our students need, and what we as professional learners can do so that ALL students succeed. Contact me for dialog, coaching, and to inspire your staff along their pathways to helping all students learn and achieve.


6 Good Tools to Differentiate Instruction by John McCarthy, Ed.S.

The secret to Differentiated Instruction is that there is no such thing as “differentiated strategies.” Yes, there are sites and books that promote lists of “differentiated strategies,” and what is provided are tools to use in classrooms. The problem comes when those resources are placed in the hands of well-intentioned educators who are looking for a plug-in to make their lessons better for all students, but perhaps lacks an understanding the differentiated instruction is based on good classic instructional practices–something I address in an Edutopia article and on this blog regarding the Formative Assessment Cycle.

Differentiated Instruction Lens on Learning (DILL) defined:
Use formative assessment data to diagnose learning gaps and needed higher challenges, and craft learning experiences using the various strategies in your toolbox.

So if any strategy can be differentiated based on student needs, why am I about to share an annotated list of “differentiated strategies”? The ones listed here have student choice embedded in them to meet needs. They are most effective when the DI Lens on Learning is applied:

Think Dots

This strategy offers 6 activities that students must complete. Each activity is best structured around a learning profile, so that learners explore the concepts from different perspectives. Students roll a six-sided die to determine the random order that the activities are completed. For example, if a 5 is rolled first, then the 5th task is completed. Then with the next die roll of a 2, the second task is worked on. This process continues until all assignments are completed. Note: For schools that ban dice either use a randomization cube or have students pick the order in which the activities are completed.


Here are some examples + template.

Make two or more versions of the Think Dot to address content at different readiness levels. Now it targets students grouped by those with common skill gaps and those needing greater challenge.

Task Cards

As a cousin to Think Dots, this strategy places activities on laminated index cards. Punch a hole into the cards and placed them on a circular keyring or lock carabiner. Where Think Dots are usually in sets of 6, Task Cards can be made of any number that the teacher needs for the learning activity. No dice required. Students go through the tasks in order or randomly based on teacher directions.

Learning Menus

I just had dinner with my son at the Salt & Pepper Savory Grill in Holland MI (YelpTA). Great menu choices from Appetizers, Main Dishes, and Desserts. Learning Menus have the same savory categories:

  • Appetizers are 2-3 options that students choose from to do as a warm-up activity.
  • Main Dishes offer 2-3 options. These may be structured to allow students to pick from, or be assigned to groups of students based on their readiness needs (skill gaps and need for greater challenge).
  • Desserts give learners 2-4 options to extend their learning. Not all students finish their main dish with enough time to have dessert. Those who do finish their meal with time to spare choose from the dessert options as fun activities that provide greater challenge–appropriate to their readiness level. Desert keeps everyone on task during the remaining work time.

Curry School of Education (Charlottesville VA) offers a great resource. The Teaching Channel offers a video.

Learning Centers

This approach is widely used at the elementary level, and less often as students move up grade levels to high school. It’s such an effective strategy that can be effectively used into the college level. Each station has a task to be completed. Some options to consider are:

  • Students choose which stations to complete such as 3 of 5 or 4 of 6.
  • Students complete tasks based on their readiness level. Each station has two or more folders that are coded by color or some other symbol. Students open the folder that matches their assigned color or symbol. Use a different coding each time so that students do not feel pigeon-holed in on specific category.
  • Do a combination of the two options above.

Here’s a video that provides more details. Also more resources are on my Edutopia blog about Readiness.

Think-Tac-Toe menus

Students complete tasks that are 3 or 4 in a row, depending on the size of the tic-tac-toe matrix used. Following the same choice style as Think Dots, students complete tasks of their choosing in whatever order that they desire. Sometimes the guidelines are that students much complete a task in each row so that they explore different concepts. In this case, it’s less important that the choices be “in a row” but rather students pick any task in each row. (Example from Curry School of Education)

Frayer Model

This strategy looks at a concept in four different ways.


This example has non-traditional topics for a Frayer Model to illustrate how the 4 options can challenge learners to think about a concept in unique ways. Here is the frayer model template. Typically this strategy is used for vocabulary building.

There are more strategies that can be differentiated, which I will share in later posts. Although, my six part series on Edutopia proves a wealth of ideas: Post 34, 5, and 6

Share in Comments:

What are some of your favorite strategies that when differentiated helps students?