"Note that differentiation relates more to addressing students' different phases of learning from novice to capable to proficient rather than merely providing different activities to different (groups of) students."

—John Hattie, Visible Learning for Teachers

Differentiated Instruction Explained

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Delivery of instruction in the past often followed a "one size fits all" approach. In contrast, differentiation is individually student centred, with a focus on appropriate instructional and assessment tools that are fair, flexible, challenging, and engage students in the curriculum in meaningful ways. Differentiated instruction and assessment connects to all aspects of the PYP - The Learner, Teaching & Learning and Community of Learners.

Differentiated instruction and assessment is a framework or philosophy for effective teaching that involves providing different students with different avenues to learning in terms of: acquiring content; processing, constructing, or making sense of ideas; and developing teaching materials and assessment measures so that all students within a classroom can learn effectively, regardless of differences in ability.

Students vary in culture, socioeconomic status, language, gender, motivation, ability/disability, personal interests and more, and teachers must be aware of these varieties as they plan curriculum. By considering varied learning needs, teachers can develop personalized instruction so that all children in the classroom can learn effectively. Differentiated classrooms have also been described as ones that respond to student variety in readiness levels, interests and learning profiles. It is a classroom that includes all students and can be successful. To do this, a teacher sets different expectations for task completion for students based upon their individual needs.

Teachers can differentiate at least four classroom elements based on student readiness, interest, or learning profile:

  • Content – what the student needs to learn or how the student will get access to the information;

  • Process – activities in which the student engages in order to make sense of or master the content;

  • Products – culminating projects that ask the student to rehearse, apply, and extend what he or she has learned in a unit; and

  • Learning Environment – the way the classroom works and feels. [See Community fo Learners to learn more]


Examples of differentiating content at the elementary level include the following:

  1. Using reading materials at varying readability levels;

  2. Putting text materials on tape;

  3. Using spelling or vocabulary lists at readiness levels of students;

  4. Presenting ideas through both auditory and visual means;

  5. Using reading buddies; and

  6. Meeting with small groups to re-teach an idea or skill for struggling learners, or to extend the thinking or skills of advanced learners.


Examples of differentiating process or activities at the elementary level include the following:

  1. Using tiered activities through which all learners work with the same important understandings and skills, but proceed with different levels of support, challenge, or complexity;

  2. Providing interest centres that encourage students to explore subsets of the class topic of particular interest to them;

  3. Developing personal agendas (task lists written by the teacher and containing both in-common work for the whole class and work that addresses individual needs of learners) to be completed either during specified agenda time or as students complete other work early;

  4. Offering manipulatives or other hands-on supports for students who need them; and

  5. Varying the length of time a student may take to complete a task in order to provide additional support for a struggling learner or to encourage an advanced learner to pursue a topic in greater depth.


Examples of differentiating products at the elementary level include the following:

    1. Giving students options of how to express required learning (e.g., create a puppet show, write a letter, or develop a mural with labels);

    2. Using rubrics that match and extend students' varied skills levels;

    3. Allowing students to work alone or in small groups on their products; and

    4. Encouraging students to create their own product assignments as long as the assignments contain required elements.

Learning Environment [See Community fo Learners to learn more]

Examples of differentiating learning environment at the elementary level include:

    1. Making sure there are places in the room to work quietly and without distraction, as well as places that invite student collaboration;

    2. Providing materials that reflect a variety of cultures and home settings;

    3. Setting out clear guidelines for independent work that matches individual needs;

    4. Developing routines that allow students to get help when teachers are busy with other students and cannot help them immediately; and

    5. Helping students understand that some learners need to move around to learn, while others do better sitting quietly (Tomlinson, 1995, 1999; Winebrenner, 1992, 1996).

Source: What Is Differentiated Instruction? | Reading Rockets & What is Differentiated Instruction?

Differentiated Instruction to Support All Learners

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Learn more about inclusive education topics, including Valuing All Students; Changing How We Talk about Disabilities; and Using A Positive Behaviour Approach to Support Learning.

The Five Key Aspects of Differentiated Instruction

Run Time: 4:07 - Feb 15, 2016
Carol Ann Tomlinson discuss five key aspects of differentiated instruction

A Differentiated Instruction Educator's Guide

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Source: The Learning Exchange

Elements of Effective Differentiated Instruction

Q&A: Differentiated Instruction

Run Time: 4:53 - Jul 30, 2013
In this interview, author Carol Ann Tomlinson discusses her work in Differentiated Instruction, how it can be practically applied in the classroom, advice to teachers looking to apply Differentiated Instruction in the classroom and her book Differentiation and the Brain.

Differentiation: Responsive Teaching

Run Time: 3:54 - Oct 5, 2011
Carol Tomlinson presents her definition of Differentiated Instruction. She describes differentiation as "responsive teaching", an approach to instruction that takes into account the needs and strengths of today's diverse student population.

Differentiation Strategies

Getting Started Using Differentiated Instruction

Run Time: 4:55 - Jul 10, 2012

Differentiated Instruction: It is Not That Hard

Run Time: 4:27 - Sep 11, 2018

Learning and Differentiation

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Source: Unknowen

Differentiation Strategies

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Source: Unknowen

Differentiation Strategies

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Source: Prodigy & Teachthought Articles

Differentiated Strategies

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View the Prodigy Article for more details and examples

Strategies for Differentiated Instruction

Run Time: 8:38 - Nov 30, 2011

15 Differentiated Instructional Strategies

Run Time: 4:17 - Jun 7, 2017

Differentiated Ideas to Use in the Classroom

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The Byrdseed website is chalk full of differentiated learning challenges that will get all students thinking and spark their curiosity.

I especially love the Puzzlements section which will peak your student's curiosity. You can even have 5 puzzlements sent to your email in box each week which could be posted each morning as your student arrive.

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