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Differentiated Instruction Lesson Plans Made Easy!

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Resources for Creating a Differentiated Classroom

If you teach today, differentiated instruction lesson plans are a part of your weekly routine. If they aren’t yet, they are probably coming. The fact is, today’s classrooms are much different than what most adults remember from the days of their youth. Laws related to inclusion, standardized testing, educational budget cuts… they’ve led us to a new world in education. The times are changing and teachers find themselves in a position where they must accommodate an extremely diverse group of learners. Differentiation strategies are meant to address this issue. This post, along with this recommended list of resources, will help you to make an easy transition to a differentiated style of teaching.

Top Books on Differentiating Instruction

…and why you should get one
When teachers are confronted with the challenge of differentiating their lessons, panic often sets in. They believe that they will need to come up with hundreds of different lessons as a way to meet the needs of their students. It’s quite likely that you found this lens by searching for specific differentiated instruction lesson plans. Perhaps your administrator told you that you need to have differentiated lessons in place by a certain date and you’re scrambling to make changes. If that’s the case, take a deep breath and relax. It doesn’t have to be like that.

I’m going to suggest that you take a slightly different approach as you transition to a differentiated teaching style. Rather than spending every night searching for lessons that someone else “differentiated”, you can easily learn how to make tweaks to what you are already doing in your classroom. It’s like the old saying about giving a man a fish versus teaching him how to fish. The resources shown here will teach you “how to fish” and will save you a LOT of searching. If you’ve been paying for individual differentiated lesson plans to match up to each new thing that you teach, these resources could save you some serious money too.

The three books shown below are great for teachers who have some classroom experience. You know the basics of running a classroom. These books will help you to address the needs of every student without writing twenty versions of every lesson. The ideas inside can serve as templates and guides. Look at what you are already doing, and then apply what the books suggest. Nice and easy!

These books do contain specific plans, but I have found that its very easy to adapt them to almost anything you are teaching. You can save yourself a lot of grief by taking advantage of these resources. Developing your own differentiated teaching materials from scratch can take a long time. These helpful materials will help you to make a smooth transition into a differentiated style of teaching without driving yourself crazy in the process.

The Best Differentiated Instruction Books

Teachers Love Carol Ann Tomlinson Books – Elementary differentiation

If you are looking for a one size fits all differentiated lesson plan, well, you’re a little bit off track. You see, you need something that will serve as a differentiated instruction template. Copying another teacher’s plans exactly won’t really work too well because you need to make adjustments for your own classroom.

Differentiating for the various core subjects and different age levels will be addressed later in this article. You’ll probably notice that two of the three books shown above are written by Carol Ann Tomlinson. That is because she is one of the “big dogs” when it comes to differentiating instruction. If you want to get a deep understanding of the subject, you read her stuff. That’s about it. If you didn’t check those books out, do yourself a favor, and scroll back up. They are worth a look and they can save you a lot of hassle. Really.

Carol Ann Tomlinson on Differentiation

A short differentiated instruction video

What is Differentiated Instruction?

I want to simplify things as much as possible for you. When you differentiate instruction, you address the needs of the many different types of students you are teaching every day. This might include learning support students, life skills students, gifted and talented (GATE) students, emotional support students, visual learners, hands-on learners… and so on. If you teach, you know what I’m talking about. Each student has their own strengths and weaknesses. Each one walks into your room with a different history and a different level of background knowledge. They’ve got different learning styles. Some have much longer attention spans than others. Some will have individualized education plans that require that they have special adaptations made. If you try to do this by creating 25 or 30 different plans for each lesson, you will make yourself crazy. Differentiated instruction is meant to allow you to meet the needs of each student without going crazy. As the name implies, in this style of teaching, you use different approaches with smaller groups of students so that you can best address their needs. I’ll cover some of these strategies as we go through this post.

Differentiating math for K-8

Depending on where you teach, you will have different approaches to math. Regardless of the math series you are using as a basis for your teaching, some new ideas about differentiating math instruction can help you to keep things fresh and discover new ways to reach students who are struggling or just not “getting it” with a traditional approach.

Differentiation for secondary math

Older kids respond differently to instruction. Of course you know that if you teach in a high school or middle school. Getting teenage students to participate can be a major battle at times. Get some great ideas for lessons and questions that can actually get a conversation going in your math class. Although this book says secondary, it includes middle school math ideas for grades 6 through 8. I’m just mentioning this because different districts consider different grades to be secondary.

More Differentiated Instruction Strategies for Math
Differentiating math instruction and keeping their attention
Teaching math is challenging enough. When your principal tells you that you need to have your lesson differentiated too, well, that can be downright scary! Here are some excellent resources that will help you to get your math knowledge across to the students in your class. Please note that these are aimed at different grade level groupings.

Helpful Resources for Teachers

Rolling with the changes in education
I’m going to assume that if you are reading this lens, you are probably a teacher who is looking for guidance because you have gotten word that your school district will be moving to a differentiated model of teaching. This can inspire panic and frustration. Believe me, I know. You might have also been given some type of in-service on the topic, but you are still confused. Once again, I know how you feel.

My advice is to learn to roll with the changes and just relax a bit. If you teach, you already know how important it is to be flexible. Although the idea of learning a new approach to teaching can be daunting, you can definitely handle it. I hope that your administrators are offering their support, but even if they aren’t the books I’m featuring here can give you more ideas than you’d ever actually need. Just take things one step at a time.

Guided Reading Example

A helpful video lesson on differentiating with guided reading

Differentiating Reading Lesson Plans

Guided Reading Group Activities and Leveled Readers
Like it or not, there is a major emphasis today on getting standardized test scores up to snuff. The biggies are math and reading. I’m not here to debate the merits of this approach. I want to help you find what you need so that you can do what your school wants (differentiating) while you help your students to learn more and to do well on those tests everyone is worried about. Guided reading is a great way to keep an eye on the progress of individual students, identify problem areas for specific children, and to get the kids working together with the teacher in small groups.

The three books shown here are being highlighted because they have all received so many outstanding reviews from teachers. Sometimes that’s enough for me.

Differentiating Language Arts

Trying something different
Some students just don’t respond well to traditional teaching methods. Here’s a “different” approach shown in the video below. I’m not suggesting that you have to do this. The kids might LOVE to come up with an interesting way to show what they’ve learned though. Writing and language arts can be some of the most challenging material that students face. It doesn’t have to be that way. Some children also do not test well. Finding a different way to assess their learning can benefit you and them. Spur their creativity!

An Example of Differentiated Instruction Lesson Plans

Resources for Differentiating Language Arts and Writing

Teaching language arts, especially writing, can be extraordinarily frustrating. You explain things, you demonstrate, you provide examples, and still, you want to pull your hair out as you read paper after paper filled with unbelievably bad writing! If you’ve managed to get your teaching degree, chances are good that you’ve reached a point in your own education where the basics of language are second nature. It’s all too easy to lose touch with how your low performers see things. Let these guides help you to get down to the proper level so that you can lift your students up.  Differentiated instruction lesson plans should be seen as a useful tool for reaching and teaching your students, not as a burden being handed down by administrators.


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