4 Differentiation Tips You Need to Know

4 Differentiation Tips
#8 | This concludes our blog series wherein we deconstructed our master resource rubric and broke down all of the components of an authentic Common Core lesson. Check out parts 123456, 7, and 8 of the series.

The following post was written by guest blogger, Johns Hopkins University instructor, and former high school ELA teacher, Joanna Guldin-Noll, from Maryland.

If you’re like most teachers, you’ve heard the terms “accommodation,” “modification,” and “differentiation” at professional development and faculty meetings more times than you’d care to count.

When most of us think about differentiating, we think about mandatory accommodations and modifications. However, differentiation simply means that you are giving students various ways to access and process material.

In my classroom, differentiation looks different daily: we act, work in groups and pairs, use technology, debate, read many types of texts from various authors, listen to (and critique) music, create, and write for a variety of purposes and audiences. I try to make sure that my students are doing something different—either through process or assessment—every day.

Differentiated Forms of Content

Here are four steps to get you on the road to differentiating like the rockstar teacher that you are:

Meet the Law

If you have students with IEPs, be cognizant of the stipulations of their IEPs and 504 plans and the laws of your state. You are responsible for implementing their plans and documenting your efforts. Know what specific accommodations and modifications are needed and write them into your lesson so that you execute them consistently.

Give Enrichment Opportunities

In my five years as an urban high school teacher, I rarely saw gifted and talented students challenged systemically. Often, due to testing requirements and curriculum guidelines, high-performing students were not challenged in their individual classrooms, either. Don’t forget to include your top students in differentiating. How? Try projects that incorporate creativity and critical thinking, alternative reading lists, and Socratic seminars.

Create a Bridge

In almost every lesson, there’s a spot where students will get stuck. When one student gets side-tracked, others will follow suit! Anticipate it and then devise a strategy. Is the text difficult for your reluctant readers? Chunking the text with a partner can alleviate stress and improve comprehension. Worried that students don’t have the background knowledge needed? A KWL chart will help them activate group knowledge. You know your students—think strategically about their abilities as your plan your lesson.

 Be Resourceful

As a former inner city school teacher, I know exactly what it’s like to work with an empty budget and still be expected to produce results. I used DonorsChoose to fund more than $9,000 of field trips and equipment for my room to help provide differentiated instruction. If your school’s filter blocks YouTube, use YTD for a free, safe way to convert videos to files. (And videos are a great way to differentiate for your visual and auditory learners!)

What can you add to this list of resources and ideas? Your experience is invaluable and we look forward to hearing your thoughts!


Joanna Guldin-NollJoanna Guldin-Noll
Former High School ELA Teacher, Baltimore, Maryland
UClass Teacher Board Member



1: Our beef with the Common Core
2: Holy moly! Teachers aren’t teaching Common Core standards
3: How to not be a bad teacher
4: Get your lessons diving deep in cognitive rigor
5. Help! I Lost All of My Students!
6. How to Give Students a Voice
7. How To Be Your Students’ Favorite
8. 4 Differentiation Tips You Need to Know