What is differentiation?


Differentiation refers to the process of tailoring instruction to meet the diverse learning needs, interests, and abilities of students. It involves adapting the content, learning method and delivery of the lessons to make sure that every pupil can learn in ways that suit them. 


Students have different backgrounds, language abilities, disabilities, and academic skill levels. Therefore, teachers must use specialised teaching methods known as differentiated teaching strategies. By differentiating instruction, teachers can better address the individual needs of each student, promote academic growth, and create a more inclusive learning environment. 


Differentiated teaching doesn’t mean providing 1-2-1 instruction to every student or giving them freedom to do as they want. Instead, teachers should challenge every student at the right level, allowing them to grow in a way that suits their learning needs. 

Understanding student needs


Before implementing differentiation strategies, it is essential for teachers to understand the unique needs and characteristics of their students. This may include considerations such as learning styles, academic abilities, cultural backgrounds, and socio-emotional needs. By gaining insights into their students’ individual strengths and challenges, teachers can better tailor instruction to meet their diverse needs.


To find out more about your students’ needs, you could ask them about their confidence levels in specific tasks, favourite learning styles and hobbies. This information helps you tailor tasks and lessons to their preferences. You could also speak to their parents to gain insights into their child’s strengths, weaknesses, and areas where they might be struggling.


Click here to learn more about understanding the needs of your learners.

Types of differentiation learning strategies


After teachers have a better idea of their students’ needs, they can start planning how to go about differentiating their instruction.


There are several ways teachers can implement differentiation in the classroom. Here are a few examples…

Flexible grouping


One effective differentiation strategy is flexible grouping, where students are arranged into small groups based on their learning needs, interests, or abilities. Teachers can use various grouping strategies, such as homogenous (grouping students with a similar skill level) or heterogeneous (grouping students with varying skill levels), depending on the learning objectives and the specific needs of their students.


The size of the groups can vary — from two or three students in a small group to up to six students in a larger group. Flexible grouping is different from having standard groups that don’t change based on student’s needs, skills or knowledge.


Flexible grouping has many benefits. It allows for targeted instruction and provides opportunities for peer collaboration, cooperative learning, and peer support. With flexible grouping, students develop ownership and responsibility for their own learning.


Click here to learn more about how to implement flexible grouping in the classroom.

Tiered Assignments


Tiered assignments involve assigning groups of students with tasks according to their readiness and comprehension. This approach ensures that all students are appropriately challenged and supported, regardless of their academic abilities.


To implement this, teachers could group students based on their challenge level:

Group 1: Students who need practice will complete one activity to build their understanding

Group 2: Students who have a strong understanding will complete another activity to extend what they already know


Students may sometimes question why they are working on different assignments compared to their peers. As a teacher, you should make it a point to tell your students that each group is completing different activities so they can share what they learned with the rest of the class.


It’s important to be neutral when grouping students. Use colours or numbers for group names and be equally enthusiastic while explaining assignments to each group. Also be sure to make all activities equally engaging and fair.

Varied Instructional Materials


To accommodate different learning preferences and abilities, teachers can offer a variety of instructional materials and resources. This may include textbooks, articles, multimedia presentations, digital tools, and hands-on materials.


By providing multiple means of accessing content, teachers can engage students with diverse learning styles and preferences.



Scaffolding is a differentiation strategy that involves providing support and guidance to students as they engage with challenging tasks or concepts. Teachers can break down complex tasks into smaller, manageable steps, offering support and feedback along the way. As students start to become better at the task at hand, scaffolds can be gradually removed to promote independence and self-directed learning.


For example, a teacher might introduce a multi-step math problem by first modelling how to solve each individual step before asking students to apply the strategies independently. By breaking the task into smaller components and providing guidance along the way, students are better able to understand and master the concept, regardless of their initial skill level. 


Scaffolding can also involve providing students with tools, resources, and prompts to support their learning. For instance, teachers might offer graphic organisers, outlines, or templates to help students organise their thoughts when writing an essay or conducting research. As students become more proficient, scaffolds can be gradually removed, allowing them to take on more responsibility for their learning and work independently. 

Interest-Based Learning


Incorporating students’ interests and passions into the curriculum can enhance motivation and engagement. Teachers can offer choice and autonomy in learning activities, projects, or assignments, allowing students to pursue topics that they find interesting.


For example, in a social studies unit on ancient civilisations, students could choose to research and present on a civilisation that piques their curiosity, such as the Maya, the Egyptians, or the Greeks. By giving students agency over their learning, teachers can increase enthusiasm for the subject.


By tapping into students’ intrinsic motivation, teachers can create meaningful learning experiences that promote deeper understanding and long-term retention of content.

Differentiated Technology Apps and Games


Teachers can use technology apps and games that offer varying levels of difficulty or customisation options to accommodate different learning needs and abilities.


For example, teachers can use adaptive learning platforms that adjust content and pacing based on students’ individual learning needs and progress. These platforms use algorithms to analyse students’ responses and provide personalised recommendations and feedback to support their learning journey. There are several adaptive learning platforms teachers can choose from including Mathletics, EducationCity, Doddle Learning and Century Tech.


Offering a range of digital tools and resources that cater to different learning preferences, such as visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic learners, can also enhance differentiation in the classroom. Here’s how teachers can use digital tools and games to accommodate different learning preferences:


  • Visual learners: Incorporate multimedia resources such as videos, interactive simulations, and virtual reality experiences that provide visual stimuli to enhance understanding.
  • Auditory learners: Choose technology apps and games that include audio elements such as narration, music, sound effects, and spoken instructions. Audio books can be an effective way to engage auditory learners in reading.
  • Kinaesthetic Learners: Use virtual labs, simulations, and interactive experiments that allow kinaesthetic learners to manipulate objects, perform actions, and explore concepts through touch and movement.

Differentiation is a powerful instructional approach that empowers teachers to meet the diverse needs of all learners in their classrooms.


There are several benefits associated with differentiation, including improved academic performance, student engagement and participation. By putting students’ needs first, teachers can create an inclusive and diverse learning environment where every child can succeed. 


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