Are You Differentiating Your Math Instruction? Check this out!

Differentiated instruction is the process of taking a lesson or concept and making it accessible to ALL students in the classroom.  By changing a few small aspects of a lesson plan, the topic can know be understood by every student, regardless of their abilities.


I know what you are thinking, really I do.  Change my lesson plans that I have been using for the last five years….are you crazy?  Not as much as you would think.  By differentiating even one aspect of your lesson plans you will be able to reach and teach a higher percentage of students in your classroom.  In this post we’ll take a look at some instructional strategies for differentiating math lessons.  I’m putting the focus on math, because that seems to be a subject that teachers struggle with when it comes time to differentiate.

Fantasy Sports and Teaching Math

There are a bunch of ideas below, but I want to start with this idea because I really like it.  The video clip below gives an example of how you can make math more interesting for your students by incorporating fantasy sports into your classroom.  This is so much more engaging than watching a Powerpoint or practicing flashcards.  I just love the idea.

Click Here to see guides for using fantasy sports in your math classes that are currently available on Amazon.

Types of Differentiated Instruction

There are two types of preparation when it comes to differentiated instruction.  They are low prep and high prep.  Obviously, low prep differentiation does not take as much work from the teacher.  Whereas, high prep differentiation takes more work from the teacher.

Low Prep Differentiation

A few examples of low prep differentiation and how to implement them are listed below.  By implementing these easy activities, you are creating a classroom environment that is friendlier and that you can proudly tell your principal is differentiated.  Some of the following activities are already happening in your classroom, and I bet you did not know you were differentiating.

* Homework Options – This will be used at the assignment/assessment portion of lesson planning.

* Give only a small number of problems to students who master the concept. For example; Sam grasps long division, so he only has to do 4 problems for homework.

* Give students who understand the concept, but are not quite at the mastery level more problems.  Jen can do long division, but she still makes mistakes.  Assign her 8 problems.

* Give students who do not understand the process at all a small number of problems, but also send a sample problem that is already solved with them.  Dan cannot grasp the concept of long division, so you assign him 5 problems.  Dan also receives a sheet of paper that has a sample problem that is labeled step by step to help him complete his homework.

* Assign one problem in class.  Only assign homework to the students who do not complete the problem or who complete it wrong.  The students who answered correctly usually do not need more practice on an already understood assignment.

* Preference Grouping – Students get to pick the group that they are interested in. If your class is working on multiplication, you may have three groups.  The first group would be working on an activity that involved finding prices of items at a store and figuring how much it would cost to buy multiples of that item.  Group two would be working on a multiplication dice game.  They would roll two dice then, the students multiply the two numbers. Finally, the third group would

* Ability Grouping – This type of grouping is simple, students are grouped with students who are at the same ability level as them.  At the beginning of class, have all students answer a math problem.  After seeing who answered it right and who answered it the quickest or slowest, place students in groups to work on that topic.  The group, who is able to accomplish the problem correctly, quickly will work together without a teacher.  A second group, the students who did not answer it correctly will work with the teacher to review the process.

* Varied Supplemental Materials –Some students will need more hands on materials, while other students will need nothing.  The best way to see which student needs what is to let them try all types of supplemental materials, and then see who truly needs them.  A few materials that can be used in the math classroom are; 100s charts, multiplication charts, number lines, manipulatives, calculators, graph paper, highlighted lines, and enlarged worksheets.

High Prep Differentiation

High Prep Differentiation, like it sounds, takes more work.  Creating choice boards or making multiple assessments may take longer, but once you have a sample it is easier to do the next time. There are even examples of many of these ideas online and in books.  Ask your fellow teachers to get together and take turns creating them.

* Choice Boards – A choice board or a tic-tac-toe board is a simple board that you can create on your computer.  Once you make a template you never have to bother again, unless you want to get fancy.  As the name implies, choice boards give student choices.  A choice board can be passed out and used for a day, a week, a month, or even a nine week period.  It is entirely up to the teacher.  If you are teaching multiplication you can make a choice board with 9 boxes.  Each box will contain a different activity for the students to accomplish.  This is the best part; the students choose what they do.  They feel empowered, and the work is to be done at home or during free time.  You simply have to check the completed product.  That may seem like a lot of work, but some teachers just check to see if it is done and assign a point total for completing so many activities.

* Individual or Independent Studies – These studies allow students to pick a topic, usually a list is given to choose from, and complete a study outside of school on that topic.

* Multiple Assessments – Creating multiple assessments may seem to be a cumbersome task, but once you get started it will not take as long the next time.  This does not mean that every student needs a separate test at the end of your unit on division. Some students may need to only answer the odd problems, others may not have to do word problems, and even others may only have to do four or five problems with the use of manipulatives.

Differentiate the content, process, and products of a math lesson according to the students’ readiness, interest, and learning profile.

Content – differentiate the content by using any of the following suggestions.

* Materials at a variety of readability levels

* Mentors

* Graphic Organizers

* Charts

* Compacting

* Choral Reading

* Buddy Reading

* Small Group Direct Instruction

Process – this is where the students make sense of the content they have just been shown/taught.

* Hands-on Materials

* Variety of reflection models

* Work alone, in partners, triads, and/or small groups

* Vary the pacing according to students’ readiness

* Learning Contracts

* Choice Boards

* Similar readiness groups

Product – students show what is known to them and what they are able to do with that material

* Layered or tiered products

* Model, use, and encourage students to use technology

* Product choices that range in choice from all of the multiple intelligences, allowing options for gender, race, or culture

* varied rubrics

Make the Material Fit the Learning Style

Another highly important way to differentiate a lesson is to use multi-modal learning.  Multi-Modal learning, allows students to learn in ways that they are able to understand.  Some of us, while in college, could learn by listening to a professor.  Others needed to read the book.  While there were still other students who needed to live the experience.  Everyone has their own unique way of gathering knowledge and storing it for later use.  By incorporating multi-modal learning into your differentiated math lesson plans, you are giving all students a chance to learn in their own unique way.

*Visual – Students who learn visually, need to see to be able to learn and comprehend a subject.  A few simple ideas that can be used in math lessons are to incorporate puzzles, memory games, and even book reading.

* Kinesthetic – Kinesthetic learners need to move to learn.  The student who fidgets in his seat or taps their pencil the whole day is usually a kinesthetic learner.  Moving allows them to concentrate better and learn better.  Some ideas to use with this type of learner are to use stamps to do math problems, play dice or card games, or to act out math problems.

* Auditory – This is usually the easiest learner to teach because simply listening to their wonderful teacher talk allows them to learn.  Other activities that can be helpful to auditory learners are to listen to books on CD, talk with partners, and of course teacher instructed groups.

As you can see, differentiated instruction in math is not a cumbersome, stressful activity.  Try one or two of the above examples this month, and see what a difference differentiated instruction can make.  If you enjoyed this post, please share it with others who might benefit from it.  You can also learn more about the topic by check out this helpful site (but then come back!).

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Category: Differentiated Instruction

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  1. Tiffany Roberts says:

    Thank you for sharing these ideas. Our school district is making a full on effort to differentiate instruction at every level, but they have been a bit lacking when it comes to giving specific examples. They seem to think that snapping their fingers and commanding everyone to differentiate will make it so. Learning the right ways to differentiate can be tough. I especially feel for the teachers who have been successfully teaching for 20+ years, who now must change their approach. Oh well, the pendulum does swing in education, doesn’t it? These ideas are quite helpful. I’m also picking up a couple of books that I can keep in my classroom for when the creative ideas just aren’t showing up on their own.

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