nd.gov - The Official Portal for North Dakota State Government
North Dakota: Legendary. Follow the trail of legends
Pages Navigation Menu
FaceBook Twitter Instagram YouTube EduSocial
Tech Blog


The previous lesson looked at one example of the process a teacher might go through to plan a project with differentiated instruction. There are many ways to differentiate what and how you teach, and what you choose will be based on the particular needs of your classroom. This lesson provides ideas for techniques to create a lesson that works for you. You may find that you already use some of these in your class.  Explore the following sections, focusing on the ones that are most applicable to your needs.

Quick Links

Bell Activities
Project-Based Learning

Bell Activities

A bell activity is a short exercise that students begin working on as soon as they enter the room. Often a question or short task is displayed on the board (you could use an interactive whiteboard, projector, white board, or chalk board). Here’s an example:

Yesterday we talked about noble gases. List the names of the noble gases you remember. Explain what makes a noble gas different from other gases. Draw a picture of noble gas molecules.

Using bell work has several advantages for differentiated instruction:

  • Students are occupied as soon as they come in the room, freeing you to take attendance and get materials set up for any activities you will be doing.
  • You can tie the bell activity to what will be covered in class that day, preparing students for what they are about to learn (meaningful content).
  • You can use the bell activity as an informal or formal method of assessment. You might have students write down their answers on a piece of paper which you then collect and use to track progress. Or you might discuss the answers as a class to get a general feel for how well students learned and retained the previous content (informed planning).
  • The bell activity is an opportunity for you to learn more about your class’s interests. A math teacher might write on the board: “So far I’ve shown you three ways to find the lowest common multiple. Which one made the most sense to you? Share your answer with someone beside you.” (student choice)
  • Vary your teacher-student cooperation with bell work. Some questions might encourage students to discuss ideas together, or you might have them share their answers with the whole class. You could also use clickers to have students share responses in an anonymous format.

Learn more about bell work.


The KWL chart is a graphic organizer used to help students reflect on what they already know, what they want to know, and what they actually learn in the lesson. The KWL chart below shows the first steps in the process: identifying what students know and what they would like to find out. The final column, what they learn, will be filled in at the close of the lesson.

Here are the ways a KWL chart can aid you in implementing differentiated instruction:

  • Use it as a pre-assessment tool (informed planning). As students share what they know, they can remind each other of things they learned in the past, and it will give you insight into how well they understood the material, and what things were memorable for them.
  • Asking the students what they want to know leads to more meaningful content. It also allows for student choice. Students will be more engaged if you connect the lesson to things they already know and want to learn more about.
  • By asking students what they learned, you gain an informal assessment of how effective the lesson was (informed planning). It continues to strengthen the meaningfulness of the lesson since it helps students see the connection between what they did and what they got out of it.
  • The KWL chart can be extended to a KWLH chart, in which the H stands for how we can learn more. In this column, students come up with resources and ideas for how they could continue to study and explore the subject area. This provides support for teacher-student cooperation by involving the student in the planning process rather than expecting the teacher to come up with the plan. It could also lead to additional activities for students who could use a challenge or have extra time.

Learn more about KWL charts. Click here for an interactive tool that you or your students can use to create a KWL chart.


Centers are areas set up around the room where students can work independently on a variety of lessons. Each center should contain all the instructions and materials a student needs to complete the lesson without any assistance from the teacher. It is helpful to have a common format for all centers. For instance, a pocket folder might have the name of the center on the front, a list of instructions on the back, and any materials needed inside the folder or in a box. Here are some ways centers can be used to differentiate your instruction:

  • You could have a portion of the day dedicated to center time, in which the whole class is working on centers at the same time. Students might be put into pairs or groups. Each day they choose a different center until every group has rotated through each center. Alternatively, you might use this time to pull aside a group of students that could use extra help or an extra challenge. This helps you manage teacher-student cooperation as it allows you to focus on one part of the class while the other class is engaged in independent work.
  • Centers can differentiate the way that content is presented. If the students are studying odd and even numbers, you could have several centers set up, each one which presents the concept in a different way (flexibility).
  • Centers can provide student choice. Sometimes you may let students choose in what order they complete the centers. A checklist with each student’s name and the names of all the centers can help you and them keep track of who has completed which center (informed planning).
  • A center can be a great way to allow students to do an engaging project or activity that might be impractical to do with everyone at one time. You may not wish to have the whole class molding geometric solids out of clay at once, but you could easily create a work station where a few students could do this during center time (meaningful content).
  • If you have limited resources, such as computers, centers can serve as a scheduling tool to allow you to give everyone a chance to use the resource without having to do it at the same time (flexibility).

Learn more about centers.


RAFT is a writing-based process that gives students a choice in assignment based on four criteria: Role, Audience, Format, and Topic. Students are given choices over who they want to be as they write (the role), who they are writing for (the audience), what genre or style they use (format), and what they write about (topic). Here’s an example a high school teacher might use to discuss the pro’s and con’s of hydraulic fracturing. In this case, the topic was chosen for them, but the students could decide which perspective they wanted to write from.

  • By acknowledging that an issue has multiple viewpoints and by allowing students to choose which role they take on, you increase the odds that it will resonate with them personally (meaningful content, student choice).
  • Allowing students choice of their format can help them feel more comfortable delving into the subject matter. A student who doesn’t like math may prefer writing a poem about fractions to memorizing a definition (flexibility, student choice).
  • If students are comfortable sharing their final products, you and their classmates can engage in some constructive feedback and discussion regarding how each person approached the assignment (teacher-student cooperation).

Learn more about R.A.F.T.

Project-Based Learning

The goal of project-based learning is to teach higher-level thinking (applying, analyzing, creating) through a project rather than teaching concepts in isolated, step-by-step lessons. Science projects are one obvious application of this method. Some classic examples include creating a toothpick bridge or a container for an egg-drop.

In project-based learning, students are given a project with specific criteria.  If you are studying how natural disasters affect urban areas, you might confront your class with the following problem:

If a natural disaster hits an area with a large population, it can be difficult to provide food and water to all of those affected.  Design a food-kit that could be used to feed a family of four for a week for less than $25.  No perishable items allowed.

Students are then grouped together and given a certain amount of time and resources to come up with a solution.

  • Project-based learning is a great way to address the principle of meaningful content. Projects represent authentic, real-world examples of how what is being taught can be applied.
  • Another strength of PBL is that it provides students with many choices. The solution is open-ended, so students are encouraged to think outside the box and be creative to find a way to achieve the goal of the project (student choice).
  • There is a lot of interaction that occurs in PBL, both between teacher and students and among students themselves. Students learn to take on a more active role in their own education and to work together to come up with the best result. The teacher is an active observer and guides groups that need help (teacher-student cooperation).
  • PBL requires some background knowledge of the subject matter before the class can solve a problem related to it. If your class does not know what an embargo or an import tax is, it won’t do you much good to assign them a project on how to settle a trade dispute with another country. It may make them more interested in learning about these things if they know that they will be using them in the future to complete a realistic project (informed planning, meaningful content).

Learn more about project-based learning.

Now let’s explore some technological tools that can assist you in differentiating your instruction. Click here to continue.

Print Friendly

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>