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Low-Prep Methods for Differentiated Instruction

Janelle Cox

For years teachers, have taught to the masses, usually using the same lessons for each student. But today, teachers are helping each individual student reach her full potential by differentiated instruction. This strategy uses a variety of different instructional methods to accommodate each child’s unique learning style. While this is a great way to ensure that all students’ needs are being met, it also has its downfalls. Taking the time for differentiated instruction is known to take some time, and teachers are busy enough as it is that they do not want to add another task onto their list. However, since many teachers are quick learners, they have come up with a few low-prep ways to make differentiated instruction easier on themselves.

To keep the workload manageable, teachers begin by creating a number of activities that vary in which students learn content. They begin by creating low-prep activities such as choice books and varied writing prompts because these options are easy to prep and easy to present. Here are a few more low-prep ways that you can differentiate learning in your classroom. 

Low-Prep Differentiated Instruction

Choice Books

Choice books are a low-prep way to differentiate instruction because all the teacher has to do is figure out the students’ reading level and ability. The teacher usually gives the student a few options to choose from once they have figured out the students’ appropriate reading level.

Varied Writing Prompts

Writing prompts are another easy low-prep way to differentiate instruction because all the teacher has to do is give each student a different writing prompt to answer in their personal journals. Or, to make it even easier, the teacher can have students paste a premade list of writing prompts in their journals to choose from, instead of figuring out which one to give each child.

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Homework Options

Homework may be one of the easiest low-prep ways to differentiate learning. Teachers can give their students options based upon their learning style, ability, and level. To make it easy on themselves, teachers would create three options: One for students who aren’t meeting grade level expectations, one for students who are meeting grade level expectations, and one for students who exceeding grade level expectations. This can be in the form of a worksheet, a journal entry, by selecting specific questions in the textbook to answer, or even by having students use a preselected app.

Jigsaw Cooperative Learning

The jigsaw cooperative learning strategy is a great way to differentiate learning because each student in the group is responsible for their own part. This gives the teacher the ability to select which role each student would be best suited for in his/her group. This is a low-prep activity that many teachers find very effective.

Student Choice Boards

While some teachers may think of student choice boards as a high-prep task, others consider it a low-prep task because they enlist the help of their students to create the choice boards. By enlisting your students help, you are eliminating a lot of time spent on prepping tasks for the board.

As a class, brainstorm a list of activities that correlate with what students are learning. You will be surprised what your students will come up with. So much so, you may even wonder why you didn’t think of it first.

To begin, have students think of different tasks that can be selected based upon students learning styles. You can use the multiple intelligence theory to help you with that. Just list each intelligence (interpersonal, spatial, etc.) and what it means on the board and students will brainstorm what activities they can do that correlate with the learning styles. Some students may come up with creating a cartoon based on a character from the book, or writing a journal entry as the character. Others may suggest working with a peer to come up with a story using all of their vocabulary words or creating a project based on the chapter in their science books. Whatever students come up with would then be put onto the choice board where they would ultimately have to select a specific amount of tasks to compete.

These are a just a few of the most popular low prep ways that you differentiate instruction. Other ways include: Flexible seating, using reading buddies, think-pair-share, menus, open-ended activities, miniworkshops and lessons, explorations, games, and apps, to name a few. Remember, the payoff comes when you can see your students achieve more on your classroom than ever before, and when you see them thriving and becoming more involved in classroom discussions.

In which ways do you differentiate learning in your classroom? Do you have any easy, low-prep ideas that work for you and your classroom? Please share with us in the comment section below. We would love to hear your thoughts.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.

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