Teaching to the Individual – A Lazy Person’s Guide

[by Phil Heath]

It is possible to differentiate without giving yourself lots of extra work.  The key underlying principle is that you should be thinking of your students as individuals when planning any lesson.  That may result in you using a specific technique or strategy or it may have no specific implications for a particular lesson or activity.


There are lots of fantastic suggestions for differentiated tasks available on the internet, in the teacher’s toolkit and on this blog.  This is a list of simple everyday strategies (that you probably use already) which count as differentiation.

No extra effort

  1. Learn their names as fast as you can at the start of the year.
  2. Make sure you read and note down any information from isams, form supervisors, year heads or external assessments. Do they get extra time, do they struggle with processing.  How did they do on the end of year exam last year?
  3. Give students access to a set of resources (a textbook!) that they can refer back to and encourage them to make use of it in lessons.
  4. Set high expectations of everyone and support those who struggle to meet them.
  5. Target specific questions to specific individuals.
  6. Target support – who do you spend your time with during the lesson? Who is using clinic?
  7. Seating plans/grouping – who sits with who and why?
  8. Outcome – what are your expectations of each pupil?  Can you measure them?
  9. Feedback – individual comments, verbal or written (or spoken into dragon dictate on your phone and then emailed to yourself automatically and printed out. Very good for essays).  Don’t forget Socrative.
  10. Have some extra reading material for the most able students. Could you give them something engaging to read if they finish early?  It could even be an alternative task (but not extra work!)
  11. Encourage students to support each other.


A bit more effort.

  1. Use Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce – ask a question to the whole class with no hands up allowed. Give them time to think about it (in silence) and then you pick who answers.  Depending on the answer bounce over to the next person and ask them their opinion (or ask them to add something).  You can vary this many ways (go back to the first person, jump off somewhere else etc.)
  2. Set some reading before the lesson to prepare the less able for a particular task.
  3. Scaffold methods/model answers/instructions. If you have any kind of instruction sheet for your class you can remove bits to make the instructions more basic and then give students a choice of the full instructions, partial instructions or very basic instructions.
  4. Use Takeaway Homework – Students have some element of choice over which questions to complete. Maybe they have to do 5 but they can choose which or they have to do two core ones and can chose from two others.
  5. Set open ended homework or open ended projects in class.
  6. Make students self-assess regularly in addition to the usual (very valuable) teacher feedback. Do they think they are doing as well as they can?  Could they write their own report?  This isn’t really differentiation but it lets them know where they are.  If they peer assess then they can also see where they stand relative to other people, particularly if you choose pairs of markers carefully.

One response to “Teaching to the Individual – A Lazy Person’s Guide

  1. Pingback: Teaching to the Individual – A Lazy Person’s Guide – ebro's education blog·

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