12 Easy Ways to Put a Creative Spin on Differentiated Instruction

By Shannon Anderson, author of  Mindset Power: A Kid’s Guide to Growing Better Every Day

12 Easy Ways to Put a Creative Spin on Differentiated InstructionDifferentiation can be daunting. In your classroom, you probably have some kids who know the material before you even begin and others who need your close attention through the content. Fear not! Meeting every student’s needs doesn’t have to mean that you make an individualized plan for every kid for every lesson. You can add some creativity to ratchet up the level of challenge for students who need a different way to practice or demonstrate their learning. Sometimes, it is simply a matter of looking at the input and output choices you allow students to try.

Often, a preassessment of some kind will help you to see which students can take on higher-level opportunities to deepen their learning. Here are 12 ways to allow those students to take a different approach, while benefiting themselves and their peers in the process.

1. Impose a Structure

Putting specific criteria on a project or task can encourage students to do some creative problem-solving. For example, you could tell students to write a story; but if you tell them to write a story without using any one-syllable words, you instantly make this task more challenging and force students to use synonyms and bigger words. Or, maybe you ask students to explain a math concept, but they have to do it through a text conversation between two people.

2. Contact Experts or Mentors

Allow kids, with parent permission, to contact experts in the area they are studying. They can conduct supervised email or Zoom interviews to learn something related to what the class is learning. Then, they can share that information.

3. Research Different Views

Can students tell a story or report on something from an opposing point of view? Or can they poll or survey students or members of the community to find out the various viewpoints on a topic? Could two or three students choose viewpoints and conduct a debate in front of the class, using evidence to back up their arguments? (For example, when studying nutrition, what would be the arguments for and against banning sugar? How would a sugarcane farmer react? A dentist? A doctor? Kids?)

4. Gamify

Whether kids come up with the questions and answers to a digital game, such as Kahoot, or create their own gameboard and pieces for a sit-down game, have students develop a game to practice the key vocabulary and concepts of whatever you are studying. Part of the challenge for students is figuring out how the skills will be practiced during gameplay and what strategies will help someone win.

5. Prioritize

Have kids come up with the top 10 essential things to know about a topic. Then have them explain why these are the essential things to know. For example, if students are learning about telling time, kids have to come up with a list of the foundational information and then justify why those skills are crucial to understanding clocks and time.

6. Role Play

Have kids write a script that demonstrates what the class is learning. They can then act out their role play in person, with props and costumes. Or they can use an app to create characters on a screen who act it out. Examples include acting out a moment in history, demonstrating metamorphosis or the food chain, or even role playing a social and emotional learning lesson. Another spin on this activity is to have students create a newscast. Kids can become news anchors and can add content-related commercials between segments. Or, how about conducting a mock podcast interview?

7. Explore Career Paths

Have students take their learning to the application level and discover as many careers as possible related to what you are teaching. Have them choose one or two of these careers and find out what training is involved and why the job is important to your community or the world. Students could even contact someone working in the field, or they could find videos and articles about doing this kind of work.

8. Get Artsy

Could students write a song or poem about what they’re learning? Could they create a work of 2-D or 3-D art (models, maps, habitats, etc.) to represent the content? Can they create a stop-motion video that teaches about the concept? Is there art already out there that is inspiring and could be shared and explained?

9. Create Choice Boards

Whether digital or on paper, a choice board can allow students to explore a topic and show mastery or learning in the ways they most enjoy. You could require that students complete a “tic-tac-toe” or certain number of options on the board. Some choices could be taking an online quiz, reading an article, identifying the main idea of a story, watching a video tutorial, completing an online lesson on IXL or Kahn Academy, or even doing pencil-and-paper practice.

10. Get Graphic

How can kids use graphic organizers to represent the information on a topic? For example, they could create a Venn diagram to compare and contrast information, make a graph to show data, record information on a spreadsheet, create a flowchart for a process, or provide a timeline on a person’s life. There are also many apps and websites where kids can make eye-catching infographics online.

11. Regroup

Can students work on a topic with a partner or small group? Could they pair up with an older student or a student from another classroom? Could they work with someone online in another school?

12. Share with an Audience

Have students share their learning with an audience, whether this audience is your class, another class, the school board, a group of parents, or a group or club in the community. Could your students provide a Super Saturday or after-school session on the topic for younger students?


No matter how you offer these types of creative choices, your students will love helping come up with ideas! That saves you time and challenges your students to think about learning in new ways that promote real-life skills and applications. (You may need to come up with a learning contract with goals and expectations at first, to provide accountability.)

The brain loves novelty, so providing students opportunities such as these will engage and excite them. Next time you have a group of students show mastery on something before you’ve even begun your instruction, share some of these ideas with them to extend and deepen their learning!

Shannon Anderson, M.Ed., authorShannon Anderson has taught for 25 years, from first grade through college level. Her career highlight was being named one of the Top 10 Teachers who inspired the Today Show. Shannon is also the author of many children’s books and a national speaker. She was named the JC Runyon Person of the Year for her work helping kids with social and emotional issues through her writing and speaking. To find out more, you can visit: shannoisteaching.com.

Free Spirit books by Shannon Anderson:

Mindset PowerY is for YetPenelope PerfectCoasting Casey

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