Online Course: Differentiated Instruction and Lesson Planning

***This thread has been cross-posted in the Math and Numeracy, Science, and Reading and Writing groups.

The LINCS Learning Portal houses self-paced, freely accessible online courses developed by U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education-funded initiatives

This discussion thread is related to the LINCS online course entitled Differentiated Instruction and Lesson Planning that is available in the LINCS Learning Portal. During and after you complete the course, you are prompted to write reflections on the issues below. Please share your thoughts and experiences with your colleagues.

  • Consider a lesson you currently teach. How would using differentiated instruction change it?
  • Consider a lesson you currently teach. Does it have effective learning objectives that are specific, observable and measurable? If so, how do these shape the lesson? If not, how would effective learning objectives change the lesson?
  • Write a reflection on how what you learned in this course shaped the lesson plan you produced and/or the success of your lesson.




We usually have lessons about reading  housing ads as part of our Life Skills Unit. I will adapt the lesson using DI principles into three levels. The beginner level will learn the abbreviations and the matching vocabulary in a given ad. Intermediate level students will learn how to talk to a prospective landlord using these vocabulary the ask about an ad. Advanced level students will use the abbreviations and vocabulary to write an ad  to rent/ sell their apartment/ house. 

Hello Athomas,

I enjoyed reading about how you would use the Differentiated instruction and lesson planning skills in your Life Skills Unit. I think that would be a great place to divide the skills into three levels. I work with ESL students, so I also need to tier at the three levels when preparing differentiated lessons since many struggle with the English language. I have found your Advanced level really to be the most difficult when I teach puncuation. I think your lesson plan will be improved after taking this class! Good luck in the future.

Hello every body, My name is Wilmer Guerrero and I am an adult ESL facilitator / teacher, and part of my lesson plan  has the following components: Let's assume that I am going to teach the Simple Future Will and Going to:

this is more less how it would look like, by the way you are free to input or to share your feed back after you read this.

GOALS:  The students will be able to:

  • Apply properly the simple Future “Going to” regarding an action that has been planned or prepared. ( this is to general)
  • Create sentences where the simple future “Will” indicates a prediction or promise. ( this is much better )

OBJECTIVES:  The students will be able to:

  • Make sentences and answer questions using Will and Going to.
  • Create a composition using simple future. (too vague)


  • Trails to English Book #3.
  • Peripheral Material.


  • Read sentences.
  • Complete spaces.
  • Answer questions.


  • Will: emphasizes a promise and a prediction in future (pg. 24).
  1. I will study English at WLC next month.
  2. You will buy a new car next year.
  3. He will travel to Ecuador soon.
  • Will Not = Won’t (pg. 27).

From what I have learned, It makes sense that in the objective I have to reword some parts where the objective is more


Students will be introduced to the Simple Future Tense.

What do you think I should change or take out ?

Personally, I do believe that this course has changed entirely the way I was creating my lesson plans though I was not far from what I was supposed to do, hopefully I learn more from the comments.

thanks a lot

Wilmer, thanks for sharing your plan with us here. Following are my two cents. I hope that others will add theirs so we'll have a fortune before long! :)

A. What might you integrate into this plan's activities in order to engage more students? The activities that you have listed appeal to learners who are engaged by linguistic (reading and writing) and logical (grammar) activities. What are some other learning preferences? How might you broaden the type of experience to engage more learners? Could you add music? Art? Graphics/Images? Body movement? The more you naturally add to your plan, the greater the differentiation.

B. Considering that adults learn to the extent that what is taught relates to their "real life" interests and needs, how about throwing out a hook from the very start. Consider the following activities. Which group might appeal more to your students?

Group I
1. Write ten sentences using Will and Going to.
2. Write about something that will happen in the future.
3. Change the sentences from the past to the future.
4. Identify the verbs in ten sentences.

Group II

1. Predict what will happen in cartoon images.
2. Find sentences telling about the future in two songs.
3. Explain what will happen after you meet one of your goals.
4. Plan a trip. Draw a map of the trip that you plan to take. Describe what you will do at each stop of your trip. How much money will you spend on different items? Who long will it take you to get there? How will you get back?
5. Complete the sentence with at least five results: "If we stop all wars...." "If people continue to use fossil fuels...."
6. You are going to go camping. Tell the person next to you what you will do to get ready.
7. Listen to the following word problem. Write down what you hear. Describe what you will do to solve the problem.

C. Ideally, your goal and your objectives will be written to engage students right off the bat. Instead of stating those in grammatical or academic terms, how might you hook students right from the start? How about something like the following?

Goal: To work in a future world.
Objectives: In completing this lesson, you will...

a. Predict what will happen in a situation.
b. Plan future activities.
c. Imagine and describe a different future.


I hope that helps, Wilmer. Above all, both you and your students should share a lot of laughter and fun! :)

Leecy Wise (Moderator, Reading and Writing Community of Practice)

When creating lesson plans to increase differentiated instruction, it's always a good idea to think "multisensory".  

-Visuals:  Are you showing them something to ignite their curiosity?

-Auditory- Are they hearing something that will stay in their mind latter?  Are they saying what they are learning aloud?

-Tactile:  When instructing are you touching the board/visuals/, and are the students touching items/pointing to words/photos etc?

- Kinsthetin-  Are you and the students creating movements to what you are learning? The students should not be sitting the entire class.

When teaching past tense, act out verbs while you learn them.  They must see patterns.  Teach some regular tense verbs first, then add irregular verbs, and let them discover why a verb is regular or irregular.  

I start by acting out future tense, then present tense, and finally past tense.  For example:

Future:  I will open the door.

Present:  I am opening the door.

Past:  I opened the door.

Take turns acting out regular verbs in the above order and while writing them on the board for them to see the pattern.  Change the pronouns so they can also see what happens when a singular vs. a plural noun is used.  Let them discover the differences.  Don't give them the answers, let them figure them out.  While they do this, everyone should be saying the sentences.  Patterns and multi-sensory instruction can help out greatly with differentiated instruction.





The element of Backward Design should always be noted when lesson planning, because if you are not sure of what you want to achieve in terms of outcome, then you will seldom achieve it.  For me , especially working in the areas of reading in the subject areas , I want my students to have an "a-ha" moment or some kind of epiphany with regards to knowledge or awareness of a subject. However each student comes to that point uniquely.

I love backward design, Jonathan. You mentioned, "...especially working in the areas of reading in the subject areas..." Please consider joining the LINCS Reading and Writing community and introducing the subject of reading (and writing?) in the subject areas! Thanks! Leecy

Really liked the Backward Design part of DI.  It gives you a different perspective of what the student should be getting out of the lesson. If you know how a lesson should end, then it seems to me that it would be easier to figure out how you are going to get there through planning and knowing your student.

I also like the Backward Design portion.  I often incorporate this type of planning into my lessons because I know what the objective should be before I actually figure out the steps to get us there. The steps may differ with different students, and it allows me to adjust my approach when necessary. 

OBJECTIVES:  The students will be able to:

  • Make sentences and answer questions using Will and Going to.
  • Create a composition using simple future. (too vague)

Looking over your objectives, I see you added some comments for correction. One part of writing objectives that is difficult, and I often struggle with, is to make them measurable. For your first objective, if you say the objective is to write sentences using Will and Going To, it does not say they have to have them correct. Some instances, I've seen teachers add "with 80% accuracy," or the number of sentences they want the students to get correct, depending on the assignment. I also agree the second objective is too vague. It needs more specificity. Sometimes it is helpful to look at more micro objectives with small tasks rather than a macro like writing a composition. You can break down parts, length, or specifics you want in regards to it through several objectives. 

I hope this helps. It's really helpful to see someone post their lesson plan in the discussion. Thank you so much for doing that. 


Consider a lesson you currently teach. How would using differentiated instruction change it? 

A lesson I have taught was on putting events into a sequence or time line. The lesson was to help students take pictures or text strips that told a story or described an event and put pieces of it into sequential order from beginning to end. One way that DI could change this lesson is to create a learning center or station that students could use as a way to continue practicing the lesson. From the reading, I learned the importance of considering three aspects of students: their readiness for learning a topic, their interests about a topic and their learning profile.  In the center/station I would need to examine the materials I put there by taking into consideration that they align with these three aspects of my students. Instead of haphazardly collecting pictures from magazines and text from news articles, I would need to analyze which type of materials would help my students grow in their ability to break an event or story into a sequence. For students who are emerging readers, who like to look at images and are visual learners, I would collect or create comic strips that contain essential vocabulary just beyond their level. For students who are strong readers, who like to read and reflect on text, and would be strong cognitive learners, textbooks would be appropriate.

Great ideas, Phil, that show that you grasp the concept of differentiating instruction. Some people resist that idea, claiming that teachers don't have time to teach every student individually. As your suggestions show, it's not about making a lesson plan for each student, but addressing different learning preferences within a lesson plan! Thanks. Any additional ideas from instructors/learners out there? Leecy

I do like that learning station idea.  As long as you backwards design, have clear learning objectives, many assessment opportunities and that tiered instruction it will be hard to go wrong.  But definitely, one of the pre-assessments should gather your students' interests along with their academic levels. Let this information guide what themes or topics your students want and need.  

Hi Phil,

I'm coming to this a bit late, I know, and for that I apologize.  I love your idea of learning stations for students to continue the lesson.  Carol Ann Tomlinson uses a concept called "anchor activities," pre-planned activities for students who might have finished before others, or who are more advanced.  One thing I'd suggest is to leave some of this differentiation up to the students themselves -- provide q wide array of possible materials at different levels and on different topics, and let them choose.  Over time, you'll find that some will take on and master challenges you would never have imagined!  Their choices will also give you more information about them without effort on your part.


change the lesson?

I looked at the learning objectives I wrote on my most recent lesson plan. Several were much too general: “Students will understand . . . “ and “Students will learn . . . “ In practice I actually do assess my students with an observable, measurable, specific task – like writing a complete sentence with a present tense verb or conjugating a regular verb into 4 forms -  but my stated learning objectives don’t reflect those specific goals or assessments. I can see that stating a learning objective with specific, observable, measurable outcomes will help me focus the learning activities to be more relevant and effective in achieving the desired outcomes. I also see that I need to develop extension activities for more advanced learners. It seems to me that one easy way to differentiate is to group students together according to skill levels - the more advanced learners can work more quickly and cover more material.

Right on, Beth. I'm glad you will take a second thought re using terms like "understand" and "learn" when stating objectives. You can't assess terms like that. So here's a statement for you to consider: learning is change. If that's true, we can assess learning and understanding by observing the changes that occur. What think?

There are many ways to differentiate instruction, as you pointed out. Grouping students according to skill can be very effective. You can also group them to represent different skills and multiple intelligences. Depending on the group, I also like to put some people on the Internet with exciting things to do and report on while others work onsite with me or in projects. Here's another statement  about learning to consider: when we are laughing, we are learning. Hmmm... Thanks for contributing your comments! Leecy

Would you be willing to share your lesson in one of our groups? If so, drop me a line:

How would using DI change my lesson plans?  I think that being proficient at using DI would make my life easier.  First, it would give me confidence that I am doing my best to serve ALL my students.  It will give me a way to scaffold students to a higher level of understanding, while not holding some students back or overwhelming less able students.

Nancy, thanks for sharing your thoughts on planning for DI. You are right that DI will make your life easier...eventually. As you begin to plan instruction to address different learner needs, it will take a little more time to reflect on how to do that and to select best resources to integrate into delivery. Once you get used to the idea of how to best differentiate activities, then, yes, life becomes easier, both for you and your learners because they start taking over their own learning process. What fun! Leecy

Wendy Quinones here, author of the DI course. I second Leecy's comment about DI making lesson planning easier...eventually. The thing to remember is to start small!  Sometimes it can be best to start with a lesson you're comfortable with; or sometimes you can think of a particular one where it seems there are always some students either bored or left behind. Either way, once you begin to get familiar with the process, differentiation will seem the logical way to work with your students. Best of luck! --Wendy

I currently teach lessons on main idea and supporting details and I have used mostly the TABE level books with my students. I have found that even though they are adults just like anyone their attention span concerning the readings tends to become an issue. Meaning that the passages are not at their interest levels. I am relatively new to teaching GED classes so I was following the "set" protocol. But sometimes this may not be in the best interest of the students. Therefore, I downloaded expository passages about texting and driving that is definitely timely and relative to my students. I used a graphic organizer ( a concept map) so that they could record the main ideas and supporting details in a web like fashion. I also wanted them to understand that we also don't think in a linear fashion and using the the concept map was a different avenue for them to make their material look a little more "creative" than just writing it down. My two students also worked together and somewhat taught each other through their open dialogue and it worked well. It made them realize that they had a lot of knowledge and ideas to bring "to the table" which in turn upped their confidence level. Ultimately, changing my normal teaching mode worked well for them and hopefully it become more predominant in the future.

I have to admit that I need to be more diligent with my learning objectives. I know what I want my students to accomplish with my lessons on parts of speech and correct sentence combining, however, my learning objectives haven't been up to par. They do exist especially with containing an observable action to demonstrate what they have learned but I need to add in a better measurement component. I work with language students and they have been progressing and have done well on their TABE tests but I truly believe that they need to also view their learning objectives so they know what it is we need to accomplish and how to get there, so to speak. I also want them to become more well rounded learners and productive citizens and just using the TABE as a measurement, to me, isn't enough. I would like to include more open dialogue for discussion so that they can use their prior knowledge and begin to see that they have a lot to offer beyond the classroom.

The material within this PD provided more insight when working with students at different levels, especially with tiered instruction and scaffolding. I was a bit familiar with differentiated instruction but I found this workshop gave me various new avenues to think about when presenting my lessons. We have so many students at different skill levels that it has difficult to adjust instruction. But with the tiered instruction and group work information I now have new material to bring forth in the classroom.

I'm not sure if I'm posting the task in the correct place.  My reflection on how using differentiated instruction change my lesson would be:

I teach a math lesson on unit rates and proportions.  By using DI, it would ensure each student, no matter their level, to get a deeper understanding of how to use unit rate and proportions in real-world situations.  Also it would help in preventing the lower level students from becoming frustrated and shutting down, limiting the amount of learning that should take place.

I feel this lesson does have specific learning objectives but are they observable and measurable?  From what I have learned so far, I know I need to stop to relook at the final product.  What is it I want my students to be able to do and what kinds of real-world problems could they face that this would help them in?

Stacy, you said, " By using DI, it would ensure each student, no matter their level, to get a deeper understanding of how to use unit rate and proportions in real-world situations.  Also it would help in preventing the lower level students from becoming frustrated and shutting down, limiting the amount of learning that should take place."

What activities or approaches do you implement to, as you say, "ensure each student, no matter their level, to get a deeper understanding of how to use unit rate and proportions in real-world situations?" I would like to think that students at all levels would want to relate to real-world situations. How do you engage those different levels in similar real-life situations? Do they assume different roles in solving real-world problems?

I so often hear teachers say that they resist differentiated instruction because they don't want to do umpteen lesson plans for different levels and abilities. What do you think? You will notice that I have opinions in this regard, but I want to hear more on how others use DI. Thanks, much! Leecy

Leecy Wise
Moderator, Reading and Writing, and Diversity and Literacy Communities

Jan, first, let me thank you profusely for taking this LINCS course and, above all, for sharing your experience with the rest of us. I hope that others will jump in her with similar comments. Hat's off to you with all of our appreciation. it sounds like the material was useful to you, which is wonderful.

The fact that you looked for learning objectives is much appreciated by me since I strongly support the use of measurable statement to guide students toward their goals.

Since I don't facilitate the Differentiated Instruction course, I can't provide you with feedback on all that you have done! Instead, I have contacted LINCS support staff so that we can contact the facilitator who is reviewing your materials. Stay tuned! Leecy Wise

Correction (8/4): This course is a self-paced course. Therefore, no facilitation is present. Please disregard my last paragraph and check the post that follows this one.

Leecy Wise
Moderator, Reading and Writing Communiy


     I am currently teaching an ESL class.  My students are at various levels.  One of the first things I do as part of assessment is to ask my students what they need.  They are fluent enough to be able to tell me what areas they need the most help.  They can also speak for other students who are not so fluent and are afraid to speak.  Many people think of assessments as only tests, but I believe that an important part of the assessment process is finding out what are the needs of your students.  (Of course this can only be done once you have gained the trust of your students.)

     I had this conversation with my students the other day.  I took notes on the concerns that they expressed. I also noted that there were some who had different needs and concerns.   From these notes, I developed a lesson plan.  My students told me that they needed the verb tenses taught one tense at a time.  My objective: The student will be able to use the correct present tense "to be" verb in a sentence.  First, I showed a real life video of a conversation where the verb to is being used.  Then, I conducted a discussion on what the students heard being said on the video. Students would work in groups to complete worksheets using the present tense of the verb "to be."  Then, I would have the students generate their own sentences using the present tense of  several verbs.

I have been thinking of various lessons that I teach in differentiated instruction. I am currently thinking of one, which is about States and the Capitals to ESL students. It does have effective learning objections; such as identifying the States by names, and the capitals of each state; as well as sequencing the states in Alphabetical order. The learning objectives are specific, observable and measureable.  They help to shape the lesson, by helping the student to progress at their own learning readiness, abilities and interest. By creating specific centers that students are able to acquire various skills needed to assess this learning through activities, one is able to evaluate observable and measureable outcomes.  

If you are taking the self-paced Differentiated Instruction on your own from the LINCS Learning Portal, the activities in the course are for the participant’s own learning and interactivity with the course. Since there is no formal course facilitator in the self-paced version of the course, participants do not turn in their lessons. Participants, however, are welcome to share the parts of their lessons in the discussion threads started for the course:

Whenever I teach a lesson in math, I practice differentiated instruction. I learned about differentiated instruction around ten years ago. I might tell one student to do problems 1 - 20, while another student is working on word problems involving application in real-world problems. Differentiated instruction does work when done one level above the student's current ability as it does stretch the student. Some students will be stretched enormously and may still display some type of learning anxiety. Independent learning and scaffolding help increase student success. As students increase their self-confidence, the scaffolding may be removed as he becomes an independent learner.

The current lesson I teach after reviewing differentiated instruction I would be more deliberate about the assessments that I have students do, I would continue to use my current strategy of small tests but I would do them after the completion of each subunit.  This way I can determine is the foundational skills being taught are being comprehended.  Another strategy I will do is to specifically have more supplemental assignments for those students who may need lower level practice to allow for the scaffolding of information and skills.  I feel that this will allow those students to feel they are comprehending the material without frustrating them.

In my daily lessons I feel as I do not have clear and precis learning objectives. Being since this is what holds a differentiated lesson together, it is very important. Learning objectives must be specific, observable and measurable. I see why they are so important in provided a level of challenge for every student. This is something I must begin doing in my correctional setting. 

Right on, Andrea! I am an ardent advocate of giving students clear and measurable objectives! That way, both instructor and student are on the same page, and both know what will be assessed. I also find that clear objectives provide excellent items for review and planning: "This is what we accomplished, and this is what is still left for next time." In addition, clear and measurable objectives equip instructors with a perfect tool to assess whether or not differentiation is adequately planned, as you so wisely pointed out.

Have you seen the list of Bloom's verbs? They provide outstanding verbs for stating objectives at different levels of critical thinking. Leecy


I also teach in a correctional setting. I run into the same problems now I look back at past lessons. We have an added pressure of literally having gifted students with learning disabled students in the same classroom. If I did whole group instruction all day every day, half my students would quit the first week... Even though I know this sometimes I struggle.


Differentiated instruction is such an important skill for adult education instructors.  This was a great review of the essential skills of writing objectives and making sure that all students have success in each of my lessons.

In our Harlem Renaissance elective class, we tie together what was happening in Harlem to what W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington was advocating for in previous decades. Some students struggle with reading Dubois and Washington while others grasp it readily. I would in the future have a three tiered approach to Dubois. Group 1 would read and analyze the material, as is. Group 2 would get the material with vocab words defined and difficult passages explained. Group 3 would read excerpts but the majority of the material would be reworded for easier understanding.

Although this would be difficult to create initially, it would give your less competent students a chance to me your objectives.

In the current Unit I am teaching, The Harlem Renaissance, I have objectives that meet the characteristics of good objectives.

By the end of the Unit, the student will be able to:

1. explain and cite examples of personification in the first chapter.

2. discuss how education is a pervasive theme throughout the text and cite examples from the text to support this theme.


My greatest weakness has always been the assessment piece. I tend to be old school, write a paper or give a test.


Hi, Steven, I'll jump in here with my two cents. Your first objective is clear and measurable. That means that you can assess it. In fact, I would use rubrics to assess that objective so that students know exactly how to meet top expectations for explaining and illustrating "personification." To rubric criteria might state something like, "Your explanation included clear and accurate details and at least three examples of "personification." No test needed there. Instead, you asked students to perform to meet your criteria.

Your second "objective" includes a non-measurable term, "discuss," which would be hard to evaluate. Instead, I would recommend something like, "Discuss in writing [or in a presentation] the pervasive use of personification in the text, citing examples to support its use." In other words, a student might sit with another and discuss something without providing any evidence of knowledge re the topic. Make sure that your objective statements are measurable, and, therefore, "assessable." Your top rubric criteria here might say something like, "You provided credible evidence to show the author's pervasive use of personification as a tool in writing. You cited at least three strong examples of personification from the text." Something like that.

Steven, the big "no-nos" in writing objectives are uses of very general terms, like "learn," understand," "read," and more, which cannot be measured! You are certainly on the right track. If you want links to writing effective rubrics, ask, and it shall be shared! Leecy


Steven, below are links to a few rubric resources. You’ll find more in your course content as you prepare your final project.

REMEMBER: Just because something is posted, even as a model, doesn’t mean it’s accurate. Follow your own knowledge and guidelines in developing rubrics, and use the models just for ideas!

1. Rubrics are for students. They should be written in student language. If a student is a beginner, the rubric should be expressed in beginner terms.

2. Rubrics are not checklists although they can refer to checklists. Instead, rubrics express the exact criteria to be met by students in completing a project.

3. Rubric criteria are expressed in measurable terms. Using terms like, “understand,” “learn,” “ read,” “think about,” and others like them do not allow you to assess them. You cannot assess student performance that way. Instead, go to Bloom’s Taxonomy and grab some good, active verbs!

4. Rubrics don’t state a span in scoring. Students either meet the criteria or they don’t. Nothing in between.

5. Well-written rubrics work well as teaching tools. Student know exactly what they need to do to meet top criteria!

Some resources – Remember – Use criteria models as ideas. Many are very faulty. Use your own knowledge to emulate or select.

  1. Chocolate-Chip Cookie Rubric - - One of my favorite examples. You may not like the criteria, but if you are aiming to please the chef grading you, that is what you need to do to get an “A!”
  2. lots of links
  3. - Nice tutorial
  4. - A different take on writing rubrics


Leecy Wise, Moderator, Reading and Writing, and Diversity and Literacy CoPs


Indeed, Di. This is a great resource as long as users remember to edit the text used for different criteria. Among teachers to whom I recommend this nifty site, I admonish, "The site gives you a great start. Take the criteria with a grain of salt. Copy it and adapt it to your students and to their language levels! Thanks, Di. Leecy

I am not currently teaching a class, but I am creating an online math module for some of our learners.  I plan to have 2 or 3 different levels of assignments and activities for students to complete as they progress through the lessons.  Students will take a pre-test online which will give readiness information.  For the number of problems missed in the section- students will be assigned basic, intermediate or advanced assignments and activities.  All assignments and activities will be available to all learners, so if an individual wants to work up or down a level, it will be available to them. I am hoping this differentiation of an online module will assist students with their learning goals.

Sherry, indeed, your process of having students select (or be assigned to) different activities or assignments on the same topic is a good example of differentiation. I also like that all assignments are available to all students who may wish to dip into other levels! Nice work. Leecy

Leecy Wise, Moderator, Reading and Writing, and Diversity and Literacy CoPs


I think that in my lesson plan the learning objectives are specific and observable but I need to be more specific with the measurable part. I think that the specific and observable objectives help shape the lesson by keeping the lesson focused on the desirable skill learned and that a percentage measurable objective will improve outcomes.