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.




Using D.I. would not change my lesson plan that much. Using a quote from Dr. Carol Ann Thomlinson, a leader in the field of D.I. " In differentiated classrooms, teachers provide specific ways for each individual to learn as deeply as possible as quickly as possible without assuming one student's road map for learning is identical to anyone else's" (Thomlinson, 2014). This is a process I have been doing using since I started teaching ABE without the formal definition. My students are like a pot of stew, with their own needs, want, hopes and goals coming to the class (pot) looking for the same outcome. My job is to help them achieve their goal in accordance with the states requirements. With that being said one must adapt to each students learning process. Basically D.I. would refine my approach to teaching my student (improving the wheel).

When I am thinking about my current lessons, activities along with formative and summative assessments are really the most prominent features that jump out right away. Of course, there are goals and learning objectives listed, but they seem to be proverbially ‘drowned’ somehow – they aren’t as prominent. Therefore, I think the biggest shift to my current lesson planning is going to be a conscious reframing of the design process in order to align better with the Backward Design. By doing so, I realize now I will allow my students to master their competencies better, with less frustration and more clues along the way to aid with the cognitive process. It is going to be a profound change for me, because it essentially will force me to rethink all of the assessment tools that I have used in my instruction so far.

I have looked closely at my most recent learning objectives and found out that sometimes they do not meet all three requirements (observable, specific, and measurable).

Here is a sample of my original LO:
‘Students will understand the difference between simple, compound and complex sentences.’

Even though this LO could be considered specific, it is not really observable or measurable. Instead of using the word ‘understand’ which describes an internal activity, I should have used ‘write’ or ‘create.’

My revised LO:
‘Students will write their own examples of simple, compound and complex sentences.’

Immediately, I have realized that by making sure that when all three requirements are always met, students will always have a better understanding of what exactly is expected of them. It is going to greatly improve the instructor’s assessment as well. It’s really a win-win situation for everyone.

Upon completing this course, I have a renewed confidence that I will am in a much-better position to address and to accommodate even the most diverse needs of all of my students in my multilevel class. It brings me a new sense of calm as far as online instruction goes, now that I know how to effectively utilize the Backward Design. Thank you so much!

One lesson that I like to give students is to give them a picture out of a magazine and have them write a story about it. I usually just give this lesson to higher level students in the class, but it could be modified to include all levels in the classroom. One way to do this is to have lower level students write a few sentences while mid-level students write a paragraph and higher level students write 2-3 paragraphs.

One thing that I don’t do now is to clearly state the objective of the lesson and I see that it is something that I need to change. I think it would be helpful for the students to know this before starting the lesson.  

Wow! This course has turned my lesson planning upside down. I have a lot of work to do revising old lesson plans and creating new ones. I am looking forward to utilizing these ideas and am confident my lessons will be upgraded in a way that helps student be successful. 

I am humbled to have taken the course.  I will use the strategies taught in the course to make my teaching and learning experience more helpful to students and myself.   As the saying goes, " You can teach old dogs new tricks."  The saying is not true because I thought I had a very good grasp on teaching and learning, but I learned a lot from taking this course.  Thank you and I look forward to delving further in differentiated instruction .


For beginning level learners  -- Put both hands on the table in front of you.  If you are multiplying seven by nine then you start at the left just like reading and count all fingers and thumbs until you get to seven.  Turn the seventh digit down and you have six digits to the left of the turned down digit and three digits to the right of the turned down digit.  Hence the answer is 63.   For  competent learners you can number a left column from zero to nine, then right next to it number a column in reverse order from nine to zero.  Next put the actual multiplication problem next to it

          1x9=09 (9)                                                   09










           2x9=18, 3x9=27, 4x9=36, etc

For  Advanced students who have their multiplication facts memorized, They can rely on memory recall to get the answer.


There are a number of interesting things about multiples of 9, but I would encourage teachers NOT to teach tricks for finding the multiples. We need to help students develop understanding that helps them understand multiplication in ways that support continued learning (other multiplication facts, calculations of area, square numbers, algebra, etc.). There are a few ways to approach multiplication practice that can support understanding and fluency at the same time.

Instead of teaching tricks, you can show students a 100 grid and ask them to find patterns. What happens when you highlight all the multiples of 3? What patterns do you see? What if you highlight the multiples of 6? What patterns do you see in the multiples of 9?

Or you can teach students to use an area model. Drawing a 6 x 9 rectangle and finding the number of squares is a way of understanding what 6 multiplied by 9 means.

If you want to help students improve their recall of multiplication facts, give them practice that reinforces what multiplication is. Math for Love and Mathigon teamed up to make this great new online practice tool:

And I'm sure there are many other ways of practicing multiplication that support understanding and fluency with the facts at the same time.

Maybe students will bring up tricks for multiples of 9, and if they do, I think it's great to explore them. They may know about the finger trick. Or they may know that the digits in multiples of 9 always add to a multiple of 9. Or that if you write 1, 2, 3, ... and 9, 8, 7... next to each other. Etc. If students bring information like that, we should absolutely explore it, but the focus of our instruction should be on understanding, not tricks for getting the answer.






Our program director requested that the instructional staff take the course. I have taught multi-level/cultural/skill/age classes for 29 years; I find it a nice refresher course. I am proud of the practices/direction of our program as we have always used differentiated instruction. I have read through the Introductory unit, and I am looking forward to reading the rest. Thank you!

Very interesting first module.  Like the back up stage of module....where students are learning objective of a subject and being assessed as to how they are doing.  I really like the concept of tired lessons as all students are not on the same level.  Students at this level need lessons that are both rapid in nature and in depth of the subject area.

I enjoyed Module 1. I teach adults of varying ages, backgrounds, and levels. I also teach students from multiple ethnic backgrounds including Mennonite and Amish individuals. I have used many of these methods mentioned so far to help keep the students on track towards their goals as well as to teach multiple students a crossed several subject areas. I am looking forward to learning more and continue growing as an educator. 

As a former public school teacher and current Bible school and GED Instructor, tiered learning is crucial to a successful classroom experience. I remember at the beginning of my career as an educator, lesson plans, although helpful, focused on what I wanted to teach and the content of the material, taking into account the county's guidelines. So many times in my teaching career I wondered why some of my students just didn't 'get it". Differentiated instruction exposed the fact that I was teaching to the curriculum and not the student...of course, we have to teach to the curriculum but when the meal is cooked to perfection everyone enjoys from the serving dishes, the aroma, and finally the well prepared food (Can you tell I cook too?). I can tell already that going through this course is going to remind me of practices I may have inadvertently neglected or downplayed.

Hello! I'm Cynthia, and I currently teach middle school English, and I am the GED instructor in my small county in Southwest Virginia. I only have one GED student, at the moment, so I can't really use any differentiated instruction with her. Last year, when I had around five students, differentiated instruction was very useful. I had my same student as I do now, and she was much further behind than my other students. Breaking lessons down and adding more hands on activities helped her tremendously. Last year, when we were working on History, specifically Civics, I gave her printed notes and read everything aloud to her. This was a big help to her, and she passed her History GED. 

For my classes, students work independently on an LMS and receive teacher support in the classroom. I have created the courses to be level-specific. But maybe I could differentiate even more? For example, if they are working on an activity, maybe they can be given a choice of trying something easier if it's too hard or moving onto something more challenging if it's too easy. I like the idea of them choosing and being challenged to have more autonomy and ownership over their learning. 

I currently use differentiated instruction with my multilevel ESL class, but I'm looking for new things to implement.  I really like the idea of backward design.  This is something new I will try with my class.

One of the many lessons I teach frequently is using the correct form of a word in a sentence.  Currently, on the formal assessment, students are given multiple choice answers and must choose the correct form that fits into the missing blank in a sentence.  For example, "I couldn't hear the ________ of the flight because the airport was too loud." A. announcer, b. announcement, c. announces, d. announcing. 

In the past, I would go over suffixes and prefixes with worksheets, but not determine the actual skill that I wanted the students to be able to do which is being able to identify what part of speech is missing from the sentence and choose the corresponding word.

So, in a differentiated lesson, I would establish that students should be able to correctly determine parts of speech and their various forms.  I would then have assessments such as sentences missing a key word but the base form is provided.  Students would then write the correct form and then explain what part of speech the word is.  They would then share their answers and explanations with small groups before we would go over answers together as a class.  Activities that would help students develop these skills would be grouping words together by endings and identifying the commonalities, learning separate parts of speech and their roles in a sentences, making sentences with pre-identified parts of speech (such as "silly sentences" where each part of speech is given a color and the students are given a color-coded key that tells them the word order in a sentence).

How would using  differentiated instruction change my original lesson.

My lessons would change to incorporate  the differentiated instruction with the followig:

1. considering the learning objective, Three fold assessment areas and tiered lesson model.

I will look at the objective but consider the range of  readiness of my students for the content being presented.

The tiered lessons would be developed according to content (materials used), process (type of activity) and the depht of their understanding.  

The Backward Design is new to me.  I would like to begin developing lesson following Stage 1, Stage 2 and Stage 3.

Identifying assessments will also be apart of this process.

Reflections of this course

Wow... this course has caused me to reflect on every lesson I've ever presented in the past.

I had so many Ah Ha moments as I went through this course.

It's making me want to go back and re-do.. re-examine every lesson I've ever presented as well as think about I will incorporate the learning going forward.

This course needs to be much longer over a 2 week period.  There is so much to take in.

The Backward Stages planning is what I will incorporate in planning future lessons.

Student readiness is also a big factor for me ... then adding the differentiation piece with it.

I would use differentiated instruction for multiplying polynomials by modeling the objective first and letting students see from my modelling the expected outcome after 1.5 days of instruction with a competency level of 90-95% of the class mastery at the highest level .  Low level competency is multiplication would be monomial by monomial. Middle would be multiplication of monomial by binomial and the highest level would be multiplying binomials. The students would be able to multiple binomials using at least two of the 5 methods modeled with in class practice with worksheets, breakout rooms with 4-5 students in each room (all level of problems for mastery) and whole group reinforcement.  100% of the students are interested in this objective because they have taken the entry test for this class and the practice GED math test and know this is an objective highly tested and required to earn their GED/HSE Certificate.  

This training has reinforced for me that teacher instruction and approaches with student interest and readiness is very important to achieve students readiness to learn. 

Hi I'm Carolyn Osborne and I teach in a high school equivalency program at Bristol Community College in Attleboro, Massachusetts. 

This morning I taught about the Bill of Rights. The activity included reviewing the first ten amendments of the US Constitution and then considering scenarios and which amendments might apply. 

One goal is for students to become aware (or more fully aware) of the Bill of Rights and its contents. 

A second goal is for students to be able to critically apply this knowledge to situations they might encounter. 

The lesson requires reading the Bill of Rights, which can be done as a whole class. For students who are comfortable with or nearly comfortable with 18th century English, I have the original text of the amendments. For ESOL students and students who are not strong readers, I could add a simpler text written in modern English for each amendment to use in following along with the reading. Since I am teaching online, I can make both texts accessible to students by Padlet. If students wish to read out loud during whole class instruction, they will have the opportunity and can choose which text to read. Otherwise, I will read the amendments, using the original text but then pointing out how it aligns with the other text.

Depending on the size of the class, I could create groups of students to consider the scenarios. Each group could receive a Google slides document (via Padlet) where I have a scenario written out  and also a button to click for an audio of the text. Each group would be responsible to summarize their scenario, suggest which amendment applies, and explain why. They could create this summary using linguistic tools (Google Docs), visual tools (Google Slides or Google Drawings), or use an online recording tool to make an audio recording (e.g., 


Having taught ELL before abroad, I found this helpfully putting words to a system I had developed through trial and error. Of course we all focus with the goal in mind on DI, but I rarely started at the end as it suggested and worked my way down a progressing rabbit trail until we saw progress through different methods and explainations. Giving the structure words helps better to outline and define it. 

I appreciate the concept of Differentiated Instruction, but I'm struggling with how to implement it in an online-only environment. Due to COVID-19, my adult ESL classes are all conducted over Zoom. It's possible to have a little bit of variety in how content is introduced, but there are also some major limitations. In a classroom it's possible to provide choices of activities for individual and group work, and for some activities to be hands-on. 

Perhaps I can address this by giving students ideas of activities to do outside of the classroom. 

Even though the prospect of differentiating instruction in the online-only environment is daunting, this is something I want to try to do for my students, in order to provide them with the most effective and interesting learning experience I can. 

This course describes the various components and considerations for creating differentiated lesson content. I'm definitely no pro, but it's helpful to read about it and to practice by making the sample lesson. I'm going to try to find a way to incorporate some of my sample lesson activities into my class in the coming week. 

This is an excellent Module because it reteaches and demonstrates how important it is for teachers to be more conscientious of incorporating all students. It is very important to remember that all students do learn differently and it is up to us to make every student feel inclusive in a learning environment. 

Indeed Vinita, I totally agree.  In our classrooms, no student should be made to feel left behind because they aren't at the same level in the lessons as the other students.  This module assists us to be better equipped in insuring that all of the needs of our students are met diversely.  

Charles Johnson

I believed in designing a three tiered lesson plan to address three levels of readiness. I would design it based the level of rigor and depth of knowledge. The Understanding by Design model is a useful process that compliments the D.I. process.

I considered a HISET Mathematics lesson that I prepared for a class.  There were different levels of math students in my class.  I had a new lesson prepared dealing with the slope intercept formula for my level four students, but my level two students were still mastering integers.  Since mastering the integers skill is essential to performing the slope intercept formula, while I taught the lesson on slope intercept formula I had the level two students working on a group activity dealing with integers.  This was how I taught using differentiation to that I was able to minister to the needs of diverse math levels in my classroom.  Thanks for reading this reflection.

Charles Johnson

The Differentiated Instruction Module helped my lesson planning by equipping me to continue scaffolding my adept students while simultaneously not alienating my less than adept students.  This module equipped me to do my best to serve all of my students, no matter what level they were currently performing or learning at.

Charles Johnson

I'm thankful my job has created lesson plans for us. It is though provoking yet extremely useful when it is time to write a different lesson plan.  Great information!

We are entering the fall semester at our adult ESL school.  We will be teaching hybrid classes in the evening, which means 2 days of in person and 2 days of virtual.  My students will be split into 2 different classrooms, which I will need to teach simultaneously.  The best way I can manage to do this is with a combination of Zoom and Nearpod lessons.  I will lead both classes on a short live Nearpod session to explain an idea and then have students work on a student paced Nearpod to practice the new idea.  

For this type of lesson, differentiation could take several forms.  For beginning students, I could give the Nearpod live and then continue to give them direct instruction and guided activities instead of the student paced lesson.  For advanced students, I could make the live lesson a student paced lesson and allow them to tackle the new information independently.  I could also differentiate the difficulty of the content.  There could be three different levels of difficulty of the student paced lessons, which I could assign depending on whether each student is beginner, intermediate, or advanced in that area.  

I am currently an ESL instructor, I do strongly believe in giving students out clear learning objectives! It is very important not only for me but for them to understand the lesson given. If we are all on the same page my planning and reviews will be on the right time. Thank you for the course!

For me, the description of doing "backward design" would have the greatest impact on my lesson planning. Just as the article described, typically I start with the activities, then assessments and finally figure out what my objectives are. So, if I were to start with the objectives, then assessment before planning activities, I would likely be able to better help students stay within their "Instructional ZPD." 

Additionally, not only do I determine objectives last, my objectives are pretty generic. If I made them specific, observable and measurable, I believe it would change the lesson's dynamics and effectiveness. For example, currently my high intermediate English language learners are reading a book together. Each week we complete several reading comprehension activities, but they have been falling flat. By first determining specfically what I want learners to gain from the lesson, and defining it by observable and measurable actions, learners would be more actively engaged and potentially propel them into learning more deeply and quickly. 

Presenting the student with the end goal of what they are learning would most likely spike more interest. Having an idea of what you are working towards makes it easier to understand the process in some situations.

DI has always been a passion of mine. As a teacher, I enjoy taking the time to accommodate my students. This lesson was a great refresher and helped me remember the long term effects of differentiated instruction on student success.

 I do like the idea of backward design. In some ways I have been using this approach already, just a bit less formalized. It makes sense to know your destination before your begin your journey, so to speak.

 Current Lesson Objective: 

Students will develop a model of terrestrial and aquatic food chains highlighting the flow of energy among producers, herbivores, omnivores, and decomposers.

This is measurable, specific, and observable and it is clear what vocabulary and connections should be practiced in activities to enable this outcome.

 This course helped me to be more specific in stating my learning objectives, which, when backwards planning, allowed me to better identify both the levels of differentiation and types of activities specifically needed to meet those goals.

1- One way I differentiate in reading, is by using articles that students read in different levels. The articles are the same but are varied reading levels.  This has made a difference in positive attitudes towards reading and achievement. The students have increased knowledge, understanding, and skills in their readiness of learning in reading.

2- I post the specific objective on the board each class period, along with how it will be measured through observation-formative and test/completed activity-summative assessment to the end of a lesson to ensure students' have accomplished the objective and successful. 

3- Reflection of Module 1: I now have a better understanding of "Zone of Proximal Development" (ZPD) and how this can be different for each student in their readiness. Now this knowledge can change the lesson plan to reach more students and take into account their interest.  I have worked with students' interest prior to this professional development, but the module has put everything into perspective for future lesson planning.