Differentiated Lesson Planning

Explore these templates to begin the process of differentiated planning in your classroom
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About This Strategy

Differentiation is tailoring instruction to meet the needs of the learners in your classroom. Students learn in different ways and therefore need flexibility in how they are taught. As a teacher, you can differentiate through content, product, and process according to students' interests, readiness, and learning profiles. Differentiated Lesson Planning can help you organize and break down an overwhelming process in order to begin differentiating in your classroom.

Implementation Steps

60 minutes
  1. Review the BetterLesson Differentiated Lesson Planning Template in the resources below.

  2. Determine the key objectives and essential questions of the lesson.

  3. Use the planning template to outline the following (KUD):

    • What students will Know (standards, content)

    • What will students Understand (principles, generalizations)

    • What will students Do (outcomes, objectives)

  4. Use assessment data to group your students into levels in order to help you think about their needs.

    • Assessment data is key to effective differentiation, so be sure to frequently assess students in a meaningful and productive way.

  5. Consider students' needs, interests, and learning styles and decide if you will differentiate through content, process, or product.

  6. Check these off on the template to help you organize your plan and brainstorm what elements you will include in your specific lesson. There are specific examples within the template, but you can also use the ASCD website (included as a resource below) to help you think of other ideas.

  7. After you have decided how you plan on differentiating, begin planning the lesson, incorporating elements of differentiation in.

    • In addition to differentiating through content, process, and product, consider the ways in which students vary in their readiness, interests, and learning styles. It is helpful to keep these in mind and to address these characteristics in the planning process.

      • When differentiating in response to readiness, consider the level of difficulty of the task and whether or not the student will need additional peer or teacher support.

      • When differentiating in response to interest, align activities to students' interests.

      • When differentiating in response to learning style, address a wide variety of learning styles in your lessons and learning activities.

  8. Reflect on whether or not the lesson effectively addresses the needs of all your students.

  9. After teaching, assess student mastery of the objective.

    • Did the differentiated lesson support students to reach the goal?

    • Collect this data to support you to further differentiate based on students' needs and to iterate on your own lesson plans to better support student mastery.

Additional Resources:

Overview of Differentiating by Content, Process, and Product (Source: Carol Tomlinson)

Student-Centered Learning Objectives

In order to reach a learning objective, students need to know "where" they are going. Student-centered learning objectives for daily learning are expressed in student-friendly language, tell what students will do differently after the learning, are specific and measurable, and are assessed at the end of the lesson. It is important that students know, in a timely way (immediately if possible), how they perform on meeting their daily lesson objective. Using student-centered learning objectives not only allows you to know whether students have acquired the desired learning, but they also tell students the purpose of their learning and whether they achieved it. Couple this teaching move to goal setting and reflection to grow student ownership of learning. Watch out for the tendency to write objectives as descriptions of the learning. If you currently aren't writing lesson objectives, tied to standards, start with that step first and then convert the learning objectives into student-friendly language. 

Planning for Differentiation in a Blended Classroom

Jaime Speed
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

Technology makes the possibility of differentiating instruction much more attainable. This strategy provides teachers with information on how to differentiate for content, process, and product using technology in a blended or distance learning classroom. 

Implementation Steps:

  1. First, identify the objectives of the content you want students to learn and practice.

  2. Then, decide how you want to differentiate. Will it be for content, product, or process? To make that decision, think of how you want students to engage. Take a look at the Learner Relationship Diagram in the resources to help with this decision.

  3. If you choose to differentiate for CONTENT, it means you are going to provide various formats to help students gain the knowledge, concepts, and skills. Differentiating content includes using various delivery formats such as video, readings, lectures, or audio.

    • Your device's camera

      • You can clone yourself! Flip learning by recording yourself teaching the lesson at whatever level the student(s) are at. The students can watch and participate. They can rewind and re-watch as often as they need to without you having to be right there. See suggestions in the article below.

    • Khan Academy

      • This supports differentiated content by providing videos that students can watch and re-watch independently.

    • Rewordify

      • This site allows you to take one text and modify the words to any reading or vocabulary level.

    • NewsELA

      • This site has a lot of articles that have adjustable reading levels. It allows all students to get the content, just at their own reading levels.

  4. If you choose to differentiate the PROCESS, that means you are going to provide multiple ways for students to stop and think about their learning. This is where students work to master the content. This is also a great place to build in formative assessments.

    • Digital Manipulatives

      • This is a math-focused site. It has a bunch of different math manipulatives that have been made for digital devices.

    • Quizizz

      • This is a quiz game that students complete at the speed that works best for them. You can write the quiz, or use one that has been written already.

    • QR Codes

      • The teacher can post QR codes with various websites or activities. Students can use the camera on their device to scan and go to the site. There is no need for them to type a long URL.

    • Flipgrid

      • This site allows teachers to create prompts. Students respond by video. It is a great reflection tool.

    • Padlet

      • This tool allows students to share their thinking without having to raise their hand.  It allows students to process at their own speed.

    • Other Apps

      • There are many apps that adjust to the student's level of performance.  Take a look at the CommonSense App Review site listed in the resources to discover apps that work best for that.

    • Voice to Text

      • This tool allows students that may struggle with typing to share their ideas with voice, and have their words turned into text.

  5. If you  choose to differentiate the PRODUCT, it means that you are going to provide options for how students can demonstrate their mastery. Students may also present their own project idea based on interests.  

    • Seesaw

      • This app is very versatile and simple to use.  Students can create videos, drawings, images, writing entries all in one app. It takes app complexity away and allows students to just show what they know at the level that works for them. It allows them to re-record or edit, so time is not an issue.

    • Picktochart

      • Piktochart allows students to create infographics, presentations, and posters from templates. There are different templates based on what you are trying to create.

    • Educreations

      • Educreations provides a unique way for students to show what they know about a topic. They can draw on the whiteboard and record their voices to share their knowledge. This is especially great for multi-step processes.

    • The Google Suite

      • Google allows students to work collaboratively to create a product.  Collaboration helps support students at a variety of ability levels.

Differentiated Lesson Planning for Distance Learning

Caitlin MacLeod-Bluver
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

Tailor your synchronous instruction to meet the needs for all learners. When lesson planning in a distance-learning setting, use a Universal Design for Learning framework to support all learners. 

Implementation Steps: 

  1. Familiarize yourself with the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework and how to implement UDL framework in a digital learning setting. 

  2. Determine if your lesson will be synchronous or asynchronous. Consult the "Planning for Differentiation in a Blended Classroom" section of this strategy for ideas about how to differentiate instruction in an asynchronous setting. If your lesson is synchronous, explore ways to provide multiple means of engagement, representation, and action/expression. 

  3. In a synchronous setting, some ideas to provide multiple means of engagement include: 

    • Tailoring instruction to students' individual interests. Use a synchronous video session for students to share research on a topic of their choice. Use the breakout room feature of Zoom to allow students to share in small groups. 

    • Creating spaces for students to reflect on their effort and persistence. This could be done through a quick check-in on a synchronous video session, a Google Form, or through use of a FlipGrid. 

    • Providing self-regulation checklists. Before starting a video session, students can consult a Google Form checklist and then share out their goals for the session. 

    • Sharing self-regulation skills and ideas as part of your content teaching. 

  4. In a synchronous setting, some ideas to provide multiple means of representation include: 

    • Using Loom or Screencastify to create short videos explaining a task. You could also explore Explain Everything, an interactive whiteboard platform. 

    • Use the Talk and Comment Google extension to provide audio commentary on a Google document or other resource. 

    • Consult Google's Accessibility features to help students take ownership of their learning and use tools to help them access material. Consider creating a screencast explaining how to use these tools. 

    • Try to tool Wizer.App to make visually appealing digital worksheets for students that allow you to record yourself reading directions. 

    • Use a tool like Rewordify or NewsELA to provide reading content at a students' independent reading level. Use breakout rooms for students to read a text together. 

  5. In a synchronous setting, some ideas to provide multiple means of action and expression include: 

    • Use Zoom or Google's breakout room feature to allow students to share their ideas with a partner in a think-pair-share setting or with a small group. Just as you would in a traditional setting, provide sentence frames or anchor charts for students to reference. 

    • Provide as much choice as possible. Consult the Choice Boards or Hyperdocs strategy for more ideas about how to support students to choose how they want to express their learning. If students choose the same option, allow them to meet together in a synchronous breakout room. 

    • Consider playing live games like Kahoot for an engaging way for students to share what they learned in a low-stakes setting. 

    • Tools such as Poll Everywhere or Mentimeter allow for quick feedback from the whole class. 

    • Try a Padlet for students to express their learning. 

  6. Reflect on whether or not the lesson effectively addresses the needs of all your students. Consider utilizing 1:1 conferences with students if they are struggling. See the strategy below. 

  7. After teaching, assess student mastery of the objective.

    • Did the differentiated lesson support students to reach the goal?

    • Collect this data to support you to further differentiate based on students' needs and to iterate on your own lesson plans to better support student mastery.

Differentiated Lesson Planning When Using the EL Education Curriculum

Laura Cruz
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

When using the EL Education curriculum, the first place to consult for ideas to meet the needs of all learners is the specific EL lesson plan. There are multiple sections that provide ideas for how to scaffold that particular lesson including the 'Supporting English Language Learners' sections, 'Levels of Support' and the 'Universal Design for Learning' sections. For additional ideas, consult the three documents below that offer a range of scaffolding strategies, including some that require a low level of planning to ones that require a more systematic approach.

Special Education Modification

Nedra MassenburgDEMO
Special Education Specialist

Differentiated Lesson Planning in order to begin differentiating in your classroom is a foundational tool teachers can use to better support all students with disabilities.  In order to use differentiated lesson planning effectively to support students with disabilities consider the following modifications:


  1. Before deciding on a specific type of differentiated lesson planning, teachers should consult with special education department administrators or specialized teachers that can give extra guidance on the best types of lesson plans given the disability types in a classroom. See the "Differentiated Instruction for Students With Disabilities" and the "Differentiating Instruction for Success in Special Education" resources in the resource section below for more information.
  2. If multiple teachers are present, careful thought should be put into co-teaching models and how they integrate into a differentiated lesson plan.  See the "How to Choose a Co-teaching Model" and the "Differentiation Within the Inclusion Classroom Model" resources in the resource section below for more information.

EL Modification

Shannon Coyle
English Learner Specialist

Differentiating learning plans is an imperative part of educating English learners who need to learn new content and a new language at the same time. Learners benefit from being met where they are at and learning facilitators have the opportunity to challenge all learners appropriately.

English learners may need to use all four domains of language, reading, writing, speaking and listening while engaging in learning from differentiated lesson plans. In order to support English Learners consider the following modifications:


  1. Ensure assessments used to determine levels are fair, accurate assessments of learners. Consider accommodating, modifying or creating alternative assessments for English learners that aim to distinguish between linguistic and content mastery. Consider partnering with learners’ language specialist. See the following resources in the resource section below for more information: "Using Informal Assessment in the Classroom," "WIDA Can Do Descriptors," and "Assessing ELLs in ESL or Mainstream Classrooms: Quick Fixes for Busy Teachers." 
  2. Consciously group English learners. Alongside assessment data, consider social dynamics as well as language skills to ensure all learners’ participation. Consider anchoring learners at lower levels of proficiency with learners who speak the same home language to allow for idea generation in the home language. See the "How should ELLs be grouped for instruction?" resource in the resource section below for more information.
  3. When differentiating content, ensure English learners have comprehensible content. Consider providing home language content as available during independent or technology-based activities. When available, home language content can be a powerful tool in developing and progressing skills. See the "Research and Bilingual Content Source for English Learners" resource in the resource section below for more information.
  4. When differentiating products, provide a variety of ways for learners at lower levels of proficiency to present their learning including visually and with limited, scripted, or pre-recorded speaking. Consult learners’ language specialist and use data about learners’ language levels to determine appropriate products. See the "WIDA Can Do Descriptors" and the "How to Use Can Do Descriptors to Design Learning Activities" resources in the resource section below. 
  5. When differentiating process, focus on fostering English learners’ academic language use to master targeted skills. Consult learners’ language specialist and use data about learners’ language levels to determine appropriate activities. See the "WIDA Can Do Decsriptors," "How to Use Can Do Descriptors to Design Learning Activities"  and the "The GO TO Strategies: Scaffolding Options for Teachers of English Language Learners, K-12" resources in the resource section below for more information.