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  • Writer's pictureKristy Johnson

Quick and Easy Differentiation Strategies for Math


Before we talk about how to differentiate, let's talk about what differentiation is. Simply put, differentiation means tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. Teachers may differentiate the content, process, products, or the learning environment. The use of ongoing assessment and flexible grouping makes differentiation a successful approach to instruction. Students benefit greatly from differentiated instruction. How do they benefit, you might be asking?

Let’s look at some of the benefits of differentiating instruction:


-It helps ensure that all students are actively engaged in the lesson, including those who need more of a challenge.


-Promotes confidence and independence in students and makes learning feel more relevant for them.


-Allows students to learn at their own pace.


-The biggest one of all….student NEEDS are MET!



Not to mention, teachers benefit from differentiation by gaining more insight on their students as well.


When many people think of differentiation, they think every student needs an elaborate lesson plan of their own for each day. However, this is absolutely not the case (and not feasible either!) There are several ways to differentiate instruction in math without spending extra hours of planning each week. Let’s talk about some quick and easy differentiation strategies that you can implement tomorrow!


Easy Differentiation Strategies for Students Performing BELOW Grade Level

  1. Provide hands-on manipulatives to work out problems (Even when teaching/learning digitally, there are options available!) I love this FREEBIE base ten model for double digit multiplication. Students move the base ten blocks on the screen to create their model.

  2. Provide pictures or models of the word problems. (This is especially great for students that are visual learners).

  3. Give less answer choices (For example, cross out out 2 of the 4 or 1 of the 4 answers in a multiple choice problem)

  4. Allow partner work for specific assignments

  5. Give less problems for students to work out

  6. Eliminate any problems with “extra fluff” (such as certain word problems…keep it to the point).


Easy Differentiation Strategies for Students Performing ABOVE Grade Level

Please remember as a teacher that your job is not just to differentiate instruction for students performing below grade level. You will have many students each year who are performing at or even above grade level that will need a challenge also. If you don’t differentiate for these students as well, plan to see possible disruptive behaviors and bored students in your class!

Here are 4 Quick Differentiation Strategies for Students who Need a Challenge:

  1. Add steps to go above what needs to be known (For example-give them larger numbers to solve problems with or multi-step word problems)

  2. Teach tricks and hacks to solve the problems (only once they have a strong understanding of the concept)

  3. Have you heard of problem-based learning? (PBL) . Basically, it’s a student-centered approach in which students learn about a subject by working in groups to solve an open-ended problem. You can find and create projects that students performing above grade level can complete over a few day’s time. This is something that they can do while others are working on the grade level standard during math time.

  4. Assign these students to help or teach other students a concept.


4th Grade Anchor Charts and Student Notes Can Help You Differentiate!

Planning for differentiation can be tricky for teachers. It’s not like we have any extra time for anything! In my classroom, I like to use 4th Grade anchor charts for differentiation in my mini lesson. For my students that do not need any help taking notes, they take the notes independently as I write them on the board.


For students who may have a more difficult time taking notes or trouble focusing on the lesson, they receive these notes at the start of the lesson. I always use these for any students who might be on an IEP and need special accommodations for note-taking. In addition, these anchor charts and notes help a TON when students are absent! All of the information that they missed is right there for them. This 4th Grade Math Anchor Chart Bundle accompanies the 4th grade math standards. Students can glue these anchor charts into their interactive notebooks to have and refer to them all year. There are at least 40 math topics included in this student notes bundle!



Tell me-what are some ways that you differentiate instruction in your upper elementary classroom?










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