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How to Write a Differentiated Lesson Plan

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WF1843855 Shaped 2023 Blog Post How to Write a Differentiated Lesson Plan hero

By definition, differentiation calls for adapting instruction to meet students’ individual needs. It is, therefore, essential to plan lessons accordingly and find ways in which instruction can be differentiated to challenge and support every learner. Read on to learn how to effectively write and format a differentiated lesson plan. In this article, we use the terms differentiated instruction and differentiation interchangeably.

What Is a Differentiated Lesson Plan?

In a differentiated lesson plan, content, activities, and assessments are tailored to account for the needs of various learners. For example, differentiation in lesson plans can include modifications for English language learners, gifted students, and students in the RTI process. Some differentiated lesson plans indicate how instruction will differ for whole-group and small-group instruction. Other lesson plans are formatted to show instruction for each RTI tier; Tier 1 would show core instruction, and Tiers 2 and 3 would show targeted, supplemental instruction.

How to Differentiate Lessons

According to Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson, a leading scholar on the topic of differentiated instruction, there are four instructional elements that can be altered to meet the needs of learners. Differentiated instruction involves changing one of these elements:

  • Content: what information students need to learn and how they access that information
  • Process: what activities students will engage in to master the content
  • Product: what projects or activities students complete to demonstrate their learning
  • Learning Environment: how the classroom is structured

The following are examples of how to differentiate a lesson based on content, process, product, or learning environment.

Differentiating Content

To differentiate a lesson’s content, information should be presented in various ways. This can be done through the use of visual or audio aids (i.e., audio books, videos, or pictures). Differentiating content can also look like strategically grouping students and providing small-group instruction with materials based on students’ readiness or interest level. For example, a teacher might have students read books on the same topic at their corresponding reading levels.

Differentiating Process

Differentiating the process calls for differentiating the way students learn the content. For example, some students can learn new information by reading independently, while others can work collaboratively on a group project. To differentiate process, a teacher can also provide a range of materials and manipulatives for students to work with and provide additional time to complete tasks.

Differentiating Product

When differentiating the product, a teacher provides multiple ways for students to demonstrate their understanding of a concept. Tools like choice boards allow students to choose the way to show what they know. For instance, a teacher can give students the option of writing a report, giving a speech, or creating a poster to demonstrate mastery. Providing a variety of assessments is also a way to differentiate product.

Differentiating Learning Environment

Differentiating a learning environment refers to making changes to the physical space where learning takes place. This can be done by providing designated areas where students can work quietly without any disruptions for small-group instruction or independent work as well as creating spaces that welcome student collaboration. Flexible seating allows teachers to easily rearrange the learning environment to fit any learning activity, whether that be for group projects, independent work, or whole-group instruction.

Lessons can also be designed to take place outside the classroom, for example going outside to explore the school garden during a lesson on plants or taking a lesson about force and motion to the school playground. This form of differentiated instruction can look very different from classroom to classroom, as the landscape and layout of school grounds vary, and some classes take place in a remote or hybrid learning environment.

Differentiated Lesson Plan Example

Options for differentiation are found throughout most core curriculum materials. Below is a differentiated lesson plan example pulled from HMH Into Reading. This lesson includes suggestions for differentiation in both small-group instruction and whole-group instruction. Modifications to support all learners and multilingual learners are provided at the bottom of the lesson. Options for small-group differentiation are noted on the far-right side of the lesson plan.

Differentiated lesson plan formats can vary from the example shown. Some differentiated lesson plans may be strictly for small-group instruction.

Differentiated Lesson Plan Template

Download a PDF of an English Language Arts (ELA) differentiated lesson plan template for Grades 1–2 or Grades 3–6. These free templates, from Teacher’s Corner, provide a space to indicate modifications for whole-group ELA instruction under the “Instructional Notes” section. They also provide room to make note of differentiation strategies on the “Small-Group Instruction” page.

When it comes to teaching, no two learners are alike. That’s why creating and implementing differentiated lessons that consider every student’s needs can make a world of difference. Through differentiation, all learners are given the opportunity to engage with content and make strides in their learning.


Learn more how HMH Into Reading for Grades K–6 helps teachers differentiate instruction in their diverse classrooms through formative assessments, insightful reports, targeted recommendations, and student-focused resources.

Get our free guide to differentiated instruction.

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