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What Is Differentiation in Science?

7 Min Read
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Differentiating Science Instruction to Support All Students

Like in any other subject, tailoring instruction can help meet students’ diverse needs, so long as it is delivered effectively. Educator and writer Bernadine Okoro explains that because there are different students and groups in the science classroom, teachers must develop strategies to meet the needs of all students. Implementing differentiated instructional strategies ensures all students feel respected and valued.

Differentiation in Science: Definition

The definition of differentiation remains consistent across subjects, although there are ways to make differentiation especially effective in science class. Differentiation is a teaching approach that acknowledges the strengths, challenges, or interests of individual students to ensure everyone can achieve the same learning objective. Differentiation approaches can be broken into four categories: content, process, product, and learning environment. Educators can differentiate elements unique to science instruction, such as experiments, hands-on science activities, types of resources used (from worksheets to instructional videos), and much more.

Four Pathways to Differentiation for Science

The four categories of differentiation—content, process, product, and learning environment—all approach instruction through separate lenses:

  • Content: Content differentiation consists of modifying the content students learn based on students’ abilities, experiences, and interests.
    • Example: In HMH Into Science, FUNomenal Readers are adjusted for approaching, on-level, and above-level students; the overall topic remains the same, but the content is modified based on where students are on the ability spectrum.
  • Process: Process differentiation consists of adapting how students learn, such as modifying instructional strategies, offering students choices on how they learn new information, or providing additional support to students who need it.
    • Example: HMH Into Science allows students to learn about the topic via a FUNomenal Reader, hands-on activity, or You Solve It! Simulation.

You Solve It! Simulations in HMH Into Science, such as the one above, provide an interactive way for students to learn scientific concepts and test their knowledge.

  • Product: Product differentiation allows students to show their understanding of what they have learned after a lesson in various ways, such as giving a presentation, building a model, taking an assessment, or writing a report.
    • Example: The “Take It Further” sections of HMH Into Science lessons give students choices for how to show their understanding of the scientific topics they’re learning. For example, students can explore careers or people in science. Additionally, students can complete unit projects and performance tasks as alternative options for demonstrating their understanding.
  • Learning Environment: Learning environment differentiation refers to how educators can adjust their classrooms, such as setting up for small-group instruction or providing flexible seating arrangements to support the diverse needs of students.

Modifying instruction using any of these elements provides multiple ways to meet the needs of students.

Importance of Differentiated Instruction in Science

Using differentiation techniques in the science classroom considers the needs of a diverse student population. Before instruction, teachers should think ahead to upcoming needs for differentiated instruction and consider different students’ readiness levels, interests, and learning profiles. Additionally, differentiation has been proven to improve student achievement, boost engagement, and promote inclusivity.

Specific to the science classroom, differentiation supports scientific inquiry. With inquiry-based learning in particular, students investigate inquiries through activities and experimentation, and differentiated instruction provides various ways for students to explore the natural world. No matter what philosophy is used to teach, science class benefits from differentiated instruction because it ultimately drives student success.

Challenges of Differentiated Instruction in Science

Though the benefits of differentiated instruction in science outweigh the challenges, there are a few challenges. For instance, teachers might face difficulty finding time for preparing differentiated lessons and assessments, making incorporating this teaching approach into class time difficult.

Adequate professional learning for teachers can address the roadblocks they might face when implementing differentiation. Peak Charter Academy’s transformation story provides insight into how providing support for differentiation in schools can ultimately drive achievement for students.

Differentiated Instruction Examples and Strategies for Science

There are plenty of differentiation strategies for science educators to use in their classrooms; consider which ones best fit into your upcoming lessons:

  • Instructional Materials: Educators can vary the ways that scientific concepts are delivered instructionally, such as through text, video, simulations, and hands-on science activities and experiments.
  • Science Learning Centers: A learning center in the science classroom is a dedicated space that allows students to practice science concepts; each center offers a different activity. During a lesson, students rotate through the centers; students can learn in small groups or independently. Read more about science centers in the classroom.
  • Flexible Grouping: Flexible grouping provides opportunities for students to be part of different groups based on their readiness or interest. Flexible grouping allows for more personalized learning and effective differentiation.
  • Think-Pair-Share: This learning strategy provides students with time to reflect individually on a posed question or prompt, discuss their thoughts with a partner, and share their ideas during a whole-class discussion.
  • Graphic Organizers: Graphic organizers are tools students can use to organize their thoughts and communicate more effectively. Providing students with graphic organizers in the science classroom, such as a T-chart, Venn diagram, or KWL chart, can aid them as they learn.
  • Choice Boards: A choice board is a menu of activity options that provides students the opportunity to choose how they practice a skill or display their understanding of what they’ve learned. Read more about using choice boards.
  • Alternative Assessments: Assessments can be differentiated, too. Choice boards, science projects, 3D models, performance-based tasks, and self-assessments are examples of ways students can demonstrate their knowledge.

Tips for Designing Differentiated Instruction Lesson Plans in Science

Many educational programs have support for differentiation built into the programs and lessons. For example, in HMH’s science programs, lessons provide point-of-use differentiated instruction tips for modifying existing activities or assigning new activities to reach a range of students, such as approaching, on-level, and above-level students and multilingual learners. Additionally, HMH science programs provide ideas on how educators can differentiate using technology depending on the topic being covered, such as having students develop multimedia presentations to explain scientific concepts.

In addition to the support educators might find through programs and technology, the following tips can help educators develop differentiated instruction lesson plans:

  • Know the learning goals, such as what you want students to understand.
  • Plan on how you will be assessing students; assessment results can be used to adjust instruction as needed.
  • Determine how students will learn, considering students’ opinions on how they want to learn.
  • Use personalized feedback based on students’ performance to guide differentiated instruction.

How to Differentiate in the Science Classroom

There’s much to consider when choosing the most effective way to differentiate instruction in the science classroom to reach all learners. Ultimately, educators know their classrooms and students best. Considering students’ interests, challenges, and strengths and utilizing differentiated instruction articles, resources, and tips from educators can allow educators to successfully implement differentiated instruction strategies for science.

Differentiated Activities in Science

As mentioned before, content can be modified for differentiation based on where students are on the ability spectrum. Below, we’ve provided three HMH Into Science FUNomenal Readers for approaching, on-level, and above-level students, plus support to help you implement these resources into your classroom. Students learn about the following concept: different forces acting on a tightrope walker and trapeze artist.

Share Your Instructional Strategies

Have you found success implementing differentiation in the science classroom? Do you have any differentiated activities in science you like to use? Share your ways to differentiate instruction in science with us at or reach out on Instagram or Facebook.


Discover how HMH’s science programs provide support for implementing differentiation in the classroom.

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