There is no one “correct” way to plan for and carry out differentiated instruction. However, regardless of your approach, you should repeatedly consider the following four questions when planning for instruction:

What are you teaching?

Who are you teaching it to?

How are you going to monitor learning?

How will you carry it all out?


Content: What Are You Teaching?

Ask yourself what the key understandings of the lesson or unit are. What do you want your students to recall, understand, and be able to do as a result of your instruction? These “big ideas” often come in the form of essential questions. They help frame your students’ thinking and comprehension of new knowledge and encourage them to engage in critical reflection. For you, the teacher, they serve as a guide, ensuring that you are devoting your instructional time to teaching and assessing those topics that are most important.

For essential questions and big ideas for each content area and unit of study:
District 39 Curriculum Maps


Students: Who Are You Teaching It To?

You must know who your students are before you can effectively match your instruction with their individual needs. To do so, you can consider who your students are in a broader way, by reflecting on their academic history, general interests, rate of learning, and preferred styles of learning. You can also consider who they are in relation to the content you are preparing to teach, by discerning what they already know about the topic to be taught, what aspect of the topic interests them the most, or how they prefer to learn about the topic.

Getting to know your students:

Multiple Intelligences (Gardner):

Assessments: How Are You Going To Monitor Learning?

Assessments help you better understand your students’ needs prior to instruction, and they are critical in helping you understand where your students are in their journeys toward meeting their learning goals. As assessment expert Rick Stiggins states, assessments in a differentiated classroom should be used as “assessments for learning” and not merely as “assessments of learning.” Used in this way, assessments help teachers to effectively modify their learning activities during the course of instruction to better meet their students’ differences and needs.

Assessments during the learning process - formative assessments:

The differences between formative and summative assessments (and resources, too):


Plan: How Will You Carry It All Out?

Once you know what you are teaching, who you are teaching it to, and how you are going to assess and monitor student progress, you’re ready to determine which instructional strategies you will offer to your students.

Lesson Plan template:

More planning: list of thinking skills, content, resources, products and groups:


In addition to the links above, each DST has a wealth of books and other resources available for teachers to use. Please contact your school or grade level DST at any time!