How do teachers differentiate instruction?

Page 4: Differentiate Instructional Elements

Content, process, productAs teachers begin to differentiate instruction, there are three main instructional elements that they can adjust to meet the needs of their learners:

  • Content—the knowledge and skills students need to master
  • Process—the activities students use to master the content
  • Product—the method students use to demonstrate learning

Differentiating instruction involves making changes to one or more of these elements. There is no prescribed way to differentiate instruction: The changes a teacher makes to each of the classroom elements depends on the needs of his or her students.

For Your Information

The learning environment is sometimes included as one of the classroom elements associated with differentiated instruction. It refers to the organization and atmosphere of the classroom. Without an effective learning environment with rules, procedures, and respect for others, differentiating content, process, and product might be more difficult to accomplish and may not result in the expected positive outcomes. Some ways in which the teacher can differentiate the learning environment include:

  • Creating places in the room where students can work quietly without distraction while also providing areas where students can work together
  • Offering multicultural materials
  • Developing procedures for students to get help when they are working with other students


Carol Ann Tomlinson, EdD
Professor of Educational Leadership,
Foundations, and Policy
The University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA

Making adjustments to these instructional elements often requires teachers to change their approach to instruction. Listen as Carol Ann Tomlinson discusses why this is often the biggest challenge teachers encounter when they begin to differentiate instruction (time: 1:14).

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