Differentiated Instruction Ideas for Grades 1-3

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Are you an elementary school teacher who is trying to support your students as they develop their writing skills? In Grades 1 to 3, helping kids become good writers means teachers need to use differentiated instruction that matches the learning needs of their students. Don’t forget to download your Differentiated Instruction Supports Chart. You’ll find it below.

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🐝 What is the definition of differentiated instruction?

Differentiated instruction is when teaching use different strategies and materials in their teaching that focus on the individual learning needs of students so all kids in their classroom can be successful.

🐝 What are some differentiated instruction strategies?

This blogpost contains 30 different strategies that you can use in your classrooms. It gives simple ideas like changing what we expect from students and using pictures to help them write better. Use one or more of these ideas to help your students with their writing.

🐝 Differentiated Instruction Materials:

🐝 Idea for supporting differentiated instruction in writing

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #1 – Adjust Expectations

Adjust your expectations for a writing activity based on the individual learning needs of your students.Β 

Think of your individual students and what they need to be successful as writers … and adjust your expectations accordingly.

  • Expectations for beginning writers:Β 
    • focus on the content of what the students write … by providing sentence starters.
    • support students so students can focus on getting their ideas down on paper rather than struggling to come up with ideas … by giving graphic organizers.
    • give beginning small “wins” and build up their confidence as writers … by breaking down writing into smaller tasks.
  • For advanced writers:
    • challenge advanced writers to further develop their writing skills … by giving more advanced writing projects.
    • allow students to learn from each other and build relationships with other students … by providing opportunities for collaboration and peer mentoring,Β 
  • For kids on individual program plans:
    • ensure students are able to complete their assignments … by giving them more time for working on their assignments.
    • help students to be successful with their writing assignments … by using technology to assist them with their writing.
    • create a supportive learning environment … by providing students that need it with 1:1 assistance or small group support.

🐝 Example of Adjusting Expectations For Students

To differentiate for students with slower information processing, you could assign shorter writing tasks for these students so they can successfully complete the activity. In a writing assignment where the students are asked to write facts about a topic, accommodate students with slower information processing by having these student submit two written sentences and then verbally provide the remaining three facts.

This approach creates the opportunity for these students to be successful with their writing by differentiating the writing activity to match the individual learning needs of the students.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #2 – Ask Questions

Ask your students questions to engage your them in the writing activity and to help them come up with ideas for writing.

Ask questions to:

  • activate the prior knowledge of students before beginning a writing activity and help students connect new information with existing information.
  • generate ideas that students can write about and to spark their creativity.
  • prompt students to add more details to their writing through targeted questions.

🐝 Example of Asking Questions To Ensure Writing Success

When encouraging students to write about their favorite school memory, prompt the students with guiding questions such as:

  • What grade were you in?
  • What activities did you engage in?
  • Which places did you visit?
  • Who was with you?
  • Where were you?

These questions help set-up your writing activity so students can be more successful with their writing.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #3 – Build in Writing Breaks

Building in breaks supports students who:

  • have short attention spans,
  • need movement, and
  • require extra time to process their ideas.

Breaks support students with short attention spans by:

  • helping them maintain focus on their writing assignments.
  • preventing fatigue so students are better able to complete their writing activities.

Movement breaks support students by:

  • helping them release energy so they can better focus on their writing.
  • improving their time on task.

Breaks support students who require extra time to process by providing them with extra time to:

  • reflect on their writing and the ideas they want to get down on their page.
  • generate more ideas to write about.

🐝 Example of Building In Writing Breaks

Monitor students when they are writing. If you notice students becoming restless, encourage them to stand up. Get students to engage in activities like:

  • Β jogging in place,
  • performing jumping jacks, or
  • doing chair push-ups.

These activities help to re-energize students and allow them to refocus on their writing.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #4 – Assign a Writing Buddy

Pair up students in your class so they can support each other during writing assignments. Be strategic about how you pair up your students so those that need support have a partner that can help them.

Writing Buddies:

  • help students understand their assignments.
  • support students in getting started.
  • providing assistance when needed.

Assigning Writing Buddies is a great way to:

  • encourage peer collaboration.
  • provide support during the writing process.

🐝 Example of When to Assign A Writing Buddy

During a writing activity, pair a student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) with a writing buddy. The writing buddy can help make sure the student understands the writing assignment and can help the student get started in thei can aid in clarifying the assignment and initiating the task effectively.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #5 – Chunk Writing Process

Break down writing tasks into manageable chunks so students can focus on one chunk at a time.

Focusing on one chunk at a time allows students to:

  • complete one task before moving on to the next one.
  • stay on track.
  • accomplish their goals.

Support can be provided through:

  • teacher guidance during process.
  • peer support through writing buddies.
  • 1:1 help as needed.

🐝 Example of How To Chunk the Writing Process

For example, if you use the β€œI Do, We Do, You Do” strategy when teaching your students a new writing skill, you can demonstrate the skill, have the students practice with a partner and then use the skill on their own. These three activities can be down in three sittings instead of all at once.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #6 – Create Small Groups

Creating small groups is another great strategy for differentiating instruction to promote student learning in writing. Using small groups allows teachers to provide:

  • immediate feedback,
  • targeted support, and
  • needed instruction.

Teachers are able to provide immediate feedback when working with students in small groups. This feedback helps students to:

  • develop a deeper understanding of the writing process and
  • increase their self-confidence when writing.

By working at a table with a small group of students, teachers can:

  • continually monitor the writing of students and
  • provide personalized support as it is needed.

Working with a small group, teachers can:

  • identify areas that need further instruction and
  • plan supports to help students become successful.

🐝 Example of Using Small Groups During a Writing Assignment

For example, a perfect time to use small groups is at the drafting stage. You could get three to five students to sit with you at a table. You can watch their progress and prompt them when they get stuck with their writing.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #7 – Demonstrate the Writing Process

Demonstrating the writing process helps support the different learning needs of kids in your classroom.

  • Some students need to see the writing process being demonstrated because they learn best by making observations.
  • Other students need to see a demonstration of the writing process so they can bridge the gap between understanding the process and applying it.
  • Finally, you may have students that learn best through repetition so these students may need the process demonstrated a number of times.

🐝 Example of How to Demonstrate the Writing Process

For example, when you first introduce how to write a paragraph, demonstrate this process to your students. Write your paragraph on chart paper or the board and talk about what you are thinking as you are writing down your ideas.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #8 – Draw Ideas Before Writing

Some students benefit from drawing their ideas before they begin writing their story.

  • Drawing can help students brainstorm and organize their ideas before they begin writing.
  • Some students find drawing easier than writing so they will be more confident in the activity.
  • Students will have a “map” or visual aid of their story to help them with their writing.

🐝 Example of How Students Can Draw Their Ideas Before Writing

For example, if students are writing a description of a rainbow, they could draw a picture of a scene with a rainbow and then write sentences to describe their picture. If students are unable to compose sentences, you could ask them to write three or four words that describe what a rainbow looks like or they could label items in their pictures.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #9 – Enlarge Assignments Given To Students

Enlarging the writing activity, graphic organizer, or template can be a way to support your students if needed. Simple print the activity, graphic organizer, or template on larger paper to make it easier to read and/or to provide more room for the students to respond.

🐝 Example of Enlarging Writing Assignments For Students

For example, you can print assignment directions, articles or stories, worksheets, and other printables on 8 1/2” X 11” paper on 11” x 17” paper.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #10 – Establish a Class Writing Routine

Some of your students are better able to succeed if a routine is established and they know what is expected of them. Develop a routine for your writing classes and outline expectations on a poster or sheet of chart paper that students can reference. The advantages of establishing class routine supports students because:

  • some students need clear expectation.
  • provides a visual roadmap for kids that need it.
  • helps develop stability in the classroom as students know what is expected of them.

Students will be more successful if they know exactly what they are to do and what you expect of them.

🐝 Example of How To Establish a Class Writing Routine

For example, if you want students to write in their journals for ten minutes after recess, outline this routine for them. Tell students to come into the classroom, take out their journal, choose one of the topics from the board, and begin writing. Explain that this is a quiet time in your classroom and students are not to disturb others. They are to begin writing, do their best, and keep writing until they are finished.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #11 – Focus on Content

Focus on the content and the ideas of your students’ writing during the prewriting and draft writing stages of the writing process rather than on capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and word use. You can develop your students’ use of writing mechanics during the revising and editing stages.

🐝 Example of How to Focus on Content During Writing

Encourage your students to get their ideas down on the page and if students ask how to spell a word during the prewriting and drafting stages, tell them to sound it out β€œthe best they can.” You could also tell them to underline, circle, or put a box around the word and they can focus on spelling it correctly when they edit their story lat

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #12 – Provide Graphic Organizers to Students

Give your students graphic organizers at different stages of the writing process. The graphic organizers provide students with support for their writing.

🐝 Example of Using Graphic Organizers to Help Students With Their Writing

For example, you could have a variety of different graphic organizers available to students to help them with their pre-writing. Students could choose the graphic organizer that helps them think of ideas for their writing. Always work through the graphic organizers beforehand with your students so they know how to use them.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #13 – Make Writing Fun for Students

Make writing fun for your students so that they are motivated and want to write. Completing fun, engaging activities will focus your students’ attention on the content of the writing rather than on the act of writing. One way to make writing fun and engaging is to use different materials.

🐝 Example of How You Could Make Writing Fun for Students

For example, you could have students write on sticky notes, recipe cards, or colored paper.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #14 – Provide Extra Time For Students

Some of your students might require longer periods of time to complete writing activities. Find a way to provide these students with extra time. It is important to think about where this extra time will come from. Think about what the other students in your classroom will be doing while you’re providing extra time for the students who need it. The task or assignment you choose should be one that the students who need extra time for writing do not need to complete or hand in.

🐝 Example of When You Could Provide Extra Time For Writing

For example, you might have students complete their writing activity in place of a bell work activity or in place of a practice sheet in another subject a

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #15 – Give Students Visual Aids

Support your students with the writing process by providing them with checklists, posters, exemplars, and other visual aids that provide them with the help they need to complete their writing activities.

🐝 Example of When You Could Provide Students With Visual Aids

For example, when writing a how-to paragraph, you could provide students with a list of transition words they could use or give them an example of a completed paragraph that they could look at so they know what their paragraph needs to contain.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #16 – Provide Word Lists or Word Banks To Students

Some, if not all, of your students will benefit from a word list or a word bank related to the writing activity you want them to complete. You can give students a copy of a word list or you can brainstorm a list of related words together on chart paper. Students can then reference the chart paper while they are writing.

🐝 Example of Using a Word Bank With Students During a Writing Activity

Consider adding pictures beside the words if that will help students to be successful. For example, if you want students to do an insect report, give them a bank of words that includes the names of different kinds of insects as well as words like abdomen, thorax, antennae, etc. Your students can refer to the word bank as they are writing their insect report.

Not only will the word bank help the students with the spelling of words but it may also provide them with ideas to include in their rep

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #17 – Reduce Difficulty Level of Assignment

If an assignment is too difficult for a student in your class to complete, reduce the difficulty level so that the student can experience success.

🐝 Example of Reducing the Difficulty Level of an Assignment

For example, you may reduce the number of sentences or paragraphs that a student must write, or that student may focus on getting ideas down on the page rather than on including an introductory sentence, details, and a closing sentence. Most writing activities can be adjusted so that all the students in your classroom can work on the same activity but at different levels of difficulty.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #18 – Remove Distractions

Some of your students will need distractions removed in order to be successful with their writing.

🐝 Example of Removing Distractions

For example, close the curtains if there is activity going on outside or if the light is causing a glare on the board or writing surfaces.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #19 – Repeat or Restate Directions

Ask your students to repeat directions or restate directions in their own words to ensure understanding. You could ask 2 or 3 students to repeat directions to make sure everyone understands what they are supposed to do. This is a great support for those students who may have trouble focusing or who are slow to process oral information.

🐝 Example of How To Use Restating Directions To Support Students

One way of implementing this support into your classroom is to give students a set of directions. First ask a student who you know can easily repeat or restate the directions to explain what the class is to do. Then ask another student who needs this support to tell you the directions.

By first asking a student who you know will be successful with this task you are providing the student that needs the support another chance to hear and understand the directions.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #20 – Schedule Multiple Sessions

Some of your students might be unable to complete a writing activity in one sitting. They may need a number of sessions to get the activity completed.

🐝 Example of Multiple Sessions Strategy

One way to provide this support to these students is to have them work on the same journal prompt for 2 or 3 days instead of writing about a new journal prompt each day.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #21 – Scribe Writing For Students

Consider scribing writing for students who need this adaptation. Students tell you, an educational assistant, or another students their story and the scribe writes down their spoken words as they are telling their story.

If needed, scribe word for word what your student is saying. Scribes could be yourself, a classmate, or an educational assistant.

🐝 Example of How To Scribe For Students

For example, in the drafting stage, you could ask a student to tell you his/her story. Write down or type the story word for word so that this student can go back and edit the story later on. If you are scribing the story, be sure to write on every second line to provide room for the student to add revisions.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #22 – Scribe Parts of Activity

Depending on the learning needs of a student, consider scribing parts of writing activities rather than the entire activity.

🐝 Example of Scribing Only Parts of a Writing Activity

For example, if a student has difficulty with fine motor skills, have the student write a sentence and then you write a sentence, then the student writes a sentence and then you write a sentence. When it is your turn to write, you are not thinking of what to write, you are only writing what the student tells you.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #23 – Shorten Assignments

Some of your students might need to have the length of their writing assignments shortened in order for them to be successful.

🐝 Example of How You Could Shorten Assignments

For example, if you have a student on an IEP, the student may only need to write one sentence for an activity instead of an entire paragraph. Your decision to shorten an assignment will be based on the learning needs and goals of the student’s IEP.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction Tip #24 – Supply Sentence Starters

Some of your students may benefit from being given sentence starters. The sentence starters will help these students get started with their writing.

🐝 Example of How To Use Sentence Starters

For example, if you want students to write in their Science journals about what they learned during a class on magnets, you might write a few of these sentence starters on the board: Today, I learned …, The most interesting thing about magnets is …, I wish I knew more about …, I really liked …, etc.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction 25 – Implement the Turn and Talk Strategy

It may help some of your students to talk through a writing activity before beginning to write. Students can turn and talk about their writing with a classmate sitting near them.

🐝 Example of How to Implement the Turn and Talk Strategy

For example, if you give students an assignment to write about their summer holidays, you could ask them to turn and talk to their neighbour about their holidays before beginning their assignment. To ensure that one student does not dominate the conversation, time the students. Set the timer for one minute and have one student talk and then set the timer for another minute and have the other student talk.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction #26 – Use Assistive Writing Devices

Provide your students with pencil grips, slant boards, special paper and/or different sized or shaped writing instruments that will support them with their writing.

🐝 Example of Using Assistive Writing Devices

For example, if you have a student with poor fine motor skills, provide him/her with a slant board (a 2” to 4” binder works perfectly for this) to help that student with his/her writing and build up the strength in his/her wrists.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction 27 – Make a Spelling Dictionary Available

Students who struggle with spelling may need to have access to a spelling dictionary or have a personal dictionary of words that are important to them. This is especially important for your students who have a learning disability. The dictionary will provide them with support so they can focus on writing their ideas rather than on trying to spell words.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction #28 – Use Voice Typing

Some of your students may need to be provided with a computer, laptop, tablet or phone that will type the story for them as they dictate into the device. Often students who need voice typing as a support, will have the use of this device included in their learning plan.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction #29 – Visualize Story

Ask your students to make a β€œpicture” in their minds or create a β€œmovie” of what their story will about. Ask them to tell about what they are seeing in their β€œpicture” or to share their β€œmovie” with a friend. Visualizing and discussing the story may help some of your students with their writing.

🐝 Example of Using a Visualization Exercise to Help With Writing a Story

For example, before students write a fairy tale, walk them through a visualization exercise where you have them describe the setting, then the events, and then the ending. Students can just think about each of these visualizations on their own or you can have them describe what they see to a classmate.

βœ… Differentiated Instruction #30 – Write Partner Stories

Pair students up to write stories and/or to complete writing activities. Put a student that has strong writing skills with a student that needs extra support. This partnership allows students who need extra support to see a model of a strong writer.

🐝 Example of Writing Partner Stories

For example, if you use the β€œI Do, We Do, You Do” strategy when teaching your students a new writing skill, you can demonstrate the skill, have the students practice with a partner and then use the skill on their own.

🐝 Differentiated instruction supports is one of the many ideas found in 101 Writing Ideas.

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