Leer knee gal anguishes art twerk*

Designing Differentiation for the Second Language Classroom

Katy Arnett

March 2015

*Learning a language is hard work

Defining Differentiation

Differentiation occurs when students are provided different paths or tasks to complete/explore a topic and/or share their understanding/skill. Differentiation is about giving students a voice and a choice in their learning.

Differentiation is more than making an adjustment to an activity to support a single student, but it is also NOT about creating/providing a different activity for every single student in the class.

Types of Differentiation

In addition to 3 of the types of differentiation advocated for by Tomlinson (1999, 2001), I contend a fourth type (Differentiation by Linguistic Complexity) has a major role to play in the language classroom.

  1. Differentiation by Content: The topic/theme students explore varies.
  2. Differentiation by Process: The way(s) in which students complete the task varies
  3. Differentiation by Product: What students create to show understanding/mastery varies.
  4. Differentiation by Linguistic Complexity: The language needed to navigate the tasks varies.

Photo Folders: Differentiation by Content (and then some!)

Using pictures from magazines or newspapers and basic file folders, you can create opportunities for students to create personal responses to a variety of prompts. Because you can not only vary the prompt and expectations about what each student does with the prompt (i.e., write, speak, draw, create a visual), this basic tool can give you a lot of workable options for different methods of differentiation using the same resource.

To consider:

1. If you want to designate certain folders for certain paths, avoid marking the folders themselves; this will allow you to use them later for other paths.

2. This activity works well as an "anchor activity," meaning that this activity is one that students could be expected to do as they finish other work. Students can continue to work with their photo folder over the course of several classes; you don't need to build in the expectation that they finish the work in one sitting, but rather work at it over time.

Dice Questions: Differentiation by Linguistic Complexity

Tips for managing/using this activity

1. For this activity, students roll a die and answer the question/prompt that corresponds to the number on the die. If they roll the same number twice, depending on the question, they can still be expected to answer it.

2. Drawing on the work of Storch (2001), be mindful of student pairings, should you opt to do this as a paired activity. Students who need more support can/should be paired together, but students who need challenge may work better with a student who is working well independently, rather than with another student who needs to be challenged.

3. To help keep track of which card is which (especially after you change the fonts to reflect the global paths provided by each card), use Question 2 on the card to 'mark' the path this card creates for students.

For the most complex card, I put Question 2 as the create your own question prompt. For the least complex card, I put Question 2 as the sentence starter prompt. For the mid-range card, I put Question 2 as a basic question requiring a response.

4. More information about this activity can be found in greater detail on p. 87-88 of my book, but know that the structure/goal of this activity is slightly different than that of the book.

Differentiation as a Structure

Big image
This image is from p. 119 of my book, provides an example of Tic-Tac-Toe/Choice Board that students could work from to complete a portfolio of artifacts following the completion of a book study. As it is shared here, this task is more aligned with what happens in an immersion classroom, but the idea of giving students a range of choices and a structure to guide those choices (i.e., rows, columns diagonals), allows both the teacher and the student to manage the activity. These same tasks could be used instead as learning centres, inform a "Pick 00" list (where points are assigned to each task, and students pick a combination of tasks that adds up to the targeted point total, or shape learning menu (with appetizers, main courses, and desserts [with optional coffee/extension activities] at the end.

Looking for more ideas?

Some of the insight and strategies shared here are expanded on in my book, which seeks to give language teachers various ideas and ways to help support a wide range of student needs in a classroom. You can find out more here (and get access to companion content): http://bit.ly/1IFTIgX

Continue the Conversation!

Share this flyer with colleagues! Consider making the time for a 15-minute chat or some form of online discussion about some of the ideas shared here and your own tips and experiences in supporting students as they develop skills in a new language! Find me on Twitter, and let's chat!


Storch, N. (2001). , 'How collaborative is pair work? ESL tertiary students composing in pairs', Language Teaching Research,5,(1).

Tomlinson, C.A. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Tomlinson, C.A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Other issues of "Leer knee gal anguishes art twerk"

February 2015: Thinking like a language learner/why languages are for all students