Differentiating Instruction

By Nancy Mikhail

I’ve been reading a lot lately about different types of learners and how they learn best. I studied the different learning styles during my credential program, however I’m brushing up on it now because I will be presenting on ‘Appealing to Different Learners’ in September.

Differentiating instruction for students is probably the most important aspect of teaching that I take into consideration when planning lessons. The lesson is for the students, therefore it makes sense to tailor lessons to them in the best way possible. Lessons should not be teacher-directed, or lecture-driven, but rather should involve and engage the students.

When I think of different learners, I immediately think of the top three learning styles: visual, kinesthetic, and students who learn best through reading and writing. Eshna Verma discusses eight different types of learning styles. Seven of them were discovered by Howard Gardner, Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard Univeristy, which include linguistic, naturalist, musical, kinesthetic, visual, logical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal learners. I won’t go through the descriptions of each learner since the article goes into great detail. I want to focus on the practical applications you can use in your classroom to help all types of learners.

When planning your lessons, try to create ones that appeal to at least two types of learners. Most likely, great lessons will appeal to more than one style, but it’s important to make it a goal to appeal to at least two in the beginning. You want to create lessons in which students are able to move around the classroom, collaborate with their peers, use their creativity and critical-thinking skills.

Here are two great activities you can integrate in your lessons as a review or introduction that students will enjoy:

‘Who Am I?’

‘Who am I’ is a great game to play to review people or objects. You will need scotch tape and 3×5 cards. Before the activity, write the names of people on the cards. Tape one name on the back of each student. Don’t allow students to see the name on his/her back. Then students proceed to move around the room asking yes/no questions about their own character or object. They may ask only one question per person. When they accurately identify the person, they may sit down. This would be a great game to play during a history lesson where students can review the different people about whom they learn. Or maybe you can use it for a math lesson to review math terms. For example, each student would have a word on his/her back such as parallelogram, rhombus, and cylinder. The students have to ask questions to describe their shape. This activity appeals to auditory and spatial learners.


Each student has one index card that has some type of information or name on it. For example, say you would like your students to review math definitions. You would have one card with the word and another card with the definition. After you give each student one card, say ‘mix.’ Students then have to trade cards with one another until you say ‘freeze.’ Students read the card they end up, and must find the matching card after you say ‘match.’ Once the cards are matched, the students read their cards and review the definitions. This activity can be tailored to many different lessons. This activity would be great for linguistic, spatial, auditory, and visual learners.

I will be talking about more strategies and activities like these in my upcoming workshop at CM School Supply in Anaheim on September 12th. If you’d like to attend, please register at ​http://www.cmschoolsupply.org/appealing-to-different-learners-091215.html


What kinds of fun and engaging activities do you do with your students?