10 Research-based Teaching Strategies to Differentiate Learning.

Researchers Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, articulated the Self-Determination Theory in the 70s.  It is a theory of human motivation that argues that intrinsic motivators are  more powerful than extrinsic motivators such as rewards and punishment. Self-Determination Theory argues that classrooms should aim to ensure students satisfy three primary needs: ownership, competence, and connection.

This theory is strongly aligned to Carol Dweck’s concept of developing a Growth Mindset, as both focus upon building student capacity rather than emphasising deficits in learning or capability. 

It is important to teach students the difference between co-operation and compliance. Co-operation is a learning and working strategy backed by research evidence and necessary in later life. However, every child and adult require a healthy self-concept and, more importantly, self-efficacy. Compliance may make things easy for an adult but is, in the long term, detrimental to a young person’s social, emotional and intellectual development. We need to teach our children and students how to make good choices, rather than simply follow instructions from an adult. Albert Bandura defined self-efficacy as “an individual's belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviours necessary to produce specific performance attainments” (977, 1986, 1997)


1. Learning Intentions

Begin each lesson by writing the Learning Intention on the side of your whiteboard. This focuses students on the reason for the lesson. It should answer any “Why are we learning this?” questions. It is useful to explain why the Learning intention is important. This helps students connect classroom learning to real life. As well as the Learning Intention, explicitly break the intention up into the Steps to achieve this. The more practise students have of breaking up tasks into achievable chunks the better. You can also tick off each step as students work through the lesson, as feedback to students about on task behaviour.

2. Wait Time and hands Down

Teach students not to raise hands for questions and answers. Teach them they all need to think all the time. When you ask a question, ask every child to quietly think about their answer and then write it down in their workbooks. Then randomly ask a student to give their response (use sticks with names or a random name generator). This invests every child in the learning and allows introverted students and others to ‘have a turn’. It also accommodates different thinking speeds. Finally, it teaches polite, turn taking behaviour.

3. Provide choice (See also 10. Learning Stations)

Provide a range of ways students can achieve the same result. Perhaps they might work independently or in pairs? Perhaps they might read the work or listen to an audio? Vary choices about how they work and what they produce as often as you can. The Choice might be as simple as students being able to begin independent work when they have seen sufficient teacher explanation. Or you might provide a variety of web links that explain a task, and students might select which or how many they watch. Final products might also be flexible, a written essay or online essay with hyperlinks? A class talk or Podcast?

4. Multi-Sensory Instruction

Teachers know how vital this is for early childhood students, but we forget how helpful it is for all students. Building in multi-sensory instruction can take many forms: tapping out rhythms when studying poetry, creating revision raps in any subject. Vary class environment by sitting outside in the sun to complete a task or introduce manipulatives to work through a problem. If you can’t think of multi-sensory ways to study an idea, why not make this the homework task for your students? Explain the concept and see how many ways your students can think of to engage the senses! Don’t forget incorporating movement into learning as much as possible. Manipulatives don’t need to be expensive either: Fruit loops can be great for Maths. 

5. Modelling

Remember how you were taught to ride a bike? The most effective way to teach someone how to do just-about-anything is to use the I Do, We Do, You Do, modelling strategy.  The number of times needed for each phase may vary for different students, so those who need to see I do, or We do, might move to a side of room learning area for longer while those ready to begin You do, can return to their desks. This allows students to work at their own pace and builds in the choice required to build self-efficacy.

6. Chunking

Teach students how to break large tasks into smaller, more easily achievable tasks (Chunking)

Do this explicitly with students. Show them on the board how to break up a long abstract question into more easily achievable tasks. An example is attached after the references. This is vital to do with more complex activities such as research or experimentation.

7. Use Graphic Organisers

Graphic organizers are visual tools. They show information or the connection between ideas. They also help kids organize what they’ve learned (such as into a TEEL Paragraph plan). Teachers use these tools to “scaffold,” or provide support for the learning process of learners. (It’s the same idea as when workers put up scaffolding to help construct a building.)

8. Use the Whiteboard

Once you have broken down the learning task for the lesson, write it on the whiteboard, step by step. This will remind students how to break down larger tasks and keep them on task. It is useful to have students write these in their workbooks and tick off each one as they finish. This is particularly useful if they may not finish the task in the lesson and need to complete it for homework. If you begin each lesson by writing the Learning Intention and the Steps to achieve this, you can also tick off each step as students work through the lesson.

Remember also to use your whiteboard to record key ideas from the lesson. Use the opportunity of collating student ideas, to explicitly teach outlining strategies and concept webbing strategies

9. Co-operative Learning: Jigsaw

Most teachers have seen the benefit of the Jigsaw. Jigsaws allow students to work to their strengths. Research shows that students learn more effectively when working together rather than apart, and it is also known to improve self-confidence in students. The jigsaw technique is especially effective because all students are responsible for one another’s learning, and each group member has something equally important to contribute to the group in order to make the task a successful one. Students are exposed to and use many skills throughout this strategy: Communication, problem-solving skills, cognition, and critical thinking -- all of which are essential for a successful academic career. A great video explaining the strategy can be found at https://tinyurl.com/yxn3n94r

10. Differentiated Learning: Learning Stations

This strategy has students move through a range of different activities designed to achieve the learning intentions. Learning stations can be designed to enable students with diverse learning needs. Teachers can set up each station where students will be able to complete the same task, but at the level and style that is specifically designed for them or designed to use different learning modes. For example to begin a unit on a topic, one group might brainstorm ideas in response to something to watch, one group might brainstorm ideas in response to something they read, one group might brainstorm ideas in response to images, one group might brainstorm ideas in response to sounds or music. Then you might jigsaw members of each station and ask them to compare their ideas.



Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191-215.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman



Most research or examination questions require you to do quite specific things. It is useful to take enough time to fully analyse the question. Pay close attention to the key verb in the question and follow this instruction closely.

For example

Describe the protagonist in [name of text]. Explain how and why this character changed during the [text]


  1. Identify protagonist
  2. Describe personality, background, character, behaviour, values etc at the beginning of the text.
  3. Quote and explain evidence for this description
  4. Explain how these changes and why this change occurs
  5. Quote and explain evidence for each change
  6. Describe personality, background, character, behaviour, values etc at the end of the text.
  7. Quote and explain evidence for this description




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