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How-To: Teach Elementary Science

Ideas for Differentiating Your Science Classroom
Natasha Cooke

Differentiated instruction is an approach to teaching for students with differing interests, learning preferences, or readiness in the same class. First the teacher must recognize students varying academic abilities and react responsively. The intent of differentiating instruction is to maximize each student’s growth and individual success by addressing where each student is and assisting each student in the learning process. Below, are some pointers on how to differentiate your lesson to accommodate all the needs of your students.

Motivation - Visual

At the beginning of your lesson, there’s nothing more eye-catching and enlightening than a stunning visual demonstration and a quick assessment to see the level of your students prior knowledge about the current topic.  Using a SmartBoard, Mimio (which is much cheaper), LCD projector, or a good ol’ DVD player and TV screen you can show your class a clip of an experiment or a real-world application. You can also use movement (i.e. jump like a frog) or sound (i.e. rain stick) to grasp student’s attention to jump start a lesson.

Instruction - Tiering

Tiering is when you adjust your lesson activities in order to maximize learning by readiness, interest, learning profile.

When you tier an activity, experiment, or task, design the full-proficiency version first (Tier II), then design the more advanced level of proficiency (Tier III), followed by the remedial or early-readiness level (Tier I), as necessary. All of your students will meet the same learning standard; however, accomplishing the standard by completing different activities based on their learning need. (Click here for an example of a tiered activity { pdf file}.)

You can tier a lesson based on readiness (academic ability), interest (i.e., newspaper article vs. community service project), or learning profile (i.e., naturalisitc vs. linguistic). Learning profiles can include but are not limited to: Myers - Briggs Personality Styles, Bernice McCarthy’s 4MAT System, Gregorc Scale and Teaching Model, Bramson’s Styles of Thinking, Left Brain vs. Right Brain, or Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. You don’t have to tier every aspect of the lesson. It’s okay for your students to do what everyone else is doing for some parts of the lesson or assessment.


  • Portfolios
  • Essay compositions
  • Journal or newspaper article write-up
  • Reflective analysis
  • Artistic – fine and performing
  • Exit cards
  • Tests and quizzes
  • Project using tri-fold display board
  • Oral presentations
  • Real-life and alternative applications in a field study
  • Group tasks and activities
  • Problem-solving
  • Interactive science notebooks (Students record information and skills they learn, then make personal responses to their learning, followed by teachers responding to students’ explorations. See http://interactivenotebook.jot.com/WikiHome.)
  • Laboratory experiment write-ups using the scientific method

Additional Differentiation Strategies

  • Use anticipation guides.
  • Create personal agendas for some students.
  • Use science centers/learning stations with tieirng.
  • Adjust lab journal prompts and level of questioning to meet challenge levels.

See also Natasha's articles:

Ideas for Science Notebooking Science Notebooking: How to get started

Questions or comments? E-mail me.


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