Doing the Differentiation Dance

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Differentiated instruction. Right now, those words seem to be the current “buzz words” of education. However, differentiated instruction has existed since the one-room schoolhouse age when the teacher had to meet the needs of many children at all different ages. Trust me, college students research and apply differentiated instruction a lot while creating very detailed lesson plans with tiered activities! However, by the time we become actual teachers in the classroom, planning and implementing differentiated instruction can be a much more rigorous task.  It’s almost like an artistic dance…while juggling at the same time.

I always advise people to start small. I know this can be difficult with the changes in education. There is something “new” to implement every year. However, concentrate on one thing and make it “beautiful!” It’s so easy to implement something and have it crash and burn in such an ugly way that you want to cry for hours on your classroom carpet. Before something can be beautiful, it takes time to grow and cultivate. So, cultivate one thing at a time.

How about starting with differentiated reading centers? Teachers are really good at differentiating small group reading instruction, but how about those centers? Are your students struggling with centers? Could the reason be that some centers are not for everyone? Are they too hard or too easy for some kids?

Here are some tips for planning and implementing differentiated reading centers:

1. Assess your students periodically. Believe it or not, it’s okay to move students up and down levels throughout the year. If a child is demonstrating success in a guided reading group, then move that child! Also, your groups don’t always have to be based on guided reading level. Sometimes, it is necessary to have flexible reading groups based on skill. Change it up!

I use the Fountas & Pinnell BAS and Words Their Way assessments for guided and flexible groups:


Fountas & Pinnell BAS Kit                   

Words Their Way Assessment

Words Their Way Elementary Spelling Inventory


2. Decide on the types of reading centers for your class. Some examples of researched and productive centers are: listening center, word building/phonics center, writing center, vocabulary center, technology center, word wall center, fluency center, buddy reading center, read to self center, etc. Some teachers choose to integrate the Daily 5 Centers in order to make sure all students participate in each center every day.

     Here are my differentiated reading center examples at this time:

Differentiated Centers - Low Group

Differentiated Centers - Medium Group

Differentiated Centers - High Group


3. Set up an organized system for students, so students know what are their centers and their locations.

Each colored folder represents a specific reading group for differentiation:

Reading Center Area

Reading Centers Station

Reading Center Bin with Leveled Color Bins

              Reading Center Bin               

Leveled Color Envelopes

Leveled Folders by Color


4. Provide accountability for the students. Students can even self-assess themselves!

     My students love using their Literacy Center Accountability forms:

Literacy Accountabilty Form


5. Have student exemplars for each center activity. The exemplars provide a visual example for the students, and it keeps them from asking you questions while you are working with a guided reading group!

    I just put my student exemplars in white binders:

Exemplar Bins

Exemplar Organization

Exemplar Binder

Student Exemplar Binder

Highlight the Vowel Exemplar  Voc Quiz Maker Exemplar Spelling Mural Exemplar

Like you, I am still cultivating my differentiated reading centers. I love getting ideas from other educators on how to make my centers “grow.” I hope you could find some ideas for differentiated reading centers in this post!  Let’s dance the differentiation dance together!

Websites for Center Ideas: (Florida Reading Center) (Reading Street Resources) (Technology Centers) (The Daily 5) (The Busy Teacher’s Cafe) (Laura Candler)