Unsupported Browser

Ellii may not function properly in Internet Explorer. We recommend using Google Chrome or Firefox instead.

Unsupported Browser

Ellii may not function properly in older browsers. We recommend updating yours to the latest version for the best experience.

The Power of Differentiation: Effective Strategies to Support Learners with Mixed Abilities

July 26, 2023

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my two decades of teaching English, it’s that within every class there will be students with diverse needs. 

Some learners will be strong at reading and writing while needing additional practice with speaking and listening. Others will speak completely fluently but may struggle to write. Then there are the learners who are super organized and self-directed versus those who arrive late and ask to borrow a pen.

As teachers, it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever have a class of students who are all at exactly the same level and learn at the same pace, so it’s essential we figure out some easy ways to adapt our lessons to challenge every learner. 

The good news is that we don’t need to prepare multiple lesson plans for just one class. 

Here are some super simple ways to differentiate your lessons without additional preparation. 

1. Give options

Letting students choose their tasks gives them control over their learning and allows them to set their own pace. 

In each class, there are likely to be "fast finishers." These are learners who you always expect to finish quickly. It can be a challenge to find them something to do while they wait for other learners. 

One option I’ve found useful is giving students a "difficult" or "very difficult" option. For example, if students have ten comprehension questions on a reading text, the "difficult" option would be to answer five, while the "very difficult" option would be to answer ten. 

This way, every learner feels that they have completed the task. By using "difficult" and "very difficult" instead of "easy" and "difficult," each learner also has the perception that they have achieved something worthwhile. 

An alternative to this is having some students work on the "odd" (e.g., 1, 3, 5) task numbers while others complete the "even" tasks. Fast finishers can then go back and complete both odds and evens. 

2. Create an on-the-spot extension task

When I know some of my learners need a little more time to complete a task but other learners have already finished, I quickly think of different extension tasks for the fast finishers. 

This doesn’t mean coming to class with piles of worksheets (though I have found it helpful to have a few Ellii printables at the ready on occasion). Here are a few extension ideas that can be used: 

Extension Activities
  • Read the text in pairs to each other
  • Rewrite the text about themselves (e.g., changing he/she/they to I)
  • Make questions for the rest of the class to answer later
  • Add new words to their vocabulary notebooks
  • Research more information on the topic (and report back to class)
  • Write a few sentences, a blog, a timeline, or a summary based on the text

3. Facilitate peer learning

I often find that students learn best from each other. When learners have the opportunity to explain something to others, they gain confidence in their knowledge and added understanding and memorization. Likewise, learners who receive support from other learners often benefit from an explanation in their first language or simply a new perspective or a simplified definition. 

My students love it when I say "Okay, you are a teacher now. Can you help the other students finish their work?’' You can see a certain pride from all learners, knowing that they are helping each other and supporting themselves. 

When grouping students, consider the mix of abilities. You may wish to have a group of fast finishers working on a more challenging task while learners who need a little more support work on something else. Or it might be helpful to have stronger students support those who take a little longer. 

4. Get digital

One of the beauties of using Ellii content is that every lesson can be delivered in a number of ways. It’s perfect for face-to-face, online, or blended learning. 

It’s also super easy to assign tasks to individual learners or whole class groups, either for homework or as an extension activity in class. View the video below for a quick demo.

This is a great way to give fast finishers an additional challenge and boost their digital skills. 

How do you adapt your lessons to support the diverse needs of your learners? We’d love to know! Please share your ideas in the comments. 

If you liked this post, you may also be interested in these topics: 

Not an Ellii member?

Get unlimited access to 1,000+ lessons and 3,000+ flashcards.

Sign Up


There are no comments on this post. Start the conversation!

Leave a Comment

Log In to Comment Reply

Comment Reply as a Guest
  • **bold**_italics_> quote

    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

    Thinking of joining Ellii?

    Complete this form to create an account and stay up to date on all the happenings here at Ellii.