On this page you will find a variety of best practices and useful strategies. More definitions and explanations can be found on the Glossaries page .


Anchors are meaningful, self-directed activities that students move to when they complete an assigned task. In a differentiated classroom it is inevitable that students will complete their work at different paces. Once students know that they move to an anchor activity whenever they have free time, it becomes an important management strategy as well as an extension of learning.

Anchors may include activities such as:

  • reading

  • journal writing

  • responding to an open-ended question

  • managing a portfolio

  • playing games that reinforce a skill, e.g. word play


When we talk about using drama as an effective strategy to enhance learning, we are not talking about putting on a play for an audience. Rather, we are talking about improvisational role play or simulations that are unscripted and allow the learner to come to new understandings.

Drama is a way for students to access the curriculum using several of Gardner’s multiple intelligences. It has also proven to be an effective teaching strategy through recent brain research and theories of learning.

Jeffrey D. Wilhelm writes, “Through drama, students became a part of the learning process rather than mere observers or inactive receptacles of the rich experience of learning; in this way, their learning was deeper, more sustained, and infinitely more complex.”

Reference: Wilhelm, Jeffrey D. “Drama is Imagining to Learn: Inquiry, Ethics, and Integration through Drama”


Exit cards are an effective way to assess a student’s understanding and to inform teaching. Exit cards are designed to collect feedback about a lesson from students at the end of an activity or class. They are helpful in prompting students to synthesize the information learned in class. An example of an exit card, or as some call them exit “Tickets” or “Slips,” is to ask a student to summarize the key points of the lesson.


Flexible grouping is a teaching strategy where students are informally grouped and regrouped in a variety of ways throughout the school day. Groups may come together according to specific goals, activities, and individual needs.

Flexible groups include:

  • whole class instruction

  • small group activities

  • pairs

  • collaborative learning


Group members write and sketch, graffiti style, their thoughts about the book they are reading. The graffiti may take the form of quotes, responses, comments, connections and sketches. The students are recording their initial responses during or immediately after reading. Later, during literature circles, the graffiti board provides a starting point for further discussion.

(Adapted from Creating Classrooms for Authors and Inquirers, Kathy G. Short and Jerome Harste, Heinemann, 1996)


Graphic organizers are frameworks that allow us to visualize information, thoughts or ideas. They can be useful scaffolds to help students organize, extend and clarify their thinking. Graphic organizers come in many different forms and can be used for a variety of purposes. Brainstorming webs, plot diagrams and story boards, flow charts, Venn diagrams and concept maps are all examples of graphic organizers that students can use individually and in groups to support learning.


Students take on the role of a character and answer questions about their background, behaviour and motivation. This is a great way to flesh out characters and build understanding. Characters may be hot-seated individually, in pairs or in groups.


This Cooperative Learning strategy was first invented by Eliot Aronson in 1971. It is an effective way to help all students understand a new concept or learn new information.

The key component is that each student is an essential part of the process. Jigsaw encourages active engagement, student interaction and communication skills. It works well when working on topics or concepts where there is a large amount of material to cover.

This active strategy takes planning and practice, but students gain confidence and social skills as well as knowledge in a safe and cooperative atmosphere.

Steps :

  1. "Home" groups of 3 or more students are formed (students A, B and C).

  2. In each group, students read about a different but related aspect of the topic. e.g. for a topic about farming, all "A"s may read about dairy products, "B"s about grains, "C"s about fruits and veggies, etc..

  3. All of the "A"s gather together (and all the "B"s, etc.) and discuss what they have learned, deepen their understanding and brainstorm ways to present the material to their home group. They become the experts.

  4. A timeline, summary chart/graphic organizer or guiding questions can be used to establish focus.

  5. The students record the key points of their learning to share with their home group e.g. create a chart, make a visual, write a summary, highlight key points, etc..

  6. Students return to their "home" groups and teach the other members of the group what they have learned.

  7. The home group puts all of the new information together to complete the assignment. This is an essential part of this technique.

  8. In a whole group, students can reflect on what they learned and how each member of the group added to this learning.

Opportunities for differentiation with Jigsaw technique :

  • Pair students with mixed abilities in home and expert groups.

  • Have resource materials at different levels of readability, and in different formats, e.g. internet site, material presented in visual or auditory modes, etc.

  • A student who has difficulty writing could represent what he learns visually, tape record key points, or have someone act as a scribe.


Writing in journals can be a great way for students to generate ideas for writing, respond to essential questions, explore concepts from reading or class discussions, and think critically. At times, teachers may want to guide student thinking by providing prompts to the journal writing.

Reading prompts can be developed to promote a range of responses. For example:

  • To help students identify a problem or issue

  • To challenge assumptions

  • To use what they have learned

  • To consider different points of view

Writing prompts can inspire Quickwrites. Poems, short stories, photographs can all be used as prompts for Quickwrites.

Reference: Tomasek, T. (2009) Critical reading: Using reading prompts to promote active engagement with text, International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. 21 (1), 127-132


A learning or interest centre is a space set aside in the classroom that allows easy access to a variety of learning materials in an interesting and productive manner. Using a variety of materials, designs, and media, students work alone or in small groups to deepen their understanding of the information learned in the classroom. Centres are designed to enhance the learning of concepts, skills, themes, or topics. This learning can take place after a topic is presented to students, during the course of presenting important concepts, or as an initial introduction to material in the text.


A learning log is an on-going way for students to monitor and reflect on their learning. These reflections, focused on a lesson or learning experience that has just occurred, help support understanding and provide a record of ideas and insights. Teachers may use the logs as an assessment tool in order to make decisions about future instruction. In a student conference the log can become the basis for a discussion about new understandings and future goals.

Learning log formats include binders, notebooks, folders, etc.




What did you learn?

What strategies did you practice, if any?

What questions do you have about what you learned?


Mind mapping is a creative, non-linear form of brainstorming and is an excellent tool to help elementary students with reading, thinking and learning. Mind Maps are usually created around a single word or idea, placed in the centre of the map. Key concepts are linked to this central word using visuals, colour, words and lines. Main branches flow backwards and forwards from the central word. Attached to these branches are other branches which represent less important concepts.

Mind mapping can be used to:

  • activate prior knowledge

  • brainstorm

  • summarize or respond to a book

  • discover and express relationships between ideas


Students do not raise their hands to answer questions, but rather have time to think and discuss ideas with a partner or small group before the teacher invites students to contribute. These exchanges lend themselves to more natural interactions in which students might respond to each other instead of just answering the teacher.


Tony Stead’s RAN chart (Reading and Analyzing Nonfiction) is a modification of the older KWL chart. Stead believes that students with limited background knowledge on a particular topic, need the kind of support provided through RAN. Instead of “Know,” “Want to Know,” and “Learned,” R.A.N. has five categories:

1. What I Think I Know

2. Confirmed

3. We Don’t Think This Anymore

4. Exciting New Information

5. Wonderings

From Reality Checks: Teaching Reading Comprehension with Nonfiction K-5 by Tony Stead (2004)


Scaffolding is the temporary support teachers provide during the learning process in order to meet the needs of their students.

Scaffolding techniques include :

  • teacher modeling of the steps in a process

  • activating prior knowledge

  • think-alouds

  • teaching organizational structures, posting plans and schedules

  • providing tools such as graphic organizers, cue cards, checklists, prompts

  • peer tutors

  • highlighting the critical features of text

  • audiotapes of reading material

  • technology e.g. software tools that prompt students to reflect and complete a complex task

  • a model of a completed task or assignment against which students can compare their own work

Instructional Scaffolding to Improve Learning provides a more detailed explanation of scaffolding.

Read more about scaffolding here.


Sketch to Stretch is one idea for using sketches in response to reading.

Directions to students:

  • Make a quick drawing of what a story meant to you.

  • Do not make an illustration of the story, rather it should represent your connections to the text.

  • Share your sketch with a partner, or a small group.

  • Ask them to tell you what they see in your sketch.

  • Share your meaning.

  • Discuss each other’s sketches and discuss the different ideas raised by the sketches.

(Adapted from Creating Classrooms for Authors and Inquirers, Kathy G. Short and Jerome Harste, Heinemann, 1996)


Students are encouraged to write down their thoughts and questions on sticky notes as they are reading. Notes can be placed directly in the book so that students can share their thinking with small groups, or use them as the basis for a reading response.

Students can use a sticky note when they:

  • are surprised

  • want to try a particular technique, in their own writing, that has been used by the author they are reading

  • are not understanding

  • have questions

  • are making a prediction or inference

Students show that they are interacting with a text when they pause to reflect on confusing words or ideas, or to react to interesting text. Using a sticky note is a fast, easy way for a reader to show their thinking as they are reading.


Think-Pair-Share is a short, simple, collaborative learning strategy first developed by Lyman in 1981. Rather than the more traditional question/answer format this strategy encourages the active participation of all students and can be easily incorporated into lessons.

  1. Think: Students think independently about an open-ended question, a specific topic, or an issue, forming ideas of their own.

  2. Pair: Students turn to a partner to discuss their thinking. This step allows students to articulate their ideas and to consider those of others.

  3. Share: Student pairs share their ideas with a larger group, such as the whole class. Often, students are more comfortable presenting ideas to a group with the support of a partner. In addition, students' ideas have become more refined through this three-step process.

Reference: Lyman, F. (1981). "The responsive classroom discussion." In Anderson, A. S. (Ed.), Mainstreaming Digest, College Park, MD : University of Maryland College of Education.


Listen-Draw-Pair-Share is an adaptation of the more common Think-Pair-Share. Here, students draw and label a diagram illustrating what they know about a topic. They share and discuss their drawing with a partner.

The teacher presents new information, such as through a read aloud, an assigned text, a lesson, or a film. Then students alter or redo their drawings to reflect what they now know about the topic. Students again share and discuss their drawings with a partner and explain what changes were made.


Tiered activities are different versions of an assignment created to respond to students' varied readiness levels. All students explore the same key ideas and skills, but the complexity of the activities is adjusted to ensure appropriate challenge.

Possible Ways to Structure a Tiered Lesson:

  • By Challenge Level - Bloom's Taxonomy
    From knowledge, comprehension, application, to analysis, evaluation, and synthesis (from placing information learned on a and using the information learned to create something new)

  • By Complexity
    From simple to complex (reporting information on an issue/topic ... to... reporting different points of view on an issue/ determining a position on an issue and presenting a convincing argument to defend that position)

  • By Resources
    Choose materials at various reading levels and complexity of content

  • By Outcome
    From basic tasks to advanced tasks (presenting what was learned on a topic comparing same topic to today's similar issues and looking at impact, concerns, changes, etc.)

  • By Process
    From basic tasks to advanced tasks (Research consumer information about a product and report findings ... to ... establish criteria for purchasing a product based on information learned about the 3 people who have purchased the product and identify the criteria they used in making a decision when purchasing this product and drawing conclusions)

  • By Product
    Ex. Verbal/linguistic; visual/spatial; logical/mathematical; bodily kinesthetic; musical (student products reflect their learning preferences and interests)

*From: Differentiating Instruction in the Regular Classroom: How to Reach and Teach All Learners, Grades 3-12, Diane Heacox, EdD, Free Spirit Publishing.


The idea behind wait time is to give students time between the asking of a question and the response. By waiting a few seconds longer, more students are able to retrieve the information stored in their memory and formulate a response. The quality of student responses increases when given more time to think.

When wait time is paired with having students then turn and share their thinking with a partner, the benefits are even greater. More students are actively engaged than may be the case with the more traditional question-answer format, where only one or two students are called upon to respond.

Increasing wait time is an excellent strategy for a differentiated classroom and for use with second language learners.


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