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Process refers to the way students come to understand essential knowledge and ideas. Carol Ann Tomlinson (2004), one of the most respected voices in differentiation, uses the term "sense making" to describe what happens as students begin to process what they are learning and make it their own.




Sense Making Activities

Differentiation occurs when the teacher offers a variety of ways for students to make sense of what they are learning. When this is combined with different degrees of complexity and appropriate support more students are able to arrive at new understanding.

Students make or do something work on a project, solve a problem, research a topic, add description to a piece of writing, have a discussion, contribute to the success of a group
In a variety of ways through talk, role-play, reading, writing, media, hands-on productions, in groups, pairs and independently
At different levels of complexity or sophistication

for example, in a literature circle:

  • talk about plot and main character in a story
  • discuss the way an author uses symbolism in her/his writing
With different degrees of support from teacher and/or peers scaffolding, minilessons, technology
Using essential skills and information collaborating, creating, analyzing, thinking critically, problem solving, communicating, reflecting, evaluating



There are a number of teaching strategies that help students process what they are learning in ways that work best for them. These include:

  Learning logs Jigsaw Exit Cards  
  Graphic organizers Think-Pair-Share Grouping Options  
  Dramatization Mind mapping Anchor Activities  


Things to Consider when Differentiating Process

How can I get started? What should I be thinking about?

  • What concepts, essential knowledge and ideas do I want my students to know and understand at the end of the learning process ?
  • What kinds of activities will allow students to explore and make sense of these concepts ?
  • Do some of the activities have a real context e.g writing a letter related to a school or community problem, using the writing process to publish an original story ?
  • Are there opportunities for students to be problem-solvers ?
  • What kinds of questions will I ask to get students thinking ?
  • Are students working in a variety of flexible groups e.g. by ability, interest, mixed-ability ?
  • Have I considered student readiness ? Are the tasks just a bit beyond what students can do on their own ?
  • What scaffolding is necessary to support students with more challenging activities ?
  • Have I allowed for student reflection during the learning process, e.g. learning logs, whole-group debriefings, small group processing about what is working, what needs to be done differently, exit cards ?
  • How much time will students need to make sure that they are able to make sense of new learning ?

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Classroom Examples

The projects described in the Into the Classroom section of the website include the content, process and products that lead to a complete learning experience. There you will find effective activities and teaching strategies for helping students work through the process as they make sense of the essential knowledge and understandings found in the ELA program.

Check out the following two projects designed by Quebec teachers. The process includes all of the activities found in the immersion and preproduction sections of each write-up.



Students use a production process to create a video adaptation of one of their favourite stories. Working in groups, students talk, plan, write, design and photograph different frames for each scene. Through the process they extend their thinking about a book as they transform it from written page to video.

See full project


Students create illustrated picture books. They work in small teams to brainstorm, plan, problem-solve, write and illustrate a narrative text in order to better understand how visual and narrative elements work together to covey meaning.

See full project

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