How to Differentiate Instruction in Your ELA Block

Differentiating Instruction in your ELA block.

Today’s blog post is all about how to differentiate instruction in your ELA Block. We touched briefly on differentiation in yesterday’s post, but today we’re going to study more in-depth on how to make differentiation work in your ELA block. This is all about reaching kids at all levels and giving them instruction to meet their needs. So, let’s dive in!

Don’t forget, if you want to use a workbook study guide to help follow along with these notes, download it here!

How to differentiate instruction in your reading and writing block. This blog post talks about about reading and writing differentiation in your ELA block.

Grouping Kiddos

There are several different ways to group students to reach their needs. First, you should decide if you want heterogeneous or homogenous groups. Heterogenous groups are students of mixed ability. Homogenous groups are students with similar abilities. There are benefits to both types of groupings and opportunities for both during your ELA block.

Kagan strategies are an excellent method for choosing heterogeneous groups. Kagan student grouping is beneficial for whole group lessons, small group activities, and projects, partnering, etc. It allows students to work with students who may not be in their reading small group and who have different strengths. Kagan grouping and strategies ensure each student contributes to learning and understanding.

Homogeneous groupings are more valuable during guided reading groups, small group direct instruction, skill-specific group or partner activities, etc. These groups can be created based on skill deficits, reading levels, reading foundational skill priorities, etc. When you have students with similar needs, you can differentiate the instruction very effectively.

Flexibility & Fluidity

When using either form of student grouping, fluidity and flexibility are important. Your groups should not remain the same for the entire year. As students grow and their needs change, groups should grow and change as well. Ongoing assessment and evaluation will assist with group fluidity. I will talk more about assessment later in this post.

How to differentiate instruction in your reading and writing block.

Small-Group & Guided Reading

Learn the benefits of how to differentiate instruction in your ELA block with Small-Group and Guided Reading instruction! First, you’ll be working with fewer students, so naturally, you will be able to focus your attention and instruction more directly. Second, if students are grouped homogeneously, you will be able to provide intervention, remediation, or even extension in areas that will benefit the students most greatly.

For example, if you are teaching a lesson on story elements, and you have a group of students who struggled with a sequence of events in a previous lesson (which you assessed,) you will be able to intervene. Establishing further direct instruction in a small group on the sequence of events will be more beneficial. The rest of the students may not need help in this area, so you will be working on something else (that they need) in each of your other groups.

Another Example

 If you use guided reading groups, and five of your students are at a level K, those students would benefit from working together during Guided Reading groups.  This way, are all practicing their literacy skills in the correct ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development.)

Now, you may have five students who start in your level K Guided Reading group. One of those students may have had a bit of summer regression, but quickly assesses into a Level M. Or, perhaps you are completing that unit on Story Elements with your group four students who need help with characters. However, next unit, you are working on Nonfiction Text Features and those four students don’t have the same needs. Your small groups or guided reading groups will need to be fluid as well. Allot for a time in your ELA block for frequent informal assessments and reading evaluations. This will let you know who in your groups may need to move into a more suitable group.

You can provide differentiation with your small groups even when those students are working with you! Like I mentioned in a previous post, you can provide students with differentiated materials to work within their literacy work stations or daily five rotations. **Color Folders are key.** It is just another opportunity to tailor instruction to student needs!

How to differentiate instruction in your reading and writing block and documentation.


When working with your small groups, or even with one-on-one instruction, it is important for you to keep documentation. You will also want to track what material and activities have been differentiated in those work stations too! This will provide you with a running record of what you have done with each group and what instructional differentiation has been provided in their small group rotations. It will also help guide your future instruction and grouping decisions.

(A free organizer similar to this is available for download if you join my email list! If you want a tracking sheet like this for your small group differentiation, download it here, or continue reading this blog post and another sign-up will be at the bottom!)

How to differentiate instruction in your reading and writing block and keep track of fluency with assessment documentation.

Assessment Documentation

Assessments and data will affect differentiation. As I mentioned previously, students can be grouped in many different ways. A few of those will be based on assessments. These could be fluency assessments, STAR or MAP tests, or CCSS Unit assessments.

Many schools use MAP or STAR tests to track student proficiency and growth. These scores can provide information that will help you differentiate your instruction. Tests like STAR and MAP give a snapshot of student mastery, including which skills students may need the most remediation with. These tests help when planning your skill groups. You can pull students who need extended instruction with similar skills.

Fluency assessments are also helpful when planning differentiation. It is essential to have an ongoing way to track student fluency. While tracking student fluency, you will be able to discover which students need some extra work with fluency.

Start Week One

In your teacher binder, keep record of students’ running records and fluency reads, one-on-one instructions, small group activities, intervention, remediation, extension, or any differentiation that the student has been given. This is a way to keep track of a student’s progress with the skill mastery chart in your binder. If you have a para-educator or certified volunteer, make sure they are documenting their practices, as well.

We all know how long the referral process is for a student in need. You may be referring a student for intervention services, speech, special education services, gifted and talented, etc.  If you start the practice of documentation on day one, you will need to go no further than your teacher binder.

How to differentiate instruction in your reading and writing block including dealing with struggling students.

Struggling Readers

Differentiated instruction is not just for your struggling students. All students will need instruction tailored to their needs!

Struggling students need remediation and repetition. Likely, in your small groups, you will be working on literacy skills with group-specific leveled texts. So, that “Level K” Group would be using a Level K text and working on skills and strategies that fill the gaps.

These students need more time and practice with certain standards and skills.  But, your students will also need to be able to break down grade-level material to comprehend it. They will need strategies to increase their chances of understanding material that is on grade level.

In the picture is an on-grade-level text: King Midas’ Touch. Let’s say that your entire class is required to read and answer questions with texts like this one.  As a part of your differentiation, you can scaffold the students’ learning, with teacher guidance, highlighting text, “chunking” or “blocking,” sticky note retells, graphic organizers, and more! When they learn strategies like these, they will be able to help themselves differentiate! How to differentiate instruction in your ELA block just became more actionable.

Advanced Students

Unlike struggling students, your advanced kiddos do not need remediation, and they do not need repetition. These students need enrichment and depth. They need materials that challenge their mind, and that offer them opportunities to think critically. They may need the same skills as the other students in your class, but use them with a higher level text.

In the picture, you see an interactive notebook activity. This activity could be done with all of your students and still be differentiated. The differentiation is provided in the text they are working with! Varying texts is a great way to adapt your lessons and activities to fit students’ needs.

Graphic organizer for keeping track in small group.

This graphic organizer is a simple way to track the activities you are doing in small group each day! It is as simple as keeping a stack of sticky notes at your small group table. Record your notes, stick it to the side, and at the end of small group rotations, you can stick them back in your binder! I hope you’ve found my tips on how to differentiate instruction in your ELA block helpful!

This download is also similar to a FREE download you’ll get in a 30-page download. If you sign up for my email list, you’ll get 30 pages of planning freebies. Then, you’ll get 3 follow-up emails with more strong ELA content and freebies. Download with the box below to get the 30 planning pages and join my email list.

Follow here for the next post in the blog series…

How to differentiate instruction in your reading and writing block. This blog post talks about about reading and writing differentiation in your ELA block.

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