Easy Differentiation Strategies To Spice Up Your Math Lessons

easy differentiation strategies to spice up your math lessons

Are you looking for easy differentiation strategies to increase engagement in your math lessons? Meeting the needs of all of your students is definitely a challenge, but it can be done!

What is differentiation?

Differentiation is an instructional term for tailoring your lessons to meet the individual needs of your students. But it doesn’t mean teaching 30 different lessons at the same time! Differentiation strategies make it so you can scaffold your lessons and meet your students at different levels in a way that’s easy and manageable for you. 

Imagine a garden with different types of flowers – just like flowers need different amounts of sunlight and water to grow, students need different ways of learning to thrive. So, differentiation is like being a gardening expert for your students! It means finding various ways to teach the same lesson so that everyone can understand and succeed. As a teacher, you use different tools and strategies to make sure every student blossoms and reaches their full potential. Just like how you wouldn’t fertilize or prune all the flowers the same way, you don’t teach every student the same way – that’s differentiation!

Easy differentiation strategies: Mild, medium, or spicy?

One way I’ve been keeping students engaged is with a spicy new differentiation strategy I’ve been experimenting with. Lately, I’ve been designing my math lessons with 3 different levels: mild, medium, and spicy. To differentiate easily, I allow my students to choose their own levels between mild, medium, and spicy. Here are some pictures of a differentiated warm-up I did with 5th graders:

A picture of a differentiated math warm up projected onto a screen
A student working on a differentiated math warm up

You can see that it’s really simple and low prep, but wow engagement is through the roof! I’ve done this in 4 or 5 classes now and it’s been a homerun every time.

When I introduce this easy differentiation strategy of mild, medium, and spicy I tell my students that they can choose whichever level they feel. I do NOT frame it as easy, medium, and hard as those contain negative associations. I also tell my students that they can change levels if they’d like. You wouldn’t believe how many students do MORE work because they want to try the different levels!

In the picture above I’m doing differentiated spice levels with a math warm-up, but I often do it for math independent work as well. To do that, I assign the same page from the workbook but choose different problems for each level. Here’s an example below from a Spanish dual language class:

Differentiated independent work

Again, you can see that this is very simple. I used the typical bookwork, but instead of asking all of the students to do all of the problems, I broke it into chunks. Like most textbooks, the problems in this particular math book get progressively more complex. Hence I assigned the simpler problems at the beginning to the mild level and the more complex problems to the spicy level. 

Easy differentiation strategies: Your ready-made solution

To keep the momentum going, I made 2 digit multiplication mystery pictures that use these easy differentiation strategies. There are 5 Google sheets, and each sheet gives your students the choice of mild, medium, and spicy for a total of 15 mystery pictures. It also includes student handouts to show their work with the difficulty levels pre-printed.

You can see those 2 digit multiplication mystery pictures in English, Spanish, or a bilingual bundle with both on TPT.

2 digit multiplication differentiated digital mystery pictures
2 digit multiplication differentiated worksheets

If you try my spicy new easy differentiation strategies, let me know how it goes!

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