How to Differentiate in Math Part 2: The Approach & Need for Choice

How to Approach Differentiating Instruction in Mathematics: 

  1. Focus Instruction on Key Concepts
  • One of the most effective ways to differentiate in mathematics is to focus on the key concepts (*big ideas) rather than a narrow, specific curricular outcome.
  • To do this try to cluster specific curricular outcomes and use them as learning goals over a few lessons (if this isn’t already done via a curricular continua (ex: Comox Valley Schools – School District No. 71 curricular continua). 
  • Examine curricular outcomes in other grade levels to understand what the key concepts are (ex: meanings of multiplication)
  • “It is impossible to differentiate too narrow an idea, but it is always possible to differentiate instruction focused on a bigger idea” (Small and Lin, 4) 

  1. Use Instructional Trajectory or Learning Landscape for Planning
  • It is important to map out a sequence of instruction that identifies key mathematical concepts (clustered specific outcomes) that students need to learn.
  • This allows Teachers to easily pre-assess students readiness, recognize their mathematical thinking/talents and plan out a sequence of instruction for students that aligns with where the student is at in that sequence.

  1. Provide Choice
  • If a teacher is uncomfortable with differentiating instruction in the “main lesson” they can always provide some choice in follow up activities where students practice the ideas that have been taught.
    • Example of differentiating practice activities:


More Good Questions: Great Ways to Differentiate Secondary Mathematics Instruction, by Marian Small and Amy Lin, Hawker Brownlow Education, 2011, pp. 1–10. 

“Differentiating Mathematics Instruction.” Jessica Kanold-McIntyre, Solution Tree Blog, 26 Feb. 2019, 

“Differentiating Mathematics Instruction.” The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat Government of Ontario, Capacity Building Series, Government of Ontario, Sept. 2008,

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