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I have a confession.

I don’t like the ‘red amber green worksheet’ system of differentiation.

There, I said it!

Phew! I feel better for getting that off my chest and out loud!

That’s not to say I don’t use it where appropriate. I just don’t like it.

Maybe i’m the only one but i’ve come to a point where I feel there must be a better way.

I can’t help but feel that giving pupils an easier choice from the outset undermines their own confidence and (in their eyes) can look like your confidence in them has eroded.

“Uh, well, thicko over there can’t do the work I want so they can have the baby sheet!”

Not our intention of course but we have to be aware that the pupils in front of us have their own insecurities and their own little behavioural quirks (as do we!).

But what about the other extreme? Giving those deemed more able harder work could lead to a false impression of their abilities. Think of all the little problems that rear their heads when going through the basics (not adding denominators comes to mind! *tears hair out*) .

So what are the other options then? Clearly there is a need to differentiate within a class! Well, i’ve spent some time thinking, planning, playing, breaking and breaking down* and have come up (RE: borrowed/stolen) with a few activities that may aid you in differentiating differently!

* all efforts may be greatly overestimated on my part.

Where possible i’ve tried to explain my reasoning for how I have used the resource to differentiate.

Differentiation by questioning

So yeah, questioning. Here are a few of my favourite question chains.

– (about a conjecture) Is this sometimes, Always or Never true?

Great question that allows pupils to make a decision based on their current understanding. You could always pair up opposing views and allow them to try and convince each other. Which leads us nicely in to…

– Can you convince me…

I love this one! I find it a much better way of asking a pupil to explain their answer. You’re challenging them! It’s made all the better by replying “still not convinced” when given an unsatisfactory answer. Challenge the little darlings! Make them work harder than you! From a differentiation standpoint it allows you the opportunity to pass questions on. “Stannis, convince me Tyrion’s answer is true/ false/ etc”)

– Can you think of any exceptions?

I don’t usually ask this of a full group. I save this gem for one of my regular classroom wanders. It’s a great extension question for those who need a little stretching. It’s especially nice if there are no exceptions since it can get the pupil thinking outside the box on a particular topic. (Can you convince me there are no exceptions? 😉 )

– What maths skills do we need in order so solve this?

Can give a class a nice clue to solving a problem without actually giving a clue at all. A nice tool for allowing weaker pupils to access more complicated questions.

– Could you represent this in a diagram? (think along the lines of  x^2+2x)

Again, not something I would use this with a whole class but can it be really effective at stretching the best.

– What has changed/ What has stayed the same.

I’ve talked about this one before. It’s a lovely little way of getting a pupil to consider a different side to a question. It can (and has) allow(ed) pupils to access questions that have stumped them previously.

Focus your worksheets (avoid ‘scattergunning’ your questions)

I’ll give an example using expanding double brackets for this one.





Expanding a bracket is one of those skills that can just be turned into a process with no understanding required. However with a small change to the questions you are expecting to be completed some of your brighter students may discover the rules for themselves. A great extension to this would be to add an extra bracket onto the end of the questions (i.e. (x+4)) and ask the pupils to predict how the sign will affect the answer.

More open tasks!

Find the area of the shaded square…

shaded square

Allow your pupils to use any technique they want to find the answer.

prompt them to STBO. Get them measuring to convince themselves. Get them to estimate. Get them to draw on the diagram. Allow them the opportunity to explore and go crazy. Some bright spark in your lesson will work out the area of the triangles and remove them from the big square. Get those bright sparks to try another one. And another one until they are satisfied they have found a technique that works (square minus the 4 triangles). Introduce algebra. Allow them to make mistakes. Ask them to work out where they went wrong (no point you telling them! (not at first anyway)). Get the sharper students to devise cunning clues to give to the weaker ones. scaffold Scaffold SCAFFOLD! *heavy breathing* You never know! one of the little one’s might even discover Pythagoras.

These tasks can be hard work. Especially at the planning point. However once they’re done, they’re done forever and oh so easily adaptable!


My check list for differentiated work:

– Can EVERY pupil make a start on the same piece of work?

– Can EVERY pupil make some progress?

If the answer to the two questions is ‘yes’ then I usually feel a little better.


Wow! i’m in a ‘rambly‘ mood today! (pity my pupils!)

I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on the matter. Maybe i’m in the wrong. Maybe i’m in the minority. Either way if any of this is useful then I feel it was worth it!

Andy x

p.s. I’d LOVE to hear your pedagogical confessions! I can’t be the only one railing against certain preconceptions!