How to Differentiate Instruction in Math without the Stress of Creating New Resources


Differentiate instruction in math without stress

Differentiating math instruction can often feel like just another thing to do. You may believe that you don't have time to differentiate or perhaps you think you can't make it work with the resources you have been given. I will debunk those misconceptions in this post. You do have time, and I would even argue, that you are probably already differentiating instruction more than you think. You can differentiate without the stress of creating new resources. According to Westman (2020), "[Differentiating instruction] may be the single most important instructional move right now." In today's environment, especially, we must explore and reflect on our students' needs, and differentiate instruction in order to engage students in a productive and positive learning environment that will lead to greater math confidence and higher achievement. Are you ready? Let's dive in!

Case made for differentiated math instruction


Consider Bloom's Taxonomy when planning open-ended math activities. When students engage in higher order thinking, they are better able to self-regulate and self-adjust their learning based on difficulty level or personal interest. 

Bloom's Taxonomy

Assigning tasks that involve remembering and understanding are an important foundation, but we mustn't stop there. Ask students to create an expression with set parameters, select an equation that does not belong with the others and justify their answer, or develop and test a conjecture about patterns they see within a discovery lesson. 

create an expression example

Students will be able to self-differentiate because of the wiggle room within the assignment. Some students may create a basic expression while others will challenge themselves with more. When identifying an equation that does not belong, I accept any choice as long as there is a logical and reasonable explanation for why that choice was made. The flexibility in problems like these allows students to think freely and engage in the process without worrying as much about the final answer. When discovering concepts in math, some students will stick with concrete thinking and write down observations, while others may be able to extend their thinking to formulas or connections between concepts. Students should be encouraged to work to the best of their ability. With practice and encouragement, students can work to climb Bloom's Taxonomy throughout the year.


Copy two different worksheets and allow students to choose. This can 100% be done with existing resources. For example, after a couple of days of simplifying algebraic expressions, offer two versions of in-class practice. The first may have multiple steps, but positive numbers only in order to remove the integer barrier for students who struggle with that sub-concept. This will allow them to instead focus on the new concepts of distributing then combining like terms. There will be other opportunities for them to incorporate integers, but for the sake of mastery the new concept it is helpful to remove that barrier. The second option may include negatives for those students who feel ready. They can take on the added challenge of simplifying algebraic expressions with negatives, especially if they have already mastered the sub-topic, integers.

Differentiation Pin


Kuta software takes the stress out of differentiation by quickly creating the worksheets you need with just a few clicks. The free version has a library of hundreds of ready-made math worksheets with answer keys included. Differentiate by choosing two very similar lessons. For example, print copies of the Two-step equations worksheet and the Multi-step equations worksheet. You can allow students to choose or monitor more closely using another strategy, Level Up. In the Level Up strategy, all students start with the simpler worksheet. Some students will continue to work only through this practice throughout the remainder of the time. Other students may choose to level up. If they get 5 problems correct in a row, they may choose to level up and move on to the more challenging problems. They first demonstrate mastery, and you can have them check in with you if you prefer, then they take on the next set of problems. Bonus: have multiple levels available so students can continue to level up more than once.

kuta software image

There is also a paid version that allows you to customize the worksheets more extensively with just a few clicks (see the above image). If your district has allotted funds for math technology, this may be something to consider investing in.


You introduce a new math concept at the front board using a couple of models. That's enough information for most of the students to be able to jump right into a practice activity with little support. Scaffold the new material for a pre-identified subset of students by working with them in a small group. In the small group, continue the instruction and have students demonstrate "try" problems in front of you. This is an opportunity for you to use different models and explanations. Make the concept more concrete, use manipulatives, draw pictures, or whatever makes sense for the particular math topic in order to make it more accessible to students who may have skill gaps or general difficulties within the unit. Once they have had their aha moment, send them back to their seat to proceed with the rest of the class. This is a great way to differentiate for students with different learning styles or who need a somewhat slower pace to get acquainted with the math concept.

Now you know that you can differentiate instruction in math without the stress of creating new resources! 

  1. BE STRATEGIC in the types of questions you ask. Higher order thinking questions naturally allow students to self-differentiate.
  2. GIVE STUDENTS CHOICES. With some coaching and discussion, you can train your students to correctly identify which version of the practice they should choose.
  3. UTILIZE SOFTWARE that auto-populates math practice worksheets for you. Choose your topics and print.
  4. SCAFFOLD MATH for your students by providing additional support with whom it's most needed.

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