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Differentiated Activities for Middle School Social Studies Students

by Jana Sosnowski

Classrooms are filled with students who come from a variety of backgrounds and have a variety of strengths and weakness. Engaging students at the middle school level includes providing a variety of learning experiences and using various teaching strategies. Teachers who differentiate instruction use multiple in-class activities, a variety of resources and varying assessment methods to appeal to all students' learning styles.

Vary Your Resources

One method of differentiation is providing multiple ways for acquiring the same information to appeal to students' varying learning styles. Assigning a small research project to open a lesson may include opportunity for differentiating instruction. For example, a unit about exploration of the Americas may begin with an assignment to compare and contrast basic information about Christopher Columbus and Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. Students receive a variety of resources to find information about the two explorers, including portions of a textbook, websites, videos, audio recordings and pictures. Each student can choose the sources that most appeal to him to develop a comparison.

Use Different Styles of Note-Taking

There are times when instruction will involve textbook reading and lectures. These portions of the class can be differentiated through a variety of note-taking strategies. Students are given the opportunity to take notes in a traditional outline format or on various types of graphic organizers. A graphic organizer can help students write notes in chronological order, in categories or in webs surrounding main ideas. Organizers allow students who learn visually to create a graphic representation of their ideas. Additionally, graphic organizers may be completed in groups drawing on the strengths of each group member's learning styles. For example, one student may read the text and summarize, one may design the graphic organizer, one may take notes and one may present the information to the class.

Varying Levels of Complexity

Differentiating instruction may also include varying the levels of assignment complexity for different groups of students. Sometimes called tiered instruction, the teacher creates different learning activities for individual work groups based on past performance in class. The key to this type of grouping is to maintain its flexibility in allowing students to move between groups for different activities. For example, in a study of women of the American Revolution, one group may be asked to find basic characteristics of three women, one group may be asked to compare the involvement of two women and one group may be asked to choose one woman and describe the way she impacted the founding of the United States. Each group researches the same general topic, and students with stronger analytical skills are required to use them to create inferences based on facts.

Vary Your Assessments

Another method of differentiating instruction is providing a choice of various assessments that engage different learning styles. After a unit of study, students may write an essay, take a test, create a multimedia presentation, produce a video or write a song. The various assessment strategies allow each student to choose a means of demonstrating understanding that utilizes her strengths. Another means of differentiating assessment is to provide multiple question types on an exam. For example, a test may include multiple-choice questions, open-ended questions, essays or interpretations of graphics as part of the overall grade.

About the Author

Based in Los Angeles, Jana Sosnowski holds Master of Science in educational psychology and instructional technology, She has spent the past 11 years in education, primarily in the secondary classroom teaching English and journalism. Sosnowski has also worked as a curriculum writer for a math remediation program. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in print journalism from the University of Southern California.

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