This year there is more of a focus on differentiation than ever. The idea is that not all of the students need to be doing the same thing at the same time. But how does one make that work in the regular classroom? I have a few ideas:
1. Have students work in centers (stations)
In Middle School, I create centers by placing all the items that students need into containers/baskets. The students don't move, just the containers.
I made centers for each area of essay writing:
Focus - There are 4 activities that I can assign to students - one for purpose, one for audience, one for task, and one for all 3 areas. This way students who need more practice in a particular area can get it and those that have a pretty good grasp on this can work with all 3 areas at once!
Organization - There are 4 activities for the structure of an essay:
1. Critical vocabulary like "cite" and "commentary" foldable
2. Hands-on organization of sentence strips into an essay
3. "Grading" an essay
4. Task cards for introduction practice
They're all different activities for different needs. Maybe all of my students need to complete all of these centers or maybe some students only need some of these centers. What do I do with those those don't need them all? I have them create something new that would help others learn these skills. For example, I have them make an essay organization poster with key vocabulary.
Support - These stations focus on evidence, elaboration (commentary) and opposing claims. I set this up as a friendly competition. Students work in groups and are looking for the best evidence and creating the best commentary for their claims to win!
Conventions - Complete sentences, capitalization, and punctuation are the 3 centers I made for this area as they are the most common areas of need. In Florida, these areas only count as 20% of the grade whereas the Focus and Organization count as 40%, and the Support (evidence and elaboration) count as 40%.
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2. Scaffolded Planning Sheets
Some students need a lot of visual cues, while some need very little. I teach all my students the same basic structure, but some students use a planning sheet with more scaffolding and others with less.
3. Interactive Guided Notes
Most scaffolded: Pre-printed pictures and pre-printed content. Students highlight key words.
Less scaffolding: Pre-printed pictures and fill-in-the-blanks for content OR Positionable picture flaps and pre-printed content
Least scaffolding: Positionable picture flaps and fill-in-the-blanks for content.
Now every learner can get what they need to be successful while all still learning the same content!
These are my top 3 ideas to differentiate essay writing lessons. Your students will love the variety and different kinds of interaction and I think you will love the results!
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