How to adjust your worksheets for effective differentiation

All teachers use worksheets.  While we know that using worksheets all the time is not the best teaching practice; we also know that a well constructed worksheet, used purposefully, can be a great tool for independent or scaffolded practice.  Worksheets can also be a valuable formative assessment tool.

Unfortunately, some worksheets involve so much reading (deciphering instructions) that some students are unable to complete them accurately.  Sometimes the worksheet you choose is only appropriate for students who are accomplished readers. Students may give up as they see the task as being “too hard” or teachers see the results and assume that the students do not understand the concept.

How do you adjust worksheets so students with learning difficulties are able to participate and show what they know just like everyone else? Here are some tips!

  1. Blow the photocopy budget

    The size of text on worksheets seems to get smaller every year and students with reading difficulties, dyslexia or vision impairments, are immediately behind the eight ball.  Increase the font and line spacing to make reading instructions and questions as easy as possible.  If supervisors are questioning the amount of photocopying you are doing, tell them it is due to an important strategy for differentiation in your classroom.

  2. Use Different Fonts

    basic fontsInstructions should always be in a bold font while example responses (see tip 3) can be put in italics. This makes it easier to access the text on the worksheet.  Changes to font help students to separate different types of text.  Be warned: too many changes in font type can become very confusing, so ensure that each time the font modulates, from one type/ size to another, it has a clear purpose.

  3. Lead by Example

    Sentence Starters, Modelled Responses and Examples all point students in the right direction.  Students who struggle with receptive and expressive language often don’t know exactly how to put their answer/ knowledge into a format that makes sense to others. Don’t leave them guessing about what you want from them.  Don’t let them use “I didn’t know how to start!” as an excuse for not attempting a task.

    workshet with example

    While this is a worksheet for early years, it is a perfect example of showing students how to complete the tasks.

  4. Use Visual Supports

    Icons for types of questions, small images of required materials and diagrams are all good examples of this.  When appropriate, allow students to draw/ sketch their answers as this will invite reluctant writers to provide an answer.  Your visual learners will thank you too!  Check out my recent post about visuals.

    ten types of visuals

  5.  Don’t use 10 words when 2 will do.

    writer breeds more words than he needsStudents with poor working memory, receptive language difficulties and reading difficulties will struggle to read long directions and questions.  So keep it brief and clear.  A great way to check if your directions are clear is to ask a friend to read it and see if they know what to do.  A friend who isn’t a teacher is the best person to ask.  This ties in well with the Rule of 7 Lesson Planning Challenge!

Admittedly, it is difficult to make all of these adjustments to every worksheet you use in a week.  This is especially true if you are teaching a course you have taught before and you are hoping to re-use the resources.  Each week, I aim to adjust one worksheet/ activity for each class that I teach.  By the end of the semester I have at least 20 modified worksheets that I can use next semester.  I can adjust one worksheet a week next time I teach the course as well.  Every semester the students in my class have different needs so it makes sense that some of the materials will need to be adapted to accommodate them.

There is so much you can do to support the diverse needs in your class.  The ones above will make written materials so much easier to access for most of the students in your class whether their specific needs are related to difficulties with vision, reading, comprehension or even intellectual disability.

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