Chunking for Learning and Differentiation

Chunking is a simple idea.  The teacher breaks information and processes into smaller chunks that are easier for students to digest.  Reviewing each chunk before moving on to the next, also helps students to both remember and connect various chunks, eventually forming a big picture concept or entire process. This fits into Design Question 2 in the Art and Science of Teaching (click here to read more about this).

The curriculum documents we use already has chunks within subjects, concepts and processes.  When a teacher does their own planning s/he chunk the curriculum into units, weeks and lessons.  The best teachers chunk their lessons into manageable portions as well.  This chunking is a simple idea but a difficult skill to master.

Chunking is also an important teaching strategy for differentiating instruction.  Some students need to work on larger chunks while others need to work on smaller ones.  Some students may need to revise some chunks more than others.  Some students need more opportunities to rehearse a skill or steps in a process.

When assigning tasks for students (whether it’s a practice task, informal note taking or assessment task) chunking makes the task more accessible and achievable.  This is especially true for students with special learning needs.  Michelle from Teach 123 posted about an easy strategy for chunking assignments, click here to check out all the details.

folder cut in sections

Cut flaps in the front of a manilla folder so the student can see only one section of the task sheet at one time.



I love this folder idea and I know I will be using it in the next few weeks with my students.   Closing the flaps over completed work allows the student to focus only on the work at hand.  For some students this would minimise distractions and help them focus.  Other students may benefit from being able to see how much work or how many chunks they have already completed.  It gives them a sense of achievement and the confidence to continue.  A piece of card moved down the page to reveal one question at a time could work just as well as a folder with several flaps.


Exams spilt into separate pages.


A colleague of mine gave her students in a secondary maths class one page of the exam booklet at a time.  Instead of students being presented with a 5 page booklet with an overwhelming number of questions, students worked through 2-5 questions and had a short break before moving to the next page.  Students were also allowed extra time to complete exams and dividing the exam into smaller sections helped them to better manage their time.

Chunking new information into smaller pieces is “just good teaching” and many pedagogical frameworks include this facet of teaching.  This “good teaching” is even more important when working with students who have learning difficulties.  Students who experience any of the following difficulties will benefit from chunking strategies in teaching and modifying tasks.

  • Working Memory Difficulties
  • Executive Function Deficits or Delays
  • Receptive Language Difficulties/ impairments
  • Intellectual Impairments/ Disabilities
  • ASD

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Another Great Resource: Teacher Pop

Another Pinterest find, the Teacher Pop blog is hosted by Teach for America and designed to give quick tips for new teachers.  There are also links to other resources that teachers can find useful.  Writers of Teacher Pop are practicing teachers and I give most credence to those who are “in the trenches” just like me.  Topics include everything from rules and routines and setting up the classroom to lesson planning and adjusting for special needs.

Two of their best articles are linked below.  They are well written, to the point and include valuable information that every teacher – new or not – needs to keep in mind when adjusting their classroom practice to suit the special needs of their students.  I recommend checking these out.

Teaching Students with Autism

Accommodations for students with ADHD

Happy Reading and Teaching

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Thoughts about Differentiation

Carol Ann Tomlinson is considered a leading expert on Differentiation.  She says “Excellence in teaching is when we do everything that we can to help students become everything they can.”

“Everything that we can” is a big statement.  How overwhelming! You don’t just want me to do something a little bit extra, you want me to do EVERYTHING?! What are you saying?

The next part of the statement is vital here.  “…WE CAN”. It tells us that we don’t have to do everything that is suggested for students with a particular disability or specific learning need, it means that we do everything we can.  Be reasonable.  Do what is possible.

Remember that one or two well executed strategies will have a greater impact on student outcomes.  There can be hundreds of strategies that are recommended for supporting a specific learning difficulty, but not all of them will be appropriate for the student in your class.   Choose one or two that you can manage and do all you can to make them succeed.  If one of them isn’t working, check on your practice (or how you are implementing it) and if it still isn’t working, try something else.

“Everything we can” means we work at implementing strategies in the best way possible.  “Everything we can” means if something doesn’t work, we try something else.  “Everything we can” means figuring out which strategy will work best for a student and implementing that strategy consistently, day in and day out.  “Everything we can, doesn’t mean doing it all.”

“Everything we can” means doing our best for the success of our students.

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Cult of Pedagogy has a website, blog, Pinterest boards, and probably more social media accounts that you can follow and visit.  I was introduced to Cult of Pedagogy through Pinterest, so here is the Cult of Pedagogy Pinterest Profile for you to check out.

Cult of Pedagogy is worth a look for any teacher or pedagogy coach.  I am certain that you will find something useful for you and your classroom.  Get going: learn something new, think about your teaching practice, discover new strategies and read some real life stories from teachers just like you.

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Differentiation Must-Haves: check out these reources!

Differentiation is difficult.

So far we know that differentiation involves knowing our students learning needs so that we can work out how to accommodate those needs.  Sometimes knowing that you have 8 students in your class with specific learning disabilities and another 6 with social emotional needs and 3 with behavioural issues, doesn’t mean you will know the next step towards supporting each of the students in your class.  While one or two small changes can help a class full of diverse needs, it is important to know the specific ways to support various disabilities/ learning difficulties.  Therefore, we all need to know more about learning difficulties and disabilities: or at the very least, have some go to resources where you can find the information you need.

School Based Resources

You will have learning support staff at your school whose job is to help you differentiate.  The job title will be different based on the country, state or even district, but the goal is basically the same.  They will have knowledge and experience of learning disabilities/ difficulties as well as information about specific students in your classes and how to support them.  Use the expertise of your colleagues.  Ask them for help.  They want to see your students succeed which means they want to help you.

Resource Folder

Secondly, get yourself a resource folder.   Include information about disabilities as well as adjustments and tips from other teachers.  Follow some great Pinterest Boards, join a facebook group, keep a list of webpages or links (there are plenty of ways to do this online, with the cloud, apps on your phone etc), follow some blogs.  I would suggest keeping a hard copy folder as well.  There will be handouts and resources you will create or receive in hard copy form and it will be good to know you can photocopy these at a moment’s notice.

Getting Started

Here is a short list of websites, textbooks and Pinterest Boards to get your resource folder started.  Remember to tap into the resources at your school as well.

This book is a good one to have in your library.

Click here for a printable list of strategies for supporting special learning needs.

A board from Clutter-Free Classroom, remember that differentiation is more than just ‘low level’ students.

The SEN teacher is still my “go to” online resource for information about every disability you can think of – including fact sheets, strategies, printable organisers and links to other online resources- and it is so helpful.

Stay tuned for more resources.  Please share your own ideas and resources in the comments.  The best way to build these resources is to share with each other.  If you have questions about resources or specific disabilities/ learning needs, please ask in the comments and I will endeavour to help you out.

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