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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Tips for Improving your Visuals

Today I’m sharing an excellent article from Shift E Learning.  This particular article is about Maintaining Visual Consistency in eLearning materials however, you can certainly apply these principles when creating materials for your classes.  Whether constructing a single worksheet or an entire workbook, keeping these principles in mind will improve the overall look of your materials.  Consistency in these things helps students to navigate class materials quickly and easily.  Students with learning difficulties that affect executive function will benefit from consistent class materials.  Students with autism wll also appreciate visually consistent materials as they will know what to expect.  Check out the article to see how you can achieve a visually consistent format for your course materials AND how this will help you to highlight important information effectively.

Reading this article can definitely count for 30 minutes of professional reading time!

Happy Teaching

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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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Pictures Speak Louder than Words

Yesterday I received an excellent post from SHIFT E-Learning.  The illustration really stood out to me.  Perhaps I’m a little bit biased – it backs up my previous post perfectly.

Click the image to check out the article for yourself.

The idea

We can give students random points of information or knowledge, but until they make connections between these points they will not be able to apply them efficiently.  The post on SHIFT suggests that teachers need to provide experiences for their students that will help them to make these connections.

Applying this idea in your classroom

You may be teaching an online course or be in another educational setting but this concept applies to all of them.  I showed in my most recent post how I support my students to activate their prior knowledge.  This is one step towards helping my students connect old and new knowledge.  There are other strategies for achieving this and often getting your students to move between the first image (random seemingly unrelated and completely unorganised points) to the second (various facts and information linked to experience).  Here are a few strategies that help students to make these connections and you will probably find you are already using some of these.

  • Use Google Your Brain at the beginning of the lesson to see what students already know about a topic and revisit the “Google” questions to help students to use the new knowledge to fill in any gaps they had at the beginning of the lesson.
  • Provide some information to solve a problem and then ask the students to have a go at solving the problem.  Once students have had a chance to apply this information, debrief and help students to reflect on the experience.
  • Create a game/ activity that involves matching different ways of presenting the same information OR matching real world examples/ situations to the new knowledge they have.
  • Present a problem first and ask students to solve it using their current knowledge and skills.  After a short time – whether the problem is solved or not – provide students with the new knowledge/ skills that could be applied to the problem and then give them another chance to tackle the problem using what they have just learned.
  • Use role plays at the beginning and end of a learning activity which allows students to tune in to a new concept and then reflect on what they have learned.
  • Ask students to create something using the new knowledge or skill and explain the process they used.
  • Outline two very different situations and ask the students to apply their new knowledge of skill to both situations.  Alternatively, you could ask students to compare these situations using attributes that are relevant to the new concept.

See, I told you that you were already doing some of these things.

Bottom Line

Experience (learning through doing) is better than Lectures (learning through listening or even reading) when you want students to both remember and apply your topic.  Reading and Listening are important tools for learning but whatever is read or listened to needs to have an application or experience linked to it for it to be easily accessed later.

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