Nine Tools For Differentiating

tools for differentiating instruction

One of the most common questions I get about differentiating invariably involves organizing and keeping materials separate for your different tiered groups.  So to keep things quick and simple for this post, I wanted to tell you about some of the best tools I have found for differentiating instruction in regards to readiness.

I personally like to organize my reading and math levels by color.   Sometimes I have four levels, but most often, I use three.  Pink is for students who are working well beyond the standard,  orange is for kids who have mastered and are above the standard, green is for students just on level and blue for students who might be below level and need a bit more support.  So for instance, as a simple example:  if the skill we are addressing in math is fluently adding and subtracting,  blue students would be working perhaps JUST on simple addition using manipulatives 0-5, green students might be adding and subtracting 0-5, orange may be just adding and subtracting 0-10 because they can easily master 0-5, and maybe pink would be working on adding 10 more and subtracting 10 less.  These are just some random examples, but you’ll get the idea.


First of all, how do students know to which ‘tier color’ they belong?

Please note, this post includes affiliate links.

Daily 5 In Kindergarten

Well since their level of readiness may change from skill to skill, I never have permanent name cards for centers.  My name cards are always laminated, and I use dry erase marker to erase the names as needed and move them to a different colored tier.  Need a set of name cards for Daily 5?

Daily 5 Rotation Wall

You can get some free ones HERE.  Or if you prefer a smaller set for math stations like the ones in the picture below, you can get those by grabbing them from THIS blog post.   Either way, you will need my first three items for differentiating to get your name cards started.
(Just click any of the pictures below to find out where to get these items or to find out more information.)

Math Station Center Rotations




tools for differentiating

Here’s a little secret that you need to know.  School laminators don’t hold a candle to one of these little laminators.  They are a lightweight, work horse.

best laminator for teachers

I’ve had mine forever (which is an older model) and love it so much that I have one at home and one at school.


great laminating pouches for teachers

You don’t need name brand laminating sheets to have great lamination.  Trust me.  I use bulk sheets from Amazon and they have never disappointed.  They are heavier than traditional school lamination and hold up great.


dry erase markers for classroom

I only use black Expo.  Sorry.  I am may be a bit of a Dry Erase Marker snob.  I don’t like to spend time and frustration on colored dry erase markers that don’t erase from laminate.  Other black brands will work, but honestly, if you’re asking I think Expo is the best.

Now that you have your name cards ready to go, you can either use a magnetic white board to display them or a small pocket chart.  If you’re using magnetic board, save yourself the hassle and frustration of magnetic tape and go straight for the self-adhesive magnetic buttons.  They work TONS better.



Now that you have your students set up to understand their tiers, how do you organize materials at each station?

math station organization

When students arrive at a station, they need to be able to quickly identify what materials they will using so they can quickly get to work.  That means I needed to find quick and simply storage solutions for holding each tier’s specific work.  Depending on the type of activity, I’ve collected a variety of storage options throughout the years, but these are just a few of my favorites.

differentiating instruction - tools


Poly envelopes like these are the best thing I have found for organizing larger, flat items, papers, or response sheets.  They are easy for little fingers to manipulate and keep neat since that have a simple Velcro latch.

tiering with color


And these Dot Stickers are the easiest way to label the poly envelope (or really any container you chose) by color.  They come in many color options, but these are my class colors so I use these.  I used to purchase those little circle stickers that are white and color them in with a colored Sharpie to label my envelopes, but these are the BEST and EASIEST option I have found yet.

differentiating with color


For smaller game pieces or pieces for my sensory bins, for instance, I like these zippered pencil pouches.    Smaller items can lie flat and students can easily distinguish which set of materials they should use.  The other materials in the colors that do not apply to them, stay safely and neatly in their pouch.

organizing differentiated instruction


For small but loose items that might not lie flat, I use colored pencil boxes.

organizing differentiated instruction materials

Students grab the box that applies to their tiered color and open it up to find their materials.

organizing differentiated instruction materials


For games and activities that are a bit larger or bulky, I have a variety of different types of containers, buckets and totes from which to choose.  When I find them in my tiered colors, I just snatch them up.  I have to admit, I may have a bit of a container obsession though.  The fact that I can use them for differentiating justifies it though . . . right?

tools for differentiating



tools for differentiating

And finally, these Flair Pens are great for when you need to identify a group on the go or when documenting.  I often will grab a colored flair pen to keep my notes for each tier clear and organized.

So there you have my favorite tools for tiering my classroom stations.  If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a note.  Also, if you’d like to learn more about differentiating Daily 5 in your classroom, I suggest you click on the picture below to check out that blog post.

differentiating daily 5

Or for Differentiated Math Stations, click on the picture here.


differentiating math stations



Marsha Moffit McGuire

Short little bio goes here. Short, sweet, and lets visitors know about your experience, expertise, etc.