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"Four Cards" Differentiation

Each week, Instant Meeting presents an idea or activity that you might use to make staff meetings more interesting, teacher-centered, educational, or fun.

Brief Description/Purpose

This activity helps teachers develop classroom differentiation skills by focusing on students who might benefit from slightly different approaches.

Materials Needed

  • cards (4- x 6-inch index cards of different colors work best), four cards per teacher

Time Required

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This activity is spread over two staff meetings; it is part of the focus of each meeting.

"Instant Meeting" Idea

For this activity, you will need to decide on four "types" of student who might thrive by using slightly differentiated instruction strategies. Choose four types of students to whom you think your teachers can most closely relate. You can create this list of types before the meeting, or you can ask teachers to assist you in creating the list. The list might include types such as the following:

  • Has difficulty paying attention, is easily distracted
  • Has visual learning disabilities, has difficulty following written instructions
  • Is exceptionally bright, an independent learner who is always first to finish a task but who does not use free time wisely
  • Is not motivated, has difficulty staying on task without supervision
  • Doesn't follow verbal instruction well, but is independent

Note that the children represented by the statements above are likely to be found in every classroom. They are not necessarily students who carry a "special education" label. As a matter of fact, it is more than likely that they are not classified "special."

Arrange teachers into small groups and have them discuss the four types of students. Most teachers probably have experience with each type and can offer ideas for ways to differentiate instruction so that each child will thrive. Teachers will write the ideas expressed in their small group on the appropriate cards.

Bring together the small groups so each can share techniques that might be used to teach a lesson to each of the four different types of students. Teachers can add more ideas to their cards as their peers express them.

Over the course of the next month, instruct teachers to keep the four cards in their minds and close at hand. As they prepare and teach lessons, the ideas and techniques written on those cards will be on their minds and might even help guide them to improve their abilities to include each of those types of students and to help them thrive in their classrooms. As the month goes on, teachers are likely to think about and try other techniques that might not have come from the group.

Next Staff Meeting
Ask teachers to bring the cards with them to the next staff meeting. Talk about

  • how their awareness of the four types of students was heightened by having the cards on their minds and at hand;
  • techniques they tried that worked especially well, and those that did not seem to work as well for them (why not?); and
  • any new ideas or techniques they tried, and what degree of success they met with those strategies.

Teachers will add more notes about techniques to try, and they will continue their development of techniques that improve success for students of different abilities and needs. The cards they create will serve as a constant resource throughout the year and beyond.


You might bring this activity up again a couple staff meetings down the road. Are teachers still using the cards they created? What new successes have they experienced for differentiating instruction for the four types of students?