Differentiation and choice in my language classroom

Today on #langchat, I mentioned that I like to offer options to students as a way of differentiating. I needed a little more space than twitter affords to explain!

1.Options, options, and options within the options. Teenagers LOVE to feel in control and have choices. We do a LOT of reading of novels in class. I like to offer students options. I allow them to choose between:

  • independent reading
  • pair reading (they can choose to just read quietly next to each other, they can read aloud in Spanish together, or they can decode to English [loose translation] together)
  • small group reading (same options as pair reading)
  • read with me (I decode to English, pausing frequently for students to chorally fill in the next word they see. For unmotivated groups I have been known to fling candy at participators as though they were seals at a zoo getting fish!)choice

2. #AUTHRES As much as I go on about comprehensible input, I do really love using authentic resources in class, especially in level 2 and up. The trick for me is to keep it quick, keep it fun, allow the task to be simple enough as to not frustrate, and then EXPLOIT the authentic resource as a vehicle for providing MORE comprehensible input, either verbally or with a modified reading.

Here is an example of an activity I made with a Coca-Cola commercial. Students get the entire sheet, and THEY select whether they want to do the advanced or beginner segment. Following the activity, we can then do a comprehensible discussion about what kinds of gifts an elf could make, what they wish for for a gift, or what are some examples of non-material gifts they would like to give or receive.

coca cola comm differentiated 3. Embedded readings. I often will offer students an embedded reading with 2-5 different levels included. I allow students a choice about which level they start on (I intervene gently if they are choosing poorly…sometimes a student will try to start out on the highest level just to speed through!).

Here is an example of an embedded reading I made for the story Chac Mool for Spanish 3 that is free to download.

You will notice that in the lower levels of the reading I use clip art or gloss some of the vocabulary. Using visuals is a great way to lend support to students whether you are speaking to them or reading.

4. Layer upon layer and lots of connections. It is important to spiral and recycle and always be focusing most heavily on high-frequency vocabulary. Keeping the topics relevant and high-interest is also key. I am always looking for things in the world that might spark some excitement with my students. This is how I came across the story of the organization Amigos de las Aves and the Flor de Mayo bird refuge in Costa Rica that inspired me to write Robo en la Noche. 3 years later the movie Río came out and it was a perfect fit to blend together a unit! That led me to want to know more about the inspiration for the movie and I discovered the story of Presley! These are all unique and interesting stories yet they connect to the theme of wildlife poaching. By bringing them all into my classroom we are then able to make comparisons and re-use that same set of vocabulary and same language structures to discuss new scenarios. We can then personalize by talking about our own pets. Did you know “felangérido de azúcar”? Well, I do now!

Felángerido de azúcar Photo by OberonNightSeer CC BY-SA 3.0

5. Adapt expectations. I have one Spanish 2 class that just plain struggles. Many of them have failed at least one semester of Spanish previously, most of them don’t really consider being bilingual a priority, and many of them just hate school plain-and-simple. I invest LOTS of time getting to know them and just trying to relate to them as people. The sugar-glider girl is in this class. She loves to listen and understands IF I CAN ENGAGE HER. If it feels too “schooly” she and many of her peers tune right out. For this class, I often try to make them feel like they are “getting a deal.” I will say things like “How about if you guys give me the next 10 minutes of good eye contact and respond to all my questions we can listen to your favorite Spanish songs for the last 10 minutes of class?” They will go for it AND they will sing along with the songs to boot. Win-win. Or “How about instead of taking this quiz we do a Kahoot instead?” Same questions, but they buy in. “On this 10 question quiz, you only have to answer 8 correctly to get an A.” Make them feel like they just got a great deal.

How do YOU differentiate and provide choices to your students? Let me know in the comments!


  1. I usually can gauge the highest level and the lowest level in any given class, and I will offer them 3 choices and just call them easy, medium and challenging. Most kids do a pretty decent job of choosing. My goal is for everyone to read at least the medium!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful and creative ideas. I have a question about the way you do the embedded readings with your students. You mention that you give them a choice where they want to begin (which level of ER). Do you give every student all 5 versions right away? I am always struggling with this. Do I start everyone off with the easiest version and then we work our way up the ladder? But then I find that the weaker students get somewhat frustrated by the more advanced versions while the strong kids are bored by going through the simple versions. I guess, it would make sense to let them choose from the get-go. Just wondering how you do it.
    Thank you in advance!!!!

  3. Great post! This is something that I need to implement more in my classes. It’s a lot of prep up front, but totally worth it. I will definitely be focusing on this over the summer when I am revamping my units/resources.

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