The Importance of Differentiation in Reading

If you’ve been a teacher within the last decade, you know the word “DIFFERENTIATION” isn’t just the latest and greatest buzzword. It’s crucial across all subjects to be able to meet the needs of the different learners in your class.

For a teacher just starting to differentiate, the idea of it can sometimes seem overwhelming. It does require more planning, but once you get to know your students, it becomes easier. This post is going to focus on differentiation in reading instruction, but the ideas can apply to many subjects!


  • Teaching the standards with a variety of levels of texts to meet different levels
  • Teaching the standards in tiered levels (providing access to all learners for the standard)
  • Giving students choice on how they demonstrate their knowledge based on learning styles
  • LOTS of formative assessments to determine who understands and who needs more support


  • Teaching the same lesson to every small group
  • Gifted students always teaching low learners
  • Ability-grouped classrooms
Why should you differentiate instruction in reading? And why AREN'T you differentiating reading assessments? Ideas by Jivey lays it all out for you and helps you head in the right direction!
I will go ahead and tell you upfront, I am NOT a fan of basal programs. They don’t allow for in-depth teaching of reading comprehension and, of course, many students either cannot read the story on their own or should be reading material at a much higher level.

For this reason, I believe in using a reading workshop model. I start with a mini-lesson to teach a standard using a mentor text then I pull small groups of students. While I pull small groups, students are reading independently (from a text on their instructional level). The small groups I pull are generally based on reading level, but sometimes based on skill need.

Ideas by Jivey reminds you to stop leaving students out teaching only whole-group. Teach students in small groups to differentiate for levels of learners.
In my small groups, I generally expand on the mini-lesson skill using a leveled text appropriate for the readers in the group. Depending on where we are in a chapter book, this isn’t always possible, so sometimes it is a review of previously learned skills. The students are learning grade-level standards, but not necessarily with grade level appropriate texts: some are lower, some are higher.

Activities in reading also look different, based on my students. They are STILL working on the same grade-level standard as everyone in the class, but with modifications. I might provide a sentence stem, partially filled graphic organizer, or word bank for students who are below level. Students who are above level will have more open-ended opportunities to complete the activity. (This is called tiered-level learning.)

Why are we differentiating instruction, but not differentiating assessments?
Reading assessments should also look different! After all, are you assessing whether they understand the skill, or assessing whether they can read the text? I believe if you are determining whether students have mastered a comprehension standard, the student should be able to read the assessment passage on their instructional level.

Using differentiated reading assessments has only recently become a common practice. For this reason, there aren’t many resources out there with grade-level appropriate questions with differentiated passages… which is when I come to the rescue. 🙂

I have created assessments for grades 3-5 that you can mix and match based on what your students need. The passages are written on four levels (2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th) so that you can assess on your grade level, but provide instructional level texts.

There are six fiction and six nonfiction passages for each strand: key ideas and details, craft and structure, integration of ideas, and all standards combined.

There are also a variety of ways to mix and match the assessments to create long and short assessments on different standards! I didn’t number the questions so that you can use as many passages as you’d like in your test. You might also consider assessing on just one standard with a few texts, or assessing multiple standards with just one text. You can even assess a standard with fiction and nonfiction! The possibilities to mix and match are endless!

Get your assessments from my TPT store by clicking here!

Why should you differentiate instruction in reading? And why AREN'T you differentiating reading assessments? Ideas by Jivey lays it all out for you and helps you head in the right direction!