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Instructional Strategies

Teach in Ontario

Effective teachers understand that all students have different strengths and needs. They design their programming based upon their insights about students. All effective teachers understand that there are some basic learning needs that are shared by all students. They are:

Meeting the common needs of students in your classroom can be accomplished by ensuring that students feel valued and by designing learning activities that ensure student engagement and the consolidation of learning. As early as the 1950s, research demonstrates which instructional strategies best consolidate learning and ensure retention of material. The following diagram illustrates which strategies are most effective.

Learning Pyramid

The learning pyramid clearly illustrates that active participation in the learning process results in more effective consolidation and retention of learning. An effective teacher will design lessons and activities with this information in mind, and ensure students are actively engaged in the learning process.

Although all students have common needs, they are also very different. Each student has different expectations of school and has different needs, skill levels, interests and learning styles. How can you effectively address classroom diversity and also meet the common needs of all students?

You must rely upon your knowledge of the strengths and needs of your students in order to effectively plan learning experiences that build on their strengths and address their needs. This does not mean that you must provide a different lesson for each student. It does mean that you must provide enough variation within the lesson to meet a variety of needs.

To meet the needs of all of your students, you must provide choices that meet a diversity of skill levels, interests and learning styles.

There are many things to take into consideration when preparing your lessons. The information provided here is just a basic framework for building effective lessons. In summary, you will want to consider the following when planning a lesson for your students:

Although creating such a lesson may appear to be a difficult task, the following example of a lesson that meets the needs of a variety of students will demonstrate how easily it can be done.

All of the Grade 5 classes in your school are investigating perimeter and area in math. Mr. Smith provides the following question for his class.

Draw each of the following shapes and determine the perimeter of each.


This activity is teacher-directed and provides little challenge to average or advanced students, no opportunity to design or explore other shapes and no choice of materials or resources.

You have taken a different approach to teaching the same concept. Your class has been working individually and in groups to discover how many shapes, with the same perimeter or the same area, they can create with pattern blocks, grid paper or geoboards.

As a next step, you would like to have your students examine the relationship between the perimeter and area of a variety of shapes created with a set number of blocks, or tiles. This activity can be presented as follows:

Using 4, 12, 19 or 26 blocks or tiles, create different shapes and find the perimeter of each shape. Find the area of each shape. What did you discover about the relationship between the perimeter and area of the different shapes?

This question can be made to address the needs of a diverse student population by:

This activity meets the needs of all students in the classroom and reflects the most effective strategies outlined in the learning pyramid. All students will be actively engaged in practicing the activity; students may be discussing their ideas with other students in a group; all students will be reporting on their findings to the class.

Additionally, this lesson meets the skill levels, interests and learning styles of the students. Those who struggle with large numbers, can choose numbers that they are comfortable working with while still completing the same activity as all other students in the classroom. Those students who are skilled at working with large numbers will still be engaged in this activity since it is open-ended and allows them to establish the complexity and number of shapes chosen for the activity. The choice of materials or resources should satisfy the interests and the learning styles of the students, and the choices provided for demonstration of knowledge and work groupings will also meet their learning style needs.

A few simple changes to the lesson have greatly increased the expectation of student engagement. There is something of interest for everyone in this question, and it provides a number of levels of difficulty so that each student can be confident of success. While providing all of these choices, this question still addresses only one expectation and allows all students to participate and discuss the same activity.

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