Differentiating by Interests

There are many ways teachers can differentiate lessons to link into student interests.

By Deborah Reynolds


kids in class

Differentiation is important in meeting the needs of all learners. Children come to us with different interests, backgrounds, learning styles and abilities. It’s important for us to find that “hook” that will draw them in to learning and keep them there. Discovering a child’s interests, and incorporating them into lessons, is one way to reel them in for an amazing learning experience.

How To Identify

How can teachers identify the interests of their students? One way is to have them fill out an interest survey. You can start with a simple questionnaire for middle and upper-elementary kids. Younger pupils can sort pictures and create a collage of their favorite things. Keep these interest surveys or activities posted in the classroom for future reference. A great way to find out what interests your pupils is simply to ask them. This could be done by asking them to answer a question in their journals, having a whole class discussion, or talking with individuals during writing conferences or while they are in small groups. The latter option provides teachers the opportunity to make notes on the conversation, and also allows students the option of sharing their interests and ideas in a private setting.

Incorporate their Interests

Once you know what learners’ interest are, the challenge becomes finding ways to incorporate those interests into your curriculum. Extension menus are excellent for addressing a variety of interests using a simple method. Menus can have six, nine, or more activities geared toward one topic or objective. Each activity allows individuals to practice a skill they are covering in class, while gearing it toward a specific interest. For example, if second graders are learning about linear measurement, John, who is interested in plants and nature, could plant two different types of seeds and measure to see which one grows the tallest. Sue, who is interested in computers, could complete a linear measurement game online. Jill loves animals and reading. She could go to the library, check out books about cats, and do research to find the average heights of six different varieties of cats. Everyone is doing something different, which is based on their interests, but meets the same objective.

Drawing on student interest is an effective strategy for differentiation. It gets each person motivated and engaged. Additionally, kids begin to discover the learning methods that work best for them. This is a skill they can can use long after they have graduated from your classroom.  

Differentiation and Interest Inventories:

Interest Inventory

Pupils are given an interest inventory at the beginning of the school year or semester (depending on the age group). The teacher fills out one as well. When they both finished, pupils exchange it with another learner so that they get to know their classmates. Then, each person introduces their partner. The teacher collects them and uses them with future exercises.

Interactive Reading Project

As part of language arts activity, students are given a survey to determine what books they are interested in reading. Using the survey as a guide, the teacher assigns six books to read. Pupils are paired with a partner of similar interests from another class. They e-mail each other and discuss the books.


Youngsters share information about themselves by completing an interest survey and using technology to create a newsletter to share with the teacher and the class based on the survey information. Computers, digital cameras, and publishing software is used to complete the project. This lesson can be modified for a wide range of grade levels.

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Deborah Reynolds