Creating Tiered Lesson Plans for Language Arts

By using tiered lesson plans you can meet each student's individual learning needs.

By Dawn Dodson


Tiered Lesson Plans

While this might not be true for everyone, I find that one of the most challenging aspects in teaching is consistently meeting each individual student’s needs. Although this seems like something simple and obvious to do, for me it means being able to provide challenges for each student at every ability level, in each of my middle school language arts classes, every day. With a minimum of sixty-five students, at times this can be overwhelming. Learning how to create tiered lesson plans allowed me to find a solution to this challenge.   

How to Create a Tiered Lesson Plan

“Where do I begin?” This was a question I asked myself and countless others during my first years of teaching. I’ll never forget meeting my first class. The students in my class had a reading level range of eighth grade to kindergarten. Even with an intervention specialist willing to jump into co-teaching, we were both inundated with the numerous needs presented by each student. Some students were barely able to decode, while others were in need of enrichment and more challenging projects. This was when I began to study and utilize tiered lesson planning. For me, it was, and currently is, a method to organize, plan, and execute lessons in which students are all being taught the same concept(s) at different learning levels.

In order to begin organizing my lesson, I first chose a learning objective. I then turn to pre-assessments that allow me to identify and group students who have similar needs. Depending upon the learning objective, content, and class projects/work, student learning levels/needs can be mixed within each group. My pre-assessments can be as formal as a quiz or test, or as informal as a journal entry, exit slip, anticipation guide, or survey. Once my groups are established, I use a graphic organizer to plan the specific activities/work students will be required to participate in and complete. I searched and experimented with many templates, but the one I chose was quite simple. It defines the learning objective and state-defined learning indicator at the top of the page, and then has three blocks for the three different assignments within the lesson. In each block I define the group activity/work and the assessment of the objective. There are many lesson plan templates available online to assist in organizing a tiered lesson, and I continue to edit my template depending upon what I want to use it for. Here is one example of a lesson template:

Lesson Plan Title

Learning objective:
















Once I began organizing lessons according to learning needs, the next hurdle was designing classroom activities and assignments that would allow each group to successfully learn the content/concept, and also feel sufficiently challenged. For example, if my learning objective is, “Students will learn to identify and use homophones correctly in writing”, I would come up with three activities that would meet student learning levels within this objective.

  • The Tier 1 activity may be to have students read and highlight homophones in a passage
  • The Tier 2 activity may be to read a passage, and highlight and define the various homophones in a passage
  • The Tier 3 group might create a list of the most commonly misused homophones and compose a short story in which they demonstrate the correct usage of homophones.

How to Make Everyone Feel Successful

The next issue takes place during class—how does the instructor execute the tiered lesson without making students feel as if there is a “dumb group” and a “smart group”? In part, I believe this is a reflection of the overall class environment; my students are not always in groups, or when they are, they are not always in the same group. I have a fluid learning environment that changes daily; however, creating tiered lesson plans is an important step in meeting individual student learning needs. Here are more ideas to help meet students learning needs with tiered lesson plans.

Tiered Lesson Plan Ideas:

Differentiated Instruction Organizer

This is a lesson plan template that can help anyone carefully organize any content lesson and activities that meet the needs of all learners. Although this template has a prepared letter writing lesson, this template can be used with any content at any grade level.      

Graphic Organizers for Good Science Reading and Writing

This is a lesson to help students read informational text effectively. I like this lesson because it provides many different kinds of graphic organizers that can be utilized within a tiered lesson plan.

From Graphic Organizer to Composition

This writing lesson allows students to use a variety of graphic organizers to plan and help write a composition. This lesson can also be used at the beginning of the year in order to allow students to explore and discover the best pre-writing organizer for their personal needs and writing style.

Graphic Organizers

This lesson helps students understand the purpose of using graphic organizers. I find this lesson helpful for students to identify the type of organizer that works best for them.

Language Arts Guide

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Dawn Dodson