Saturday, January 28, 2017

Triple Differentiation in Google Classroom - Beginning, Middle, and End

Choice is a wonderful thing. We all love choice in our daily lives from what clothes you dressed in this morning, to what food you ate for lunch today, to what entertainment you will enjoy tonight.

What is true in our personal lives is also true for learning in schools.

I have four children of my own, and each one thinks, learns, struggles, and succeeds differently. As educators, rather than trying to force all children in a preset mold, we need to meet them where they are, accommodate for their struggles, tap into their interests, and help them grow as best as they can.

Thankfully technology can provide some assistance with this daunting task. One particular tool that can help us and our students is Google Classroom. With Google Classroom we can differentiate our students' learning at each step of a project:

  • Beginning - Who the students are
  • Middle - How the students learn
  • End - What the students make

See below for details on how to use Classroom to differentiate at each of these steps through the beginning, middle, and end of a learning activity.

Slideshow link: Differentiation with Google Classroom

1) Beginning - Who the students are

In the past, Google Classroom required you to send out assignments to all of the students in your class. There was not an option to give work to a specific student or a group of students.

Thankfully a recent update to Classroom now allows you to choose which students an assignment goes to. This can be a powerful option for differentiation which could be used in several ways.

  • Different leveled assignments could be sent to students based on their proficiency levels in that subject, topic, or skill.
  • A student who is struggling could receive some extra work or resources to assist them and help provide remediation.
  • A student who has mastered the content quickly could receive an extension activity to dig deeper or branch off into related content.
  • Students who are rotating through a cycle of activities or stations could receive just the assignment they need to work on at their spot in the rotation.

With Google Classroom you can control who the students are for an assignment by doing the following:

  • Go to Google Classroom as normal and open the class you want to work on.
  • Hover over the "Plus" button in the bottom right corner to open the pop-up menu.
  • Click "Create assignment" (or "Create announcement" or "Create question" if you are not doing an assignment.)
  • Create your assignment as normal including the title, instructions, topic, due date, and resources.
  • Next, click the "All students" menu at the top of the assignment. This will give you a list of all the students in that class.
  • Check and un-check the students as needed, to select just the students you wish to assign this work to.
  • Now you can assign the activity as usual, but only the selected student(s) will receive it.

2) Middle - How the students learn

As seen in the first option, one way to differentiate is to choose which students get an assignment. However, another way to differentiate is to offer variety and choice in the assignment resources.

Even though a group of students may all be on the same general proficiency level, and therefore they are receiving the same assignment, they may still be very different students. For example, the students may each have a different learning modality.

  • Some may learn best by reading information.
  • Other may understand better if they hear the instruction.
  • Some may benefit the most by watching a video with animations and sound.
  • Still others may need to be more interactive with a simulation or learning game.

Thankfully Google Classroom can also address this need. When you create an assignment, you are not limited to attaching only one resource. You don't have to just attach one Google Doc, or just add one web link. When creating an assignment you can add as many different resources as you like.

Simply click on the insert options at the bottom of the assignment screen to insert:

  • Uploads - any file saved on your computer
  • Drive files - any file from your Drive including Docs, Slides, Sheets, Drawings, images, videos, PDFs, and other files
  • YouTube videos - any video from YouTube
  • Web links - any website or a file or image hosted online

For example, let's say we are doing an assignment on photosynthesis. Instead of only providing one instructional resource for the students, we could attach a wide variety of resources so the students could pick and choose which ones explain the concepts in a way they best understand. This could include:

Google Classroom makes it easy for you to provide students with a wide range of resources, covering different types of media, learning styles, and methods of delivery. This gives students choice and options to find instruction that fits how they learn best.

3) End - What the students make

The final option for differentiation with Google Classroom is allowing students to choose what they make to show what they have learned. When giving an assignment, you don't have to require that every student turns in the exact same thing. There is nothing wrong with having students write a report, but we don't have to require that everyone does a report.

There are many other ways that a student can demonstrate their understanding. Just like students have different ways they learn best, students also have different talents and interests. When we let students choose the product they will create for an assignment, we see many benefits:

  • The students will be more interested and invested in the work they are doing.
  • We will get a clearer idea of how much the student knows, as they will be working in a medium or method they are comfortable with.
  • We will get a much wider variety of final products which can be turned around as instructional materials for the other students in the class.

The key to allowing students to choose what they make in an assignment, is having students attach their final product through Google Classroom. Here's how:

  • The student would go to Google Classroom as normal, choose the class, and open the assignment.
  • At the bottom of the assignment is a section titled "Your work". Here the student can submit whatever they have created.

If the student clicks the "Add" button they can attach the following things:

  • Drive files - any file from their Drive including Docs, Slides, Sheets, Drawings, images, videos, PDFs, and other files
  • Web links - any website, file, image, video or other content that is hosted online
  • Uploads - any file saved on their computer

If the student clicks the "Create" button they can make and submit the following things:

  • Google Documents - for reports, stories, HyperDocs, and more
  • Google Slides - for presentations, eBooks, comic strips, stories, and more
  • Google Sheets - for collecting and recording data, producing charts, making calculations and predictions 
  • Google Drawings - for diagrams, graphic organizers, interactive images, and more

Using the sample example as before, let's say the assignment is for the student to demonstrate their understanding of photosynthesis. What are some ways the student could do this? Below are just some possible examples of products the student could make (with some links to resources for the activities):

  • A traditional report in Google Docs
  • A short story that explains photosynthesis within the narrative
  • An informational slideshow in Google Slides or Prezi
  • An animated slideshow made with PowToon
  • A stop-motion animation made with Google Slides
  • A graphic organizer in Google Drawings showing the process of photosynthesis
  • An interactive diagram in Google Drawings or Thinglink with clickable hotspots that link out to additional resources and information
  • A video about photosynthesis made with Screencastify, WeVideo, Stupeflix, and such
  • A dubbed video made with Screencastify where the student adds commentary to explain the process of photosynthesis
  • An interactive video made with EdPuzzle, PlayPosit, or RooClick
  • A comic strip made in Google Slides, Storyboard That, or such
  • An eBook made in Google Slides
  • A working model of photosynthesis created inside of Minecraft
  • A 3D printed model of the parts of a leaf involved in photosynthesis
  • An interactive Jeopardy game made with Google Slides or Flippity
  • An interactive quiz made in Google Slides, Google Forms, Quizlet, or more
  • A song about photosynthesis recorded with TwistedWave, Vocaroo, or such
  • An informational website with explanations and resources made in Google Sites, Weebly, or more
  • A Choose Your Own Adventure story made with Google Docs or Google Slides

Certainly as the teacher you would set expectations for the content and quality of the final products. However, by giving students a variety of choices, they will be able to express their learning in a way that makes sense to them, uses their talents and interests, and most likely go further than you would have expected.


Although Google Classroom is a great tool to save time and manage shared documents, it is much more than that. Google Classroom is designed to support differentiation for your students, making it easy to adjust which students get which assignments, provide a variety of learning resources with the assignment, and support student choice in the product they create to demonstrate what they have learned.

If you have not started using Classroom yet, be sure to get a jump start with my recorded webinar here: Google Classroom Overview

Once you are using Classroom, be sure to make the most out of it and try out these differentiation ideas with your students. Please feel free to share your ideas, experiences, suggestions, and questions in the comments below.

Post by Eric Curts. Bring me to your school, organization, or conference with over 50 PD sessions to choose from. Connect with me on Twitter at and on Google+ at


  1. Thank you for this article. I plan on sharing it with my teachers.

  2. Wow, what a powerful tool. I see how this would certainly benefit students in a classroom. When I was in Special Education there were MANY students who just needed a little help in inclusion. They needed the help because they were expected to learn like all the other students, i.e., read a chapter out of a text book and answer questions.

    Just by leveling assignments a teacher with lower functioning students could make life easy for themselves and also require much less classroom support. On the other end I truly like adding activities for higher level students. When they finish their work they would be much less likely to be disruptive while waiting for the rest of the class to catch up.

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  4. I would like to share your article with ELL teachers participating in a Sheltered English Workshop if OK with you. We are always looking for ways to differentiate our lessons. Some of us use Google Classroom already, however, did not know about the new features. Thank you for sharing!! Will follow you on Twitter

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