TPS5: How do I adapt material for a wider ability range ?

#5 in the Teaching Problem –> Solution Series.

The Problem:

This is a variation on the question posed in TP3:

TPS3: Wide Ability Range!

#3 in the Teaching Problem –> Solution Series The Problem: How do I teach a class with a very wide range of ability? This challenge is expressed in multiple ways, for teachers in a range of contexts. To some extent every class is a ‘mixed…

If I have some material and I now need to teach students with a lower attainment range – or lower ability, confidence, prior knowledge etc – how can I adapt my material? This could be where a whole age range of students is being introduced to a new language or some common PSHE material and the same teacher has to teach everyone from the same core resources.


The key to this is to understand what might constitute a ladder of difficulty. Variables in this context will be:

  • How much students already know about the topic – the underlying concepts
  • How much exposure students have had to concrete examples of the material – including seeing images, handling objects, experienced the phenomena under discussion etc
  • The vocabulary students already know relevant to the topic and embedded in the material
  • How confident students are with reading independently
  • How confident students are with writing in general, beyond the specifics of the curriculum material
  • How much new material students can engage with at once and how many different concepts linked together they can handle
  • How mature they are in terms of taking responsibility for activities such as paired quizzing or dialogues

Then, there are some key ways of making material or tasks easier to engage with:

  • Setting the scene more extensively, going back to basics, not assuming prior knowledge.
  • Pre-teaching specific vocabulary: make a list of key terms and teach them all as part of the teaching sequence rather than assuming they are known.
  • Breaking down into smaller steps: teaching less at once and getting students to practise with each step before moving on.
  • Scaffolding everything: writing scaffolds – sentence starters; structure guides; scaffolds or talk; partially completed examples; controlled choices between limited options rather than fully open choices – eg with word selection or art processes
  • Make ideas as concrete as possible – with images, dual coded explanations, concrete hands-on artefacts; real world examples from students’ life experience.
  • Engaging in more extensive modelling with more time on the ‘we do’ part – taking more time working with students to gain a high success rate before asking them to attempt doing the work on their own.
  • Consolidate much more often; add new material within the context of lessons that are largely consolidatory, practising previous material.

Conversely, there are ways of making material more challenging:

  • Ask students to attempt work independently from the start, using self-help techniques to trouble-shoot or self-check.
  • Engage students in more independent academic reading and self-checking through comprehension task.
  • Integrate ideas into more synoptic tasks and questions – using a wider vocabulary range or taking concepts from across two or topics
  • Increase the intensity: expecting a higher degree of precision and fluency, completing more questions, practising at higher repetition rates; writing more extensively in the time.
  • Asking students to be more involved in explaining their ideas; explaining to you, to each other or to the class, gaining practice with the clarity, depth and sophistication of their explanations.


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