Pre-Assessment for Differentiation

Pre-assessment provides valuable information about what is already known about a topic and readiness to start new instruction. Discovering prior knowledge allows the teacher to present new information at an appropriate level for the students. This process should continue throughout the learning the learning process, so lessons can be adjusted according to student need.

The following is a link of a pre-assessment I created for the Genetics unit of my Biology class:

Some other pre-assessment methods include:

  1. Concept Maps – Ask students to create a “map” of ideas connected with a topic. They should consider how the topics link to each other and use lines or “linking” words to join the concepts together and describe the relationship. They can then revisit these maps later in the study (using a different color marker to add new ideas) or draw new ones that reveal their expanded understanding.
  2. KWL Charts – K-what does the student know? W-what does the student need and want to know? L-what did the students learn? This is an effective pre-assessment tool and summative evaluation tool. The “L” can also be used the as part of an open-ended question on a test allowing the students to share the depth of knowledge that was gained in the unit of study. Click here to access a KWL Chart.
  3. Yes/No Cards – Students make a card with Yes on one side, No on the opposite side. Teachers ask an introductory or review question. Students who know the answer hold up the Yes card, if they don’t know the answer they hold the No card. This is very effective to use when introducing vocabulary words that students need as a knowledge base for a specific unit of study.

Innovative strategies

The following is a link of strategies for students at three levels of academic readiness:

Some other strategies include:

  • Assistive Technology – Technology can be especially helpful with special needs students. Access to computers, screen readers, and voice recognition software can help many students with special needs use technology more effectively. Other educational software programs—such as talking dictionaries and talking word processing applications—provide opportunities for students to improve their spelling, reading and writing. An internet based form of Kurzweil will soon be available in our district to assist students with reading text, note taking and test taking. In addition, audio copies of textbooks will be available for students to download onto their iPods and MP3 players so they can listen to textbooks on the bus.
  • Collaborative Activities – Students learn best from their peers and many jobs require an ability to be a contributing member of a team. Time and time again it has been proven that the lower functioning group improves when working with more academically capable students. Collaboration is a skill that must be discussed before the lesson, so each group member has a clear idea of their role. It helps to give some focus questions ahead such as: Did everyone get a chance to speak and contribute? The teacher must monitor the groups to ensure that they are functioning appropriately.  
  • Cooperative Learning – Students working in cooperative groups have the benefit being exposed to the various learning strategies of others. Cooperative groups can be a comfortable place to have a voice in a small group setting and receive support from peers.
  • Explicit Modeling – Some activities such as note-taking, making connections among ideas, asking questions, project planning, and time-management may have to be taught, because special needs students are not able to make the connections on their own. This may require step by step procedures to be explained.
  • Feedback – Students with special needs often have difficulty monitoring their own progress. Giving feedback will help students to reflect on their own work.
  • Graphic Organizers – Organizing information is often a problem for students with special needs. Learning disabled students are often visual learners who respond well to information represented in graphic form. Concept maps, Venn diagrams, Cause-and-effect charts, Story Maps, T-charts, and Timelines can assist students to incorporate new knowledge. Multimedia such as pictures, charts, graphs, audio, and video can also be beneficial.
  • Leveled Reading Materials – Providing reading materials on a particular topic, but written at different levels will allow a student with a reading disability to learn about the same topic as the rest of the class.
  • Modified Directions – It is not uncommon for students to misunderstand the instructions for an assignment. Keep the directions clear and concise 
  • Multi-sensory Approach – Most new content is delivered verbally, but students have strengths in different areas. They may be great illustrators, innovative builders and and able to gather information visually on the internet. By using multi-sensory techniques to introduce new material, more of your students will retain it. 
  • Peer Tutoring – Having a peer helper can be mutually beneficial. Students with special needs can receive intensive one-on-one assistance and the peer tutor learns about different learning styles, modeling positive behaviour and empathy. Peer helpers can also assist with creating study tools, editing written assignments and with collaborative activities.
  • Visual component – Students with reading problems find pictures and symbols easier to understand. Flashcards and pictures are useful to teach sight vocabulary, safety signs and new concepts.


  1. “7. Differentiation Techniques For Special Needs Students – Differentiation & LR Information For SAS Teachers”. N.p., 2017. Web. 22 May 2017.
  2. “5. Pre-Assessment Ideas – Differentiation & LR Information For SAS Teachers”. N.p., 2017. Web. 22 May 2017.

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