top of page

Differentiation & Accessibility

Differentiation Guide

Making science learning equitable for all students is a key component of NGSS-aligned instruction. It is also part of being an ethical educator. On the Air 2020 includes a variety of differentiation strategies to support learners who have learning disabilities or who struggle accessing the content for any number of reasons. The differentiation and accessibility guides below provide suggested strategies which benefit all students, not just those who need the support. Some of these techniques are embedded directly in the activities themselves; others are described here to allow you to implement them wherever you deem helpful.

It is not beyond our power to create a world in which all children have access to a good education.

- Nelson Mandela

Switch to Dark Mode

Differentiation Guide

Word banks and vocabulary lists

Word banks and vocabulary lists are helpful whenever students are first learning new vocabulary, but are expected to use that vocabulary as a part of an additional task. For example, if students are expected to build a concept map to summarize their learning from an activity, provide a word list or – better yet – slips of paper with the vocabulary words printed on them for students to arrange into the concept map. This will allow students to engage in the sensemaking task without getting held up by the vocabulary.


Sentence starters

Provide the first few words of a sentence to get students started on the right track when they are writing. These can be especially helpful when students are learning to write Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) arguments so they develop strong habits for these structures.


Small group instruction

When students are assigned a task, pull any students that are struggling into a small group to go over directions or provide additional support. You can also do this in reverse at the end of a mini-lesson. Tell students that they can leave the mini-lesson to begin working independently when they are ready, but to stay and continue for additional instruction if necessary. This can help to alleviate any perceived stigma from being in the “low group.”



When students are expected to show what they have learned through a project or presentation, give them choices for how to do it. Some students may prefer to make a poster, while others would rather give a presentation or record a video. Give students the opportunity to showcase their talents and play to their strengths.

Reading strategies

Many of the readings in On the Air 2020 are in double-entry journal format to support reading comprehension. For other texts, provide strategies and protocols that will help enhance student understanding. For example, have students underline key ideas in a reading and put a question mark by anything they don’t understand, or use a graphic organizer to help students organize their thoughts.

Extensions to challenge advanced students

On the Air 2020 has a variety of built-in extensions for students who finish individual assignments quickly or who would benefit from more challenging work. Rather than make work “harder,” provide additional opportunities for students to dig deeper into content, explore related topics of their own interest that will enhance their understanding of the core content, or that will push them to consider more complex viewpoints.

Accessibility Guide

Supports for non-native English speakers

  • Put up new vocabulary words on word walls and take time to repeat pronunciations and definitions.

  • Make dictionaries available for students to look up vocabulary words in their native languages. Google translate and other online tools can support this as well. Encourage students to bring in and use other resources they have that can provide assistance.

  • Teach prefixes, suffixes, and other root word techniques to help students understand where the meaning of specific vocabulary words comes from.

  • Speak slowly and provide additional processing time for students to understand questions.

Supports for students who are new to the area or to the country

  • Consider students’ diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences when selecting examples or choosing phenomena. Students who grew up in one part of the country can relate well to snowstorms or wildfires, while these phenomena can be totally foreign to others.

  • Ask students to share their experiences to enhance the sensemaking process. It is not necessary for the teacher to know everything about where a student comes from, but it is essential to invite students to share their experience.

Supports for students with physical disabilities

  • Use technology where possible to support students with physical disabilities that may make it difficult to participate in certain activities. For example, have readings available on a computer or tablet so that the font can be enlarged. Allow students who have difficulty writing to use a computer to answer questions. Turn closed-captioning on in videos for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

  • To support colorblind students, print handouts in high contrast. If students are looking at graphs, charts, or maps that rely on interpreting colors, be sure to point out what parts of the visual are particular colors and/or pair the student with an understanding partner who can provide assistance.

  • To support blind or vision-impaired students, provide verbal descriptions of videos or other media that are essential to activities. Make sure that written materials are available in a digital format so that technology can be used for assistance.


Universal Design for Learning (UDL) has additional guidelines and materials for making learning accessible to all. You can find UDL resources on the CAST website.

Accessibility Guide
bottom of page