December 7, 2014

Easy Differentiation with Colored Folders

Guest post by Kelly Witt

Differentiation is the buzzword that just keeps on buzzing! Teachers, administrators, and evaluation
systems are placing more and more emphasis on differentiation in the classroom. Sometimes, the thought of organizing lessons to meet the individual needs of all of your students can feel like an overwhelming challenge. One of the best and simplest ways I have found to do this is with colored pocket folders.

Most teachers have folders everywhere, so the set up is pretty easy. I use center boxes in my room to free up space & assist in clean up. Each center box is labeled with a number and has 4 colored folders inside – one for each learning group in my classroom. You could use center buckets, baskets, tubs, or anything that makes it easy for you!

Students simply go to their centers and retrieve the colored folders that represent their learning groups, i.e. the “red group” or the “blue group”. In each folder, students will find the specific assignment for that particular center.

Three Ways to Differentiate Instruction
Differentiation can be accomplished in three ways: through product, content or process. Differentiating product is probably the simplest method, especially in the primary grades. For example, students in all groups can listen to or read the same text; however, you may require each group to recall a varying number of facts from the text.

For example, all of these students were reading or listening to our latest Weekly Reader. I asked each group to identify facts learned about turkeys, but the expectation varied depending on the level of the group.

To differentiate the process for each group, you may have one listening to the text, one partner reading, and one group reading independently. The text or the content may remain the same, but each group is assigned a different process for learning the information. You can easily do this with colored folders by putting direction sheets inside folders, or by placing the needed materials (iPods, tablets, books, etc...) inside each folder.

Differentiating content is another way to address the varying needs within your classroom. In my room, I have different spelling lists for my students. The lists are posted using their group colors, and can be found in their colored folders at the Word Work center.

By differentiating the spelling words or content, I then have a choice of whether to assign every student the same work, or provide each group with a different opportunity for working with their spelling words.

All teachers manage centers in different ways, and what works for you might not work for your neighbor and vice versa. However, no matter how centers are set up in your classroom, using colored folders is a breeze to implement! The best part about this system is its simplicity and manageability. Students simply grab their colored center folder and begin working on their group’s specific assignment.

My students are grouped in various ways throughout the day. Sometimes, a student might be working at a center with other kids at the same level. Other times, that student might be at a station with someone that is working much higher or much lower than he.

All students turn their work into an envelope that is included in each center box. They just put their work inside the envelope and cross off their name. At the end of the week, I grab all the envelopes and paper clip the check-off sheet to the front of each stack for easy grading.

Differentiation can be a challenge, but often it sounds a lot scarier than it is. Start slow. Try differentiating in just one area or in just one way (content, product, or process) before diving in head first. Believe me, it’s worth it!

Kelly is a first grade teacher and blogger at First Grade Fairytales. She loves sharing ideas with other teachers and providing resources that help make learning fun and engaging.


  1. Replies
    1. You can get them at Dollar General or Walmart. They are about $5 each.

  2. I am currently going to school to be an elementary teacher and could use some great tips. I would love it if you could email me about this and some other tips! My email is, I look forward to hearing from you!

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. This is wonderful, thank you for sharing!

  5. I really like the tip of using the large envelope for students to turn in their work and check off their name. I usually have them turn their work in on the other side of the center folder and I try to remove them before the next group is there. This way sounds a lot easier.

  6. I teach 4th and 5th grade math and will be using Math Workshop after our break. These were awesome ideas to help with differentiation.

  7. Trying to figure out how this may work on the high school level with physical science

  8. What packet/resource are the Weekly reader response sheets?

  9. I am using colored folders in my English 9 class. Your strategies and procedures are very similar to mine. I was questioning myself wondering if I was doing differentiation right. Thanks for the validation !

  10. I also found bins in different colors to help my students, they look like your paper bins above, but in colors. I also placed the same color folders inside for reinsurance.. They just take their color bin and get to work. My students get excited as they can pick what they would like to complete and at a level that will challenge them.

  11. I appreciate this blog! I am working on my teaching certification in elementary education at a Christian university in Kansas City. This is one of the more concise explanations of differentiation so far.


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