Register now for EL Education's 2022 National Conference: A World of Good!

Helping All Learners: Learning Styles

How do your students learn best?

One of the first steps in effective differentiation is to understand students' learning strengths and needs in as much rich detail as possible. Many of students' strengths and needs are neurologically based—that is, "wired" from birth into their brains.

Thinking broadly and creatively about the strengths students come with is vital to differentiation. Previous experiences and learning add up as students progress through their lives and through school, resulting in a different accumulation of concept memory networks for each child. Someone’s athletic ability, fine motor coordination, cultural traditions, or family connections may be key levers for their deeper learning.

If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking. Gen. George S. Patton

There is not one standard for intelligence, and intelligence in any form is not fixed. One widely accepted theory of intelligence is that of Dr. Robert Sternberg, former head of the American Association of Psychologists. Sternberg believes there are three types of intelligence called upon to succeed in life: 

  • Analytical Intelligence—“School Smarts” 
  • Creative Intelligence—“Unique Insight” 
  • Practical Intelligence—“Street Smarts”

Sternberg contends that intelligent behavior arises from the effective use of a balance between analytical, creative, and practical abilities. This page illustrates how a teacher might leverage student differences in accordance with Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory.

Learning Target

I can explain how to leverage student differences in learning styles when differentiating my instruction. 

Task: Choose One

For a model of differentiation based on learning styles, first choose a task below that best matches your learning profile as indicated by the quiz above, then move on to the text and video required to help you complete your task. 
The different tasks, which use the same video and text sources to build background knowledge, provide a sample of how you might differentiate based on learning style in your classroom.

Task Learning Target

I can examine the cause and effect relationships between environmental factors, human actions, and weathering and erosion.

Analytical Learners: Use a cause and effect graphic organizer to capture the relationships between environmental factors, human actions, and weathering and erosion. Write several paragraphs to explain the information on your graphic organizer. Finally, consider your own actions as they relate to or differ from those you included in your graphic organizer. Critique your personal impact on the environment. 

Practical Learners: Use current data (provided here) on carbon dioxide levels, sea levels, global temperature, and global ice to determine if your local weathering and erosion conditions have been affected by environmental factors and/or human actions. Develop a briefing (see “how to” here) for the governor of your state explaining the role environmental factors and human actions have in the changing (or not changing) weather and erosion conditions in the state. 

Creative Learners: Use unusual materials to represent environmental factors, human actions, and weathering and erosion. Then, arrange the materials to show the cause and effect relationship between the parts. Once your system is built, “impact” one part of the system (or ask someone else to “impact” a part). Take time to reflect and prepare an oral explanation of how the impact on one part of the system affected the other parts. 

Watch: Global Warming

View “Global Warming” on BrainPop and answer the questions below:

  • How would you explain global warming to a friend?
  • Can you predict how the earth’s temperature will change in the next 100 years?

Read: Causes of Climate Change

Use NASA’s Global Climate Change website to inform your answers to the questions below.

  • What is the significance of human activity on global warming?
  • How could you explain the “greenhouse effect” using a comparison?

Learn: Triarchic Theory of Intelligence

The activity above was designed to model a differentiated learning experience in accordance with Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory. Explore the resources below to learn more about the theory and its implications for your work.

Dig Deeper


Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory: A one-page document from EL Education outlining each facet of Sternberg’s theory (download from this page). 


For Teachers:

  1. Consider the task you chose to complete. Did you choose the task that aligned to your learning profile, as indicated by the quiz? How did the other choices meet or not meet your needs as a learner?
  2. How will the types of activities you typically ask of kids change based on this experience? In what ways will you differentiate an upcoming lesson to meet the needs of students with different learning styles?
  3. Reflect upon your experience as you worked through the task above: Notice that each of the differentiated tasks shared the same learning target (just as all of the students in your class must meet the same Common Core standards). Analyze how each of the tasks allowed students to meet the same target while varying their process. Choose an upcoming task you will assign to students and create options for differentiation similarly, ensuring all students are held to the same learning target(s). 

For School Leaders:

  1. Consider the task you chose to complete. Did you choose the task that aligned to your learning profile, as indicated by the quiz? How did the other choices meet or not meet your needs as a learner?
  2. When you visit classrooms or conduct observations, to what extent are teachers differentiating for student learning style? How can you celebrate successes and address changes that need to occur?
  3. Consider an upcoming professional development session you plan to lead. Analyze your plans to determine which of Sternberg’s intelligences it caters to. How can you modify your plans to meet the needs and leverage the strengths of your staff members who excel in the other two intelligences?

Resource Downloads

Please log in to access the downloadable resources.