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Differentiated Instruction in a Social Studies Classroom

Subject: Social Studies
Level:  Y2
Unit: Culture, Community and Identity
Topic: Elements of Culture
Macro-concept: System
Enduring Understanding: Culture enables creation of identity
Guiding/ Essential Questions:     
1) What is Culture?
2) How do different elements of culture relate to each other?

Teacher’s Notes:

This lesson was implemented in February 2015 over 2 blocks. Differentiated Instruction (DI) was necessary as I wanted to find out what was the “entry level” of each student in terms of her understanding of culture. The underlying assumption is that some students may largely associate culture with its tangible forms while others would be more ready to discuss at a more abstract level.

DI Elements Lesson Activity
Diagnosis Conduct pre-assessment of students to assess their:

+readiness level

☐ interests

☐ learning style

Diagnostic tool: Mindmap

Students watched a video on Singapore culture which provided a familiar context where they could utilize prior-knowledge as a starting point for learning. From the video, students identified and mapped out as many aspects of culture that they could identify. Their mindmaps would be used to assess how extensive and abstract their thinking of culture was.


Diagnosis What does the diagnosis say about students’ readiness? The mindmaps showed differing levels of conception of culture – from concrete to abstract. 3 categories of responses can be observed.

1.     Students are able to identify tangible aspects of culture eg artifacts and common practices.

2.     Students are able to identify tangible and intangible aspects of culture eg ceremonies, rituals, history, myths.

3.     Students are able to identify more abstract ideas such as beliefs and values.

Diagnosis: Students’ readiness varies – while some students perceive culture in its tangible forms, a few students are ready to discuss more abstract ideas.


Lesson Design Knowledge of students’ readiness shapes instruction. Lesson will be differentiated by:


+content modification

☐ process modification

☐ product modification

Lesson content would be differentiated according to varying students’ readiness.


Students were grouped according to their readiness level:

Groups 1 & 2: Questions on artifacts and cultural practices.

Groups 3 & 4: Questions on intangible elements of culture.

Groups 5 & 6: Questions on more abstract elements of culture.


Implementing DI Lesson Content modification based on level of abstractness. Students were assigned to their groups and given a worksheet – each group is assigned a set of questions, see Annex. Each group was assigned a scribe who would document the group’s discussion on a common worksheet online.

Content for each group differs based on level of abstractness.

During the group discussion, I observed that students were highly engaged as they were assigned to discuss an element of culture that they were already familiar with. I was also pleased that Groups 5 and 6 were able to discuss and share with the class abstract concepts such as cultural norms, values and beliefs. This was possible as I had diagnosed them to be more ready for such discussion. The lesson concluded with a class discussion on how the different elements relate to one another.

The following lesson would focus on application of concept. Students would be asked to apply their understanding of culture by investigating one aspect of RGS cultural practice or ceremonies that interest them (DI according to interests) eg Founders’ Day, school cheer etc. The learning outcome was for students to know that cultural practices involve artefacts, symbols and rituals, and are often infused with the intangible elements of values and beliefs.


Post-lesson reflection NA The group discussion was lively and students were highly engaged in their discussion. I believe differentiation had contributed to this. Students who are more ready were given a more challenging task of discussing abstract ideas while those who are less ready had their “entry-point” calibrated to their level of understanding.

As with any DI lesson, although students discussed different content, the class sharing and online document allowed every student to access the discussion notes. Subsequent lessons will focus on application of concept to RGS context.   This would be where I have to ensure that even the less ready ones must elevate their understanding beyond the tangible elements.

Posted by:Mr Azahar M Noor


Centre for Pedagogical Research and Learning (RGS PeRL)

Raffles Girls’ School

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