How to Organize a Classroom for Diverse Learners

Teachers need to organize classrooms around meeting students' learning needs.

Considering the various different multiple intelligences, learning styles, special needs, exceptions and degrees of English-language proficiency students are likely to bring to the classroom, the average urban public school teacher may find herself faced with numerous diverse learners. With so many different kinds of learners whose individual needs must be met, one of a teacher's biggest challenges will be organizing the classroom around meeting students' diverse needs.

Get to know your students as learners. Administer surveys, complete learning inventories and develop learning profiles for each of your students. Briefly interview each student and spend time getting to know who he is, what he likes, what he needs and what motivates him as a learner. Review all Individualized Education Programs (IEP), 504 Plans, case studies, cumulative folders, standardized test score reports and other available student data to help you gain insight into your students.

Design your classroom environment around the needs of your diverse learners. Once you know what kinds of learners you are working with, you can plan a classroom design around their needs. Design a learning space that addresses and honors the needs of every learner. For example, visual learners require a visually appealing learning space that contains colorful, high-contrast charts and other visual aids, as they find this helpful when scanning charts for information. You will need to make these types of strategic, purposeful classroom design choices to address the needs of each type of learner.

Create differentiated learning centers. Learning centers present an opportunity for teachers to design learning experiences that address the needs of diverse learners. Stock each learning center with a variety of activities that appeal to students with different learning styles, needs and intelligences.

Differentiate lessons to address the needs of your diverse learners. The three elements of instruction can be differentiated: content, process and product. For some students you may need to differentiate one of those elements while for others, you may need to differentiate all three. Remember, differentiation is not just done for students who have learning difficulties, but to also challenge accelerated learners.

Modify learning objectives based on students' needs. For example, for a lesson on acid rain, learning objectives for diverse learners may be structured as follows: All students will learn that acid rain can harm the environment. Most students will learn how acid rain adversely affects specific materials and structures in the environment. Most students will learn steps they can take to reduce the incidence of acid rainfall. Some students will create and implement advocacy campaigns, targeting local media and polticians, focused on reducing acid rainfall in the area.

  • Organizing a classroom for diverse learners is labor-intensive, with steps that may have to be revisited as new learners join your classroom and as the needs of continuing learners change. If you become overwhelmed by the amount of work, break it up into manageable chunks and remind yourself that you are doing the right thing for your learners.
  • You may find it helpful to create charts or spreadsheets that list all of your students and their various learning characteristics, preferences and needs. Use the chart to categorize students with similar learning styles and profiles. Check off students' names--along with the modifications you are making in order to accommodate their needs--to ensure that you are structuring your classroom to meet the needs of all of your diverse learners.
  • 1 "Fulfilling the Promise of the Differentiated Classroom"; Carol Ann Tomilinson; 2003.

Michelle McFarland-McDaniels has been writing professionally since 1983. She has written for a variety of online publications including and, as well as "College Outlook" and "San Diego Family" magazines. McFarland-McDaniels holds master's degrees in African-American literature and education.