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How to Pick the Right Instructional Model for Your Classroom

How to Pick the Right Instructional Model for Your Classroom

Personalized Learning  |  Classrooms

Selecting the right instructional model to personalize learning is a bit like cooking dinner for my family. It’s an art, not a science. To better understand this analogy, it is important to be familiar with the three base models that teachers have in their proverbial pantry: station rotation, playlists, and flipped lessons. To learn more about each of these in the elementary and secondary settings, check out these infographics: PL models for elementary classrooms & PL models for secondary classrooms.  Let’s first explore where each model is most useful:


Station Rotation


Flipped Lesson

Ideal for: 































  • with an existing lesson plan of 2-3 learning activities to be completed in one class period. Simply shift the list from vertical to horizontal so the activities are all happening synchronously at stations.
  • who want space to offer direct instruction
  • who want to expose students to different content or modalities in one learning session


  • that are leveled or differentiated for each group of students
  • ranging in rigor. For example, each station might tackle a different DOK level.
  • best experienced in a variety of settings: independent, collaborative, or with a teacher.


  • who are just beginning to manage their time and learning.









  • with an existing lesson plan of multiple resources, learning tasks, and formative checks. Convert the lesson plan into a playlist! Get started here.
  • who will build in routines and rituals to help students stay on pace
  • who are interested in competency-based learning. Playlists are a great start, especially if there are formative assessments that must be mastered before progressing to the next activity.
  • who are absent and don’t want students to lose instructional time.


  • that typically take students varying amounts of time to complete
  • that require little direct instruction


  • who are building soft skills such as time management, ownership, and reflection.






  • who wish they could provide real-time feedback to students while they’re completing their practice homework activities.
  • who feel like they constantly repeat lectures
  • who are absent and don’t want students to lose instructional time.


  • that can be explained in a short video (ideally less than 5 minutes)
  • that can be applied or practiced after viewing the video
  • that prepares students for a whole group activity, such as a class debate or performance


  • who will take advantage of the pause & rewind buttons as needed

Not ideal for:














  • that require adult supervision, such as science experiments or cooking lessons


  • with fewer than 5 students









  • that require students to be learning the same content at the same time in order to support collaboration


  • with significant classroom management challenges








  • complicated content that often confuses students


  • and/or homes without devices & wifi connectivity
  • without a formative assessment culture. Flipped lessons are most effective when learning is measured along the way (ex: EdPuzzle)


I like to think of the three instructional models as the key ingredients in my personalized learning pantry. Each ingredient is lovely on its own; however, the magic happens when I strategically blend them to create a delicious dish. I also always add seasoning and spice to enhance my ingredients; teachers do the same thing by layering elements of the Core Four into their instructional model.


A graphic outlining the core four elements of personalized learning from Education Elements: Flexible Content and Tools, Targeted Instruction, Student Reflection and Ownership, and Data-Driven Decisions


So, how does this model blending and layering work in the classroom? It happens everyday, in fact. These are not static decisions made once per year.  Teachers pick instructional models and personalized learning tactics for each and every lesson.

  1. Consider your content: Which instructional model might it pair well with this content? Do I plan to differentiate content based on student interests or needs? Was this content tricky/engaging/boring for my students last year? What resources do I already have?
  2. Consider your students: Are there gaps in some students’ foundational knowledge of this topic I should consider? Which core four element(s) am I focused on right now? Do I want all of my students to learn the same content at the same time? Would my students benefit from time in a teacher-led small group?

Let me show you the end result of this process by serving up a few classroom recipes:


A graphic with a recipe for flexible stations inside a classroom.

A graphic with a recipe for station rotation + flip inside a classroom.

A graphic with a recipe for a station rotation + flip inside a classroom.


How can you get started in your personalized learning ‘kitchen’? Start with a self-assessment: should you sample the key ingredients (station rotation, playlist, & flipped lesson) first to get a sense of what your personal tastes are, or are you ready to layer & experiment? When I started cooking,  I prefered a prescribed, recipe-driven approach, but I quickly evolved to a more “what ingredients do I already have on hand?” strategy. Just like cooking, designing a personalized lesson is rarely perfect, and you will probably tweak the recipe each time. The moral of the story is to start wherever feels comfortable for you and your students.

 A graphic image with a thumbnail of a white paper. Text reads "Breaking the Mold: Understanding and Developing New School Models Part One", with a button reading "Download Now"

About Brittany Griffin - Guest Author

Brittany is a former Design Principal at Education Elements.

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