Video: How targeted instruction works

  • In many countries, large classrooms of students are taught at the same level even though students have a wide range of ability levels.
  • This can result in students falling behind their peers or becoming disengaged.
  • Using targeted instruction, teachers modify instruction to align with student ability levels, rather than their grade level.
  • Students are assigned to groups based on ability level, and teachers use assessments track progress and adjust groupings when needed.
  • Research has found targeted instruction to be effective in improving learning in developing country contexts.

Group students within a classroom or school by ability level and plan lessons and activities for each group.

One approach to targeted instruction is to group students together who have a similar skill level in a particular subject. This can include the grouping of all students in multiple grades, or grouping within a single classroom. It is critical to pay particular attention to the needs of under-performing students; additional attention may be needed to ensure they do not fall further behind. Interactive, hands-on activities can be particularly helpful in engaging these students to help them catch up.

Video: Combined Activities for Maximized Learning (CAMaL)

Short video that describes Pratham's CAMaL methodology (Combined Activities for Maximized Learning), which focuses on assessing and grouping students to ensure "teaching at the right level."
Pratham, 2015

Guide for Using Group Work in the Classroom

This guide describes the benefits of group work, when it can be implemented, how to prepare for it, and how to manage it.
Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA)

Nali Kali: Program Methodology

This program overview describes the Nali Kali program in Karnataka, India. Nali Kali uses a multi-grade, activity-based approach with multiple groups of varying levels in a single classroom.
Nali Kali India

Teacher Community Assistant Initiative (TCAI)

Learn about this program, which provided targeted remedial education to low-performing students and developed teacher guides with objectives and daily activities for each week of teaching.
Ghana Education Service, 2016 Ghana

Enhancing Classroom Approaches for Addressing Barriers to Learning: Classroom-Focused Enabling

Pages 107-128 provide guidelines for and examples of active learning strategies, including developing "learning centers" within the classroom and turning big classes into smaller units by grouping by interest or ability.
Center for Mental Health in Schools

Practical Tips for Teaching Large Classes

Pages 20-40 provide guidance on active learning strategies that can be used in the classroom including group exercises and cooperative learning.
UNESCO, 2006

Observations from South African Classrooms: Some Inclusive Strategies

Provides guidance on inclusive strategies to reach learners of different levels and with different learning styles; includes suggested grouping techniques on pages 25-26 and examples of tiered activities for "learning stations" centered around a single theme on pages 32-24.
Väyrynen, S. 2008

Incorporate assessment and observation into targeted instruction.

Assessment and observation in targeted instruction programs is essential in order to determine initial learning levels and assign groups, to measure student progress through the duration of the program, and to determine when to move a student into a new ability group. As with most programs, a student evaluation system should be built in and should be non-threatening, continuous, and comprehensive.

PAL Network Assessment Tools

Provides access to basic literacy and numeracy testing tools used in citizen-led assessments in 9 countries. Assessments are freely available in various languages, or can be used as a model to develop new context-specific tools.
People's Action for Learning Network

EGRA and EGMA Testing Instruments

This site contains downloadable zip files of Early Grade Reading Assessments (EGRA) and Early Grade Math Assessments (EMGA) that have been developed for 11 countries and 19 languages.

Video: Teacher training on evaluation and assessment

This brief video is a guide for teachers on how to incorporate various types of formal and informal assessment into their classrooms.
IDP Foundation, 2014

Ages and Stages Questionnaire 3

ASQ-3 is a developmental screening tool of children around 4 years of age; it is designed for use by early educators and health care professionals. This sample questionnaire provides insights into the type of questions early educators may want to include in observational assessments of young children.
Ages and Stages, 2009

Early Childhood Education (ECE) Program Evaluation Package

This Program Evaluation Package includes ECE teacher and classroom observation forms, a school readiness assessment for children, and a questionnaire for parents. It was designed for use in India but could be used/adapted for other settings as well.
World Bank, India

Micro-Innovations 2015: Assessment and Tracking of Student Attendance and Learning

This booklet lists 21 "micro-innovations" that teachers in India have developed to track student learning and attendance.
STIR Education, 2015 India

Engage teachers in the design and implementation of targeted instruction, and ensure they are well equipped.

Some teachers may be hesitant to switch from a more traditional approach to using targeted instruction. Practitioners should ensure teachers understand the value of the approach and are empowered to take ownership of it. Teachers should be supported in providing targeted instruction (e.g., by being provided with daily or weekly activity guides, trackers for student progress, and assessments).

Teacher Community Assistant Initiative (TCAI)

Learn about this program, which provided targeted remedial education to low-performing students and developed teacher guides with objectives and daily activities for each week of teaching.
Ghana Education Service, 2016 Ghana

Teacher Guide: Differentiated Instruction

Pages 40-43 of this teacher guide briefly explain how to differentiate instruction by grouping students, and provides an example of differentiated tasks for groups of varied levels around a common lesson theme.
IDP Foundation, Inc.

When appropriate, consider using computer-based programs to target instruction to individual students.

Individualized approaches, such as computer-based programs that adapt to the level of each student user, can allow for further customization of instruction to address specific areas where improvement is needed. Evidence shows, however, that incorporating technology requires significant additional planning, training, and oversight to ensure teachers or facilitators are building an effective blended learning environment.

Takalani Sesame

Videos from Takalani Sesame, Sesame Workshop's South Africa initiative, which provide short lessons on letter sounds, words, and other early literacy skills. Videos are available in English and other South African languages.
Sesame Workshop

LearnZillion K-8 Math Curriculum (inc. Videos)

The LearnZillion website freely provides an entire curriculum for K-8 math (using U.S. grade levels) with short animated videos and practice exercises for every lesson. Videos are searchable by grade level or topic and can be accessed on computers, tablets, or smart phones. Additional video lessons are available through the secondary level.

LearnZillion Reading and Writing (inc. Videos)

The LearnZillion website freely provides reading and writing video lessons including "close reading" lessons for grades 2-12 (using U.S. grade levels) and interactive "WriteAlong" lessons for grades 3-8 which include practice sheets for students.
LearnZillion, 2016

Ubongo Kids (Videos in Swahili)

Free video lessons in math and science for children ages 7-12; Swahili with English subtitles.
Ubongo Kids, 2013


StoryWeaver provides free online access to over 1,000 children's books in 32 languages. It also allows students to write their own stories inspired by images they select from a library. Stories can be filtered by reading level so children can read at a level that is right for them.
Pratham, 2015

ReadWriteThink Interactive Learning Games

ReadWriteThink provides free interactive literacy activities organized by grade level, ranging from alphabet matching games to graphic organizers for developing essay outlines.

WorldReader e-Reader Programs: Lessons Learned

Worldreader has implemented e-reader programs in several countries, and has published extensive lessons learned about the challenges of working to integrate e-reading into schools. This site links to several reports on the impact, challenges, and recommendations for implementing both shared and individual e-reader programs in partnership with schools.

Featured Case Studies

This case study provides an example of how targeted instruction is used in practice. Click below for a detailed account of one program's experience using targeted instruction.

Teacher Community Assistance Initiative (TCAI)

As part of TCAI, teaching assistants from the local community provide remedial education to students. They employ targeted instruction approaches including ability grouping and tracking students’ individual performance.

Ghana Education Service Ghana

Additional Programs

Click the links below to view profiles of programs using targeted instruction.

Pratham: Read India

Read India, Pratham’s flagship program, strives to improve children's learning levels. It aims to improve the reading, writing and basic arithmetic skills of children 6-14 years old by using Pratham's "teaching at the right level" approach.
Pratham India

Nali Kali

Nali Kali is a program implemented by the Karnataka State government that implements an 
Activity-Based Learning approach in
 early primary school classrooms.
Nali Kali India

Kytabu App

Kytabu is a textbook subscription app built to provide low-cost access to digitalized versions of all Kenyan textbooks from Standard 1 to Form 4. The app allows users from low and middle-income families to rent a page, chapter or full book for time periods varying between 1 hour and 1 year.
Kytabu Kenya


eLimu has digitized the Kenyan national curricular content for grades 5-8 to deliver an affordable and engaging app to primary children in Kenya. With an emphasis on digitally rich videos, animations, and games, the app promotes cognitive thinking skills, social consciousness, and IT literacy alongside academic learning.
eLimu Kenya

Reading Eggs

The Reading Eggs program aims to address the gaps in literacy through an online, phonetic-based program that is individualized to match each student’s ability level.
Click Foundation South Africa

MindSpark Centers

MIndspark is a computer-based, self-adaptive learning program that helps a child to improve his/her skills in mathematics, through following a learning path that is based on their current level and at a pace they are comfortable with.
MindSpark Centers India

LifeMatters Foundation Education Program

LifeMatters offers remedial support to South African students in the fields of literacy and numeracy.
LifeMatters Foundation South Africa

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Remedying Education: Evidence from Two Randomized Experiments in India

This evaluation of two programs that target individual students’ ability levels finds that both have a significant positive impact on learning outcomes. A remedial education program pulled out grade 3 and grade 4 students who were falling behind and hired young women to deliver more tailored instruction to these students. Students in the second program, a computer-assisted learning program, saw large increases in their math scores.
Benerjee, A. Cole, S. Duflo, E. Linden, L. India

What Really Works to Improve Learning in Developing Countries?

From a review of systematic reviews on interventions that work to improve learning outcomes, the authors find matching instruction to individual students’ learning levels is a commonly recommended type of intervention that works to improve learning outcomes in developing countries.
World Bank Group, 2015

A Wide Angle View of Learning Evaluation of the CCE and LEP Programmes in Haryana, India

This evaluation of two programs aiming to improve learning outcomes in India finds that one of them, the Learning Enhancement Program, which sets aside part of the school day for students to group off by ability levels, had a significant, positive impact on students’ oral and written Hindi skills.
International Initiative for Impact Evaluation, 2015 India

Learning to Improve Learning: Lessons from Early Primary Interventions and Evaluations in India and Sub-Saharan Africa

Based on findings from 11 rigorous impact evaluations in developing countries, the authors identify teaching to the students’ ability levels (as well as building structured lessons and communicating in a language students understand) as a characteristic of effective instruction.
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, 2014

Improving Learning in Primary Schools of Developing Countries: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Experiments

From a meta-analysis of interventions that aim to improve learning outcomes, McEwan finds that “manipulating the size or composition of learning groups” has, on average, one of the largest effect sizes, even with a full set of moderation controls.
McEwan, P. 2014

Teacher Community Assistance Initiative: Targeted Lessons to Improve Basic Skills

A program conducted by the Ghana Education Service providing remedial instruction to low-performing primary school students improved student skills in literacy and numeracy.
IPA, 2014

What helps children learn? Evaluation of Pratham's Read India program in Bihar & Uttarakhand

Certain formulations of Pratham's Read India program, which uses ability-level grouping to teach literacy and numeracy skills, were found to improve student learning levels.
J-PAL, 2011

Pitfalls of Participatory Programs: Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation in Education in India

This RCT tested efforts to improve community participation in education programs; while it found no effect of various methods used to foster participation, it did find that remedial reading camps implemented significantly improved the reading skills of attending children.
Banerjee, A. 2010

Peer Effects, Teacher Incentives, and the Impact of Tracking: Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation in Kenya

This study found that tracking students by ability level in western Kenya raised the test scores of all students across levels.
Duflo, E. 2011 Kenya