Think-Tac-Toe: A Strategy for Differentiation

The visual method fosters inclusive education

A Think Tac Toe Chart for an End of Unit Project
Jerry Webster

Think-tac-toe is a strategy that harnesses the visual pattern of the tic-tac-toe game to broaden student understanding of instructional content, challenge students who already have some mastery of a subject, and provide a variety of means to assess student mastery in a way that is fun and unusual.

A teacher would design a think-tac-toe assignment to support the purpose of the study unit. Each row could have a single theme, use a single medium, explore the same idea across three different media, or even explore a single idea or subject across different disciplines.

Differentiation in Education

Differentiation is the practice of modifying and adapting instruction, materials, content, student projects, and assessment to meet the needs of diverse learners. In a differentiated classroom, teachers recognize that all students are different and require varied teaching methods to be successful in school. But, what does that mean in real terms that a teacher can put to use? 

Enter Mary Ann Carr, author of Differentiation Made Simple, an educational resource that she describes a "toolkit" for providing different methods—or tools—for presenting materials in a way that students understand. These tools include task cards for literature, creative writing, and research; graphic organizers; guides to creating differentiated units; and tic-tac-toe learning tools, such as think-tac-toe.

Indeed, think-tac-toe is a kind of graphic organizer that provides a way for students with different learning styles or special needs to organize content so that they can understand and learn.

How It Works

Put simply, "Think-tac-toe is a strategy that allows students to chose how they will show what they are learning, by giving them a variety of activities to chose from," notes teaching blog, Mandy Neal. For example, suppose a class is studying the American Revolution, a subject that is taught in most fifth-grade classes. A standard way to test whether students have learned the material would be to give them a multiple-choice or essay test or have them write a paper. A think-tac-toe assignment could provide an alternative way for students to learn and show what they know.

Example Think-Tac-Toe Assignment

With think-tac-toe, you could give the students nine different possibilities. For example, the top row of the think-tac-toe board would allow students to choose from three possible graphic assignments, such as making a comic book of an important event in the Revolution, creating a computer graphics presentation (including their original artwork), or creating an American Revolution board game.

A second row could allow students to express the subject matter dramatically by writing and presenting a one-act play, writing and presenting a puppet play, or writing and presenting a monolog. Students who learn by more traditional methods could present the material in written form listed in the bottom three boxes of the think-tac-toe board offering them a chance to create a Philadelphia newspaper about the day of the Declaration of Independence, create six letters of correspondence between a Connecticut farmer fighting under George Washington for independence and his wife back home, or writing and illustrating a children's picture book about the Declaration of Independence.

You could assign each student to complete a single assignment listed in one box, or invite them to try three assignments to score a "think-tac-toe" earning them extra credit.

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Your Citation
Webster, Jerry. "Think-Tac-Toe: A Strategy for Differentiation." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Webster, Jerry. (2020, August 26). Think-Tac-Toe: A Strategy for Differentiation. Retrieved from Webster, Jerry. "Think-Tac-Toe: A Strategy for Differentiation." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 30, 2023).