Putting the BOOM into Differentiation

reprinted with permission from Minds in Bloom (first published Feb. 18, 2018)

by Belinda Givens of BVG SLP

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We’ve all been there: small group intensive instruction and every student in the group is on a different level. You have a student who is answering all the questions, eager to participate and excited about learning. Then, there is the student who gets it but doesn’t really feel confident participating because they are not quite sure of their responses. And, of course, there’s a student (or two) who is completely lost and, instead of asking for clarification, tries to defer the attention away from themselves by exhibiting distracting behaviors to interfere with others. This is the challenge that we frequently face, and our mission is to differentiate or modify our lessons in such a way that we capture and motivate every student in the group. We want to provide a level of rigor that challenges our highest scholar while still presenting the material in a manner that intrigues, motivates, and encourages our lowest level scholar to begin to connect the dots.


From my personal experience, I have come to realize that I get the best outcomes from my students when they are having fun and actively interacting with the content. Kids today love technology, and by incorporating it into my lessons, my students come alive and get excited about learning. I strongly feel that learning should be fun in order to keep students motivated and to ultimately foster a long love of learning. When I think back to my school-age years, the teachers that I remember most are the ones who were creative and who put forth their best efforts to offer a learning environment that was full of fun and engaging resources. Fast forward to the 21st-century classroom, and it is absolutely imperative to stay on the cutting edge of technology – from digital interactive notebooks to digital self-grading task cards, there are infinite possibilities to differentiate your instruction digitally, while captivating and motivating your students.


The discovery of Boom Cards™ has really been a game changer for me and my small group sessions. If you haven’t heard of Boom Cards yet, then trust me when I tell you that they are exploding into the world of education! My students are so eager and excited by them that they have even started to request them for homework. When we as educators can excite our students to a level that they are enthusiastic about learning, we have hit the jackpot, and that’s the way I feel when my students begin to request homework. Boom Cards are digital interactive task cards that display on SMARTboards for whole group instruction, on computers, tablets, and iPads for small group lessons, and on smartphones for independent reinforcement. I have been busy creating Boom Cards to address a wide range of language and literacy concepts in a fun and interactive way. Below is a quick peek at one of my decks:

What I really appreciate most about Boom Cards is the fact that they are presented to my students in small, digestible bites, they have visual cues built in to aid in comprehension, and they incorporate technology, which is very motivating. They also can be read aloud to students who need extra support, or you can challenge your students to demonstrate their ability to read, comprehend, and independently complete the task on each card. I also love the fact that my students receive immediate feedback, and the cards are self-grading! This saves me a tremendous amount of time with progress monitoring and allows me to easily pinpoint the areas that my students are struggling with most so I can offer increased repetitions and opportunities to master specific skills.


Within small groups, I facilitate my Boom Cards™ lessons in such a way that every student is challenged regardless of their skill level. The interactive nature of the cards (point and click, drag and drop, and fill-in-the-blanks) naturally reinforce learning in a way that keeps my students motivated, and I spend the entire session focused on targeting important concepts and don’t have to devote time to external reward systems.  When my students are excited, it certainly shows in the area that matters most, and that is better measurable outcomes.  The increased attention level demonstrated by my students when using Boom Cards results in improved carryover from one session to the next, and therefore, we spend less time reviewing and more time on compounded growth.


Whether you are a classroom teacher, an ESE teacher, or a Speech-Language Pathologist, we all share a common thread – we want to see growth and progress in all of our students. As a reading-endorsed Speech-Language Pathologist, my passion is language and literacy.  I make a conscious effort to incorporate literacy into every session to maximize the time I have with my students.  With the level of rigor that is expected from them in today’s classroom, I want to ensure that they thoroughly understand that what we do in our small group sessions is to better equip them with the tools they need to be successful in the classroom and beyond. For this reason, I have started a complete series of Boom Cards that target a wide variety of language and literacy concepts in each deck.  My Sequencing and Story Retell Boom Cards series is designed to address sequencing, identification of story elements, answering wh- questions, auditory comprehension, reading comprehension, vocabulary, use of context clues, and story retell. They are differentiated to encourage active participation from all students in a fun and engaging way.

To help build the foundation for strong readers, I also have several Boom Cards™ decks that address important introductory skills, including rhyming words, phonemic awareness, sight words, synonyms, antonyms, and much more!  Every deck that I create is designed with a focus on differentiation and can be used during whole group lessons, small group intensive instruction, 1:1 sessions, or independent assessment. To find more of my digital interactive lessons, please visit my Boom Learning store HERE.


Belinda Vickers Givens, MA, CCC-SLP has been an American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) Certified Speech-Language Pathologist for 11 years.  She is licensed in FL, CA, WA, and VT and is a member of ASHA’s Special Interest Group 18 for Telepractice.  She currently works as a teletherapist serving PreK-12th grade students.  She holds her B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Education from Florida State University and her M.A. in Communicative Sciences and Disorders from the University of Central Florida.  While pursuing her Master’s degree, she also earned an endorsement in Reading from UCF.

She is the co-owner of Infinity Rehabilitation, LLC with her husband, who is an Occupational Therapist.  She is the creator and owner of BVG SLP, which specializes in creating no-prep, no-print digital materials that are great for use in whole group, in small groups, within teletherapy platforms, or in face-to-face therapy.  She is passionate about literacy and has written a children’s book (The Adventures of DemDem the Garbage Truck: Watch Out for the Bumps).  She tries to incorporate literacy into the majority of her therapy sessions. She also sells resources in her Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Belinda is the mother to three amazing young boys and enjoys taking road trips, reading, crafting, and exploring.  She has been married for 15 years and resides with her family in Central Florida. You can keep up with Belinda at her website, on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Pinterest.

Algebraic Thinking with Boom Cards

Teaching Algebraic thinking early and often is a core feature of the Common Core math standards (and standards with similar underlying foundations such as TEKS). Algebraic thinking is the ability to recognize and analyze patterns and relationships in a mathematical context. The Common Core/TEKS approach replaces an elementary curriculum focused primarily on calculation with a model more like that used elsewhere in the world (yes Canada you beat us too it!). We still have some time in the U.S. before we’ll see the adoption of the Common Core methodology influencing high school math scores: the first cohort to have Common Core standards from Kindergarten is just now entering 5th grade.

Newer research casts significant doubt on earlier findings that students are not developmentally ready for algebra until a certain age, suggesting that those finding were are a function of instructional shortcomings, not neurological limitations. Neuroscience has shown that introducing concepts such as variable notation (representing numbers with letters or shapes) is within the reach of even lower primary-grade students.

Did you know?

When performing mathematical thinking, our brains activate the occpital lobes, the frontal cortex, and our parietal lobes. The parietal lobes help us find our way home. They combine mental maps with proprioceptive feedback to perform real world geometry and trigonometry. In the educational context, the parietal system helps us transform sequential information into quasi-spatial information, transcending order to find meaning. It is used to comprehend spoken language, perceive melody, and perform mathematical reasoning. If your students have basic navigational skills or can hold a melody, they have the baseline for algebraic thinking.

Introducing Algebraic Thinking, a pathway to success

Students begin developing algebraic thinking when they learn to decompose numbers in kindergarten. By first grade, they are ready to begin working with variable notation when solving basic addition and subtraction problems. They are also introduced to the first set of abstract rules that help them decipher relationships: the commutative and associative properties of addition. They also explore the relationships between addition and subtraction and the meaning of the equal sign. Patterns of equal groups of objects are then introduced to lay the foundation for reasoning about multiplication.


The foundations laid with patterns of repeated addition in second grade, expand in upper elementary into manipulations with multiplication and division. The commutative, associative and identity properties of multiplication are introduced. Prior work with variable notation sets students up for success in understanding division as an unknown-factor problem. Complexity accelerates into fourth and fifth grade, adding fractions and decimals into the mix. Students use algebraic thinking to explore comparative relationships and practice writing equations using variable notation. Pattern and relationship work continues, with a focus on the patterns of factors.


With these solid foundations, students are ready to continue developing their skills into middle school, high school and beyond, working with expressions, equation, inequalities, and when ready, working with polynomials, rational functions, and more.


Resources for Deeper Investigation

Bárbara M. Brizuela, Maria Blanton, Katharine Sawrey, Ashley Newman-Owens & Angela Murphy Gardiner, Children’s Use of Variables and Variable Notation to Represent Their Algebraic Ideas, Mathematical Thinking and Learning, Vol. 17, Iss. 1, 2015.

Carolyn Kieran (Editor), Teaching and Learning Algebraic Thinking with 5-to 12-Year-Olds: The Global Evolution of an Emerging Field of Resarch and Practice, Springer International Publishing AG 2018.

Cathy Seely, A Journey in Algebraic Thinking, NCTM News Bulletin, Sept. 2004.

Combining Standards-Based Learning with Actionable Data for Differentiation

In our modern, highly mobile culture, standards give students a relatively uniform exposure to content when they move between states. Most states have adopted some form of standards derived from the Achieve American Diploma Project. Both the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and the Common Core State Standards have their roots in Achieve’s work.


Whichever set of standards your state uses, a survey of high school graduates indicates that setting high expectations and pushing all students to take advanced coursework results in students feeling better prepared to face the challenges of work or college, whichever they choose after graduation.

The textbooks in your classroom may be everything you need for at-level work (or not). But, for your students who are ready to reach higher, or your students who need more repetitions, you’ll want to supplement. Boom Cards supplements, with their self-grading elements, give you actionable data so you know who is ready to move on, and who needs more practice.

Actionable Data

We talked about proficiency and mastery in this blog. The best-prepared students have not merely mastered the data, but are proficient: they can respond correctly, quickly, and without hesitation.

Watch and learn how to read Boom Cards reports to track progress towards mastery and proficiency.

Differentiating with Boom Cards Decks

Standards-based Boom Cards decks allow you to combine rich student reports with dialed up or dialed down content for specific standards. Here are just a few examples of how you might deploy Boom Cards for differentiation.

4th Grade Place Value 

I heart 4th Grade creates standards-based supplements for her classroom. She has materials aligned to third, fourth and fifth grade standards. When teaching place value you can use a combination of her decks to assess, practice, differentiate and intervene to get your students to proficiency. Here is a sample pathway through some of her materials for Numbers in Base Ten:

Place Value 1.png4.NBT.1 Identify Place Value


  • identify the value of a specified digit,
  • determine how many times greater a number is,
  • practice with base ten.

Need more practice at level? Assign

For the student who needs to a slow start, revisit the prior year’s standards with

Students who show they’ve mastered 4.NBT.1 can be quickly moved on to 4.NBT.2 with Compare Numbers (using place value). You can use the deck for independent work or clustered groups.

English Language Art Language Standard 5: Vocabulary Acquisition and Use

WiqwJRzKqxDNZ8H5Z-Slide06.jpgUsing the search “CC.ELA.L.5” in the Boom Learning store provides a variety of materials spanning up through eighth grade. Many authors in the ELA area offer bundles that span the evolution of a standard across grade levels.

For example, Rachel Lynette’s Context Clues bundle spans third to sixth-grade levels. Students can move from one level to the next as they demonstrate mastery and proficiency.

Try a search or two to find materials you can use for your classroom.