Playlists: A Path to Personalizing Learning

One reason I am such a big advocate for blended learning is that using the various models allow me to spend more time on the aspects of my job that I enjoy and feel are most valuable for students. I don’t want to waste precious class time talking at my students. I want to sit next to them and coach them as they develop skills and apply new information. I want to provide real-time feedback and conference with students about their progress. I want to engage in side-by-side assessments so students understand where they are excelling and where they need to spend time practicing to improve their skills. Using playlists is one strategy that allows me to accomplish all of these goals!

The playlist concept stems from the Individual Rotation Model in which each student works from an individual playlist of activities. I’ve used playlists for formal writing, grammar, and projects. The goal of the playlist model is to allow students some control over the pace and path of their learning.

When I design a playlist, I always start with a template. I include all of the activities that I believe MOST students will benefit from then I customize individual playlists to ensure that students who need additional scaffolding receive it and those who are ready for next challenge get it.

My playlists mix the following elements:

  • Screencasts
  • Offline activities
  • Video explanations and instruction
  • Online quizzes
  • Personalized skill practice with online resources
  • Pair practice
  • Peer-evaluation
  • Self-evaluation
  • Side-by-side assessments
  • Conferencing

Playlists pull together a mix of activities designed to build specific skills. Students control the pace of their learning and teachers can customize individual learning paths with the playlist model.

An entire class can work on a playlist simultaneously, or they can be the focus of one station in a station rotation lesson. As students work on a playlist, the teacher must be available at a “help desk” to work directly with students who hit a “stop sign.” These short conferencing sessions allow the teacher to partner with students to ensure each child is getting the support, scaffolding, instruction, and practice he/she needs to develop.

Click here to view my argumentative writing template. It will give you an idea of how I lay out the activities. You are welcome to make a copy and customize it to use with your students.

This entry was posted in Learning. Bookmark the permalink.

63 Responses to Playlists: A Path to Personalizing Learning

  1. Dean Haakenson says:

    Catlin, Do all students complete all of the steps? And do they choose what to work on when?

    • Hi Dean,

      Yes, all students complete the steps though I customize the template for students who need additional steps and scaffolds (beyond the personalized focus sections that follow our help desk time). They work from beginning to the end sequentially. They do not jump around the playlist.


  2. Molleen Dupree-Dominguez says:

    Love this. Questions:
    1) Do students complete all of this work in class?

    2) What if you discover that a student is really not keeping pace – like hasn’t been to see you for the first stop sign within the first week of work time?

    • Hi Molleen,

      I try to create time in class to make progress on playlists, but I have students who choose to work outside of class. If we are fortunate enough to have the Chromebook cart, we can work synchronously on them during a Whole Group Rotation. If I plan a Station Rotation, the playlist is a great online station.

      I note their progress on a Google Spreadsheet to keep track of their movement through the playlist. If I don’t see students by a certain date, I call them to my help desk to figure out what they need from me.


      • Esther Loney says:

        Caitlin, the playlists are similar to what I do but I haven’t fully worked out tracking progress. Can you expand on this? How do you track on the google sheet? Students tell you what they have done or you ask & enter it? This would help me and templates if you have them, thanks!

        • Hi Esther,

          I have a corresponding Google Sheet where I track each student’s progress. I have the students’ names in the first column, then every column after is one of the activities on the playlist. When we have our “Tucker Time” check-ins, I review their progress and check off the items they have completed. I also have “drop dead dates” when specific tasks need to be complete. If I don’t have a note that a student has reached that point by the drop-dead date, we conference so I can figure out what support they need from me.

          I hope that helps!


          I hope that helps.

  3. Tracy Enos says:

    Playlists have impacted my teaching and students so much! We are working on my argument writing playlist right now ?

  4. Betsy Bucy says:

    Thank you for this awesome post on playlists. I’d heard colleagues refer to this process and frankly got them confused with choice boards. I love this idea and hope to try it!!!

  5. John says:

    I have done this in a group setting in class. I would like to it more individual. I want to do it more with fitness journals of students.

  6. Pingback: Educator’s Flower Pots – SLM 508 CLT

  7. Sheila Gearhart says:

    I love the template you use for your playlists! Very teacher and kid friendly. I teach 5th grade and our students have 1:1 laptops. I’ve use individiual pacing through tasks in my class, but never knew to call it a “Playlist”. I find having the students engaged and knowing what order to preceed through the tasks/assignments, it allows for a more productive class session. While students are working I can conference with individuals or small groups. I hate wasting students time and my time with irrelevant talking or repeating myself.

    I was wondering how you distribute the playlist to your students? I saw you chose Schoology of one of your favorite websites. Our district uses Schoology, too. Our district also uses Office 365 with student accounts. In your opinion, if I am using Schoology, is the best way to distribute to the students using this LMS? I was thinking of creating the template as a word document and add it to a course as an assignment. I could also add certain tasks right in the Schoology course for students to access. I would love to hear what works best from your experience.

    • Hi Sheila,

      I share the playlist with my students via Google Classroom. I do use Schoology, but I use the free version so I have limited functionality. I would imagine that Office 365 is probably your best bet unless you have an integration with Schoology that makes it easy to share from your LMS.

      I hope you’re able to figure out an easy workflow!


  8. Pingback: Innovation dans l'éducation | Pearltrees

  9. Nicole says:

    I love this approach, and I’m very excited to try it in my grade 11 and 12 classes this year. Thank you so much for sharing!!
    I’ve never made videos for them though, and that part makes me a little nervous. Do you have a blog post or advice on making the videos? Thanks! 🙂

    • Hi Nicole,

      Here is my video making strategy 🙂
      1. Create a Google Slide presentation with my content (mix of text and media)
      2. Record a screencast (a recording of my screen with audio) with either Screencastify (Chrome Extension) OR QuickTime on my Mac.
      3. If I record with Screencastify, it saves to my Google Drive and I share the direct link to the video in my Drive with students (usually using a customized link). If I make my video with QuickTime, I upload it to YouTube and share it from there.

      I’ll work on a more detailed explanation in a future blog post. Hopefully, this will help for now! Let me know if you have any questions.


  10. Jeana Link says:

    THANK YOU! I have been looking for something like this.
    I do have questions about the essay itself. Is there a place where the prompt is shared? I have struggled with a rigorous and appropriate argumentative prompt for years.
    Also, how long does this playlist take for students to work through (beginning to end)? I am curious how much time to allot.

    Thank you!

  11. Melissa Yarborough says:

    What do you put on your Quizizz for students to complete? I see that it says thesis statements, but I was unable to access the Quizizz to see what it was about.

  12. Kristy says:

    I loved reading about Playlists! What a great way to engage students and keep them focused on completing goals! I am curious about your thoughts on Study Sync. Our district is looking to adopt it in our upcoming round of ELAR adoptions. Do you find it easy to use for differentiation? Are you pleased with the student side of the program? Does the technology aspect seem engaging to students? Thanks in advance for any and all help with this!

    • Hi Kristy,

      StudySync takes the work out of differentiation, which I SO appreciate! You can identify each student’s level of need on your teacher end. Then when you assign a text, the appropriate scaffolds are automatically provided for each student. It’s awesome!

      Yes, I like the student side of StudySync. The annotation tool is great for honing online active reading skills, the video previews grab reluctant readers, the SyncTV episodes model strong discussion strategies, and the audio readings of the texts help even my lowest readers access the texts we are reading.

      I think the biggest issue is that teachers need to weave StudySync into their classes. Too often, teachers assign a lesson in StudySync and ask students to complete it, but the lesson plans provide ideas for blending online and offline work with the program. I don’t want to see students staring at a screen all period. I wrote the blog below about how I use StudySync to create whole group rotation lessons.

      It’s a dynamic program with a ton of content from which teachers can draw.


  13. Pingback: Flipped Classroom 101: Challenges, Benefits & Design Tips |

  14. Cristy Bohlen (@msfrenchteach) says:

    Thanks for sharing your work. I’m inspired to create some sort of playlist to help my French learners with writing. Like you, I prefer to work with students in small groups, and that’s what I do for the moat part, so playlists would be a fantastic addition.

    Sadly, there isn’t a Grammarly équivalent that would really work for world languages; however, high school language learners don’t write as much as they would in English.

    Our LMS is Canvas, and we have 1:1 MacBooks. I’m going to figure out a feasible flow with those tools. If you have ideas, I’m more than happy to learn about them from you. 🙂 I wish I could come spend a day with you — you are an inspiration.

    Merci beaucoup!

    • Thank you, Cristy! I appreciate your kind words! I will actually be in France with my family next week 🙂 We are staying in Reims and Paris!

      Do you have access to Google/Google Classroom? I have found that creating playlists on Google Documents, sharing out via Google Classroom and tracking progress via Google Classroom is the easiest workflow.

      I did a search online and found these spelling/grammar checkers for French. I’m not sure it will work for your purposes, but I wanted to share it in case your students can use it to check shorter pieces of writing.


  15. Maria Buendia says:

    This is an amazing resource! I have been struggling with how to provide my students with quality work using different apps and programs but I have not found the time to implement. This is a wonderful way to differentiate while providing students access and choice. I can’t wait to try it out.

  16. Theresa says:

    How can you share the playlist with students and still have access to it where I can edit it? To help personalize it, I want to be able to add to it along with the students.

    • Hi Theresa,

      Yes, I would suggest sharing it as an “assignment” via Google Classroom and select “make a copy for every student.” That way you can jump in and out of their documents personalizing them.


  17. Crystal says:

    The notes section.. is that for you to write notes in or for them to write notes about understanding and questions?

  18. Brittney Wantz says:

    I am new to the blended learning community and playlists! Do you have a math template you use that you are willing to share?

  19. Leslie Frazee says:

    Hi Catlin,
    I just recently heard about playlists and am very excited to try it out this year! Do you know of an example of one for science?
    Thank you

  20. Paul RoyleGrimes says:

    Would love a copy of a playlist

  21. So I am intrigued but I teach first grade. For our younger Blenders, how long ideally would a playlist be? This one seems like it would be overwhelming.

    • Hi Michelle! I would highly recommend checking out already created “hyperdocs” (kind of like a mini-playlist) that have been tagged as first grade. There are some fun examples of how to take the playlist concept and adapt it for first-grade students. I would also suggest using Google Slides (not docs) and inserting videos of you explaining the parts of the playlist for kids learning remotely.

      Take care!

  22. Emily says:

    Thank you for the great article! Do you have any examples of HS Science playlists?


    • Hi Emily,

      I don’t have a sample science playlist, but I hope someone else can jump in and share one. I know science teachers who have taken a unit and broken it down using the playlist format. Wish I had an example for you!


  23. Beth Michaels says:

    I just was on your zoom call about Blended Learning and Distance Learning. I feel so inspired by what you shared. I have also recently read your blended learning book and I am now reading Power Up Blended Learning. I love them both! I did see that you shared a playlist that you had created with a third grade teacher that you were coaching. It looked amazing. Is there anyway that you could share it or one like it? I’d love to get a closer look at it. I think that it would give myself and some of the teachers that I support a better idea of how to create and use them in our classrooms.
    Thank you!

  24. Ninfa Loera says:

    Hola! I am so grateful for your posts. I am helping lead a webinar on the design of playlists, stations, videos, and giving feedback in the world language setting. I am citing so much of your work for the webinar and just wanted to say thank you!

  25. Lisa Nickerson says:

    Hi there!
    Thank you so much for sharing all of your ideas & information! I teach high school math so I was wondering if you know of any math teachers who train on how to implement blended learning or playlists for high school math?
    Thank you so much!

    • Hi Lisa,

      I have worked with middle school teachers who have played around with playlists. I could not locate any math playlist examples though I did work with a 9th-grade teacher who combined 1. videos (a combo of self-made and Khan Academy), 2. application activities using Desmos, 3. offline pen and practice activities, 4. personalize practice with Khan Academy, 5. math “tell me how” activities with FlipGrid, 6. collaborative challenge, and 7. conferencing/check-ins with the teacher. I was hoping I had it in one of my coaching folders but I cannot find it. I should try to recreate it. If I do, I will send you a note!

      I looked online to see if I could find anything to share with you and found the 7th-grade example below created by Valor Math. It is primarily offline activities related to proportions, so I wanted to share it in case it was helpful.

      Take care,

  26. Chelsea says:

    I love the idea of using a playlist, especially for writing (even though I teach elementary). It would be great to help students stay on-task at their own pace! I have one question about management, though. One problem I have, particularly during writing conferencing, is that when more than a few students finish around the same time, I have a “line” waiting for me when kids reach a stopping point for a conference. How do you help kids manage their time so they can use their learning time wisely without having to wait too long to get their “teacher time”?

    • Hi Chelsea,

      I encourage teachers to have a “next steps” or “may do” list of items on their board in case students hit the teacher conference and the teachers is already working with a student. This gives students a list of items they can work on while they wait. I often included things like 1) read for pleasure (SSR book), 2) review vocabulary on, 3) create a review activity on Quizlet for the novel we are reading. I also had some “brain break” activities available, like photocopied pages from a coloring book for adults, Sudoku, or crossword puzzles.

      I hope that helps!

      Take care,

  27. Robert Boyes says:

    I love the idea of using a playlist for History. I teach 7th grade Texas history and have used edupuzzles, quizizzes as well as utilized videos from Khan Academy. Trying to figure out how the blended model would look like all virtual. Do you have a history sample model? It doesn’t have to be Texas History but preferred. Thanks.

    • Hi Robert,

      I have not created a history playlist, but I am hoping maybe someone else can jump in with an example. It sounds like you have a great mix of tools you are already using, so focusing your playlist on a specific time period, country, or movement then mixing activities and media to allow students to self-pace through an exploration of that topic could be really engaging.


  28. Jan C. says:

    I have never created a playlist, but you have provided an excellent example that I will be able to use in the future.

  29. Christine Campbell says:

    I saw your playlist template at a conference and thought it would be an ideal way to personalize learning during the fall with classes being online and then perhaps moving into a blended format. I would love to see a science playlist if you have access to one.
    Thank you for sharing the resource.

    • Hi Christine,

      I do not have a science one in any of my coaching folders. I am hoping that someone else can chime in with an example! I have worked (ages ago) with a science teacher who created one for a unit of study and mixed videos, reading, online review activities, etc. and it worked really well.


  30. Linda Gruen says:

    I like how students can evaluate their understanding with a game. Also, the self-assessment or self-reflection is great at the end–higher level thinking skills.

  31. Robert Vottero says:

    thank you so much

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *