Differentiation, a deep-rooted pedagogical approach of Membean’s, recognizes and celebrates the uniqueness of every student. Because Membean is built on the foundational premise that the goal of a vocabulary program is to develop deep word consciousness, it meets every student at their own level, recognizes their individual challenges, and fosters word awareness and vocabulary acquisition. Membean goes beyond differentiation into the realms of individualization and personalization, recognizing that even within labelled and outwardly homogeneous groups, individual learners have different competencies and prior knowledge. This article explains how Membean differentiates instruction to meet the needs of all students. 


Most vocabulary programs require that all students within a class or grade level be taught the same set of words. These programs also require teachers to make careful decisions on which groups should be assigned which word lists. Membean intentionally eschews this approach.

Students start with a quick and simple calibration process that determines the size of their receptive vocabulary. All students are taken through this exercise. As a result, not only are students at different levels assigned entirely different word sets, but even individual students within a particular subgroup (from gifted to remedial and everything in between) could also potentially be assigned different words. When using Membean within a single class or group, you’ll often find different students working with different word sets. Curriculum is thus differentiated at an individual level.


While struggling learners might be learning words like ability, certain, and collection, advanced students will encounter far juicier words, such as amend and analyze.  Precocious students might even encounter literary words such as  dogmatic, clarion, and abate.   

Regardless of which words are learned, every Membean word is taught in many different ways to empower each student to make individual learning choices. The ability to select from a menu of options to learn each word not only provides learning autonomy, but develops an appreciation for the richness and complexity of each word.   

Developing a high-quality mental representation and understanding the wonder and complexity of every word are key requirements for building word consciousness. A Membean word page is composed of little units called memlets. Each memlet teaches something different about a word. A student is encouraged to consume a memlet or two at every encounter. In this way, over time, they’ll build a complete and nuanced understanding of the word. Memlets for a Membean word include the following:  

  • A purposefully scaffolded context paragraph with a narrative that uses the target word three to four times
  • A Membean-created, student-friendly definition
  • An interactive Word Ingredients memlet to teach prefixes, roots, and suffixes
  • An entertaining, short video clip that uses the word or demonstrates its meaning
  • A high-quality, memorable panel of images and custom-drawn illustrations that graphically represent each word
  • A Word Constellation memlet that shows the relationship with other words
  • Multiple curated, real-world example sentences from modern journalistic contexts, classic literature, and famous quotes

Learning Process

Students learn best when they are kept in their zone of proximal development, or as we like to call it, their Goldilocks Zone. That’s why Membean’s Trainer models human memory to choose individual learning pathways for every student.  It decides what words they see, what kinds of questions they answer, how often they see each word, and when they see particular question types. We have a robust algorithm that calculates each students' results in unmatched detail every 24 hours, determining word strength and the next prescriptive steps for each students' path.

Teacher Controls

Membean encourages teachers to move beyond their class roster and organize students by vocabulary competency.  While this is not mandatory, it often makes student management easier.  For example, students with similar IEP accommodations might benefit from being grouped together so that teachers can modify their goals and objectives. Likewise, students who don’t perform assigned work or students who need very little supervision can be organized into their own groups.  

Once such groups are established, teachers can do the following: 

  • Assign different training time goals and different homework. A highly motivated group could be assigned Membean for a total of 45 minutes per week and allowed to make their own choices on when they do this work, while a group that needs more regimentation can be assigned a goal of 15 minutes, 3 times per week.
  • Issue assessments at different cadences. An advanced group might need just a once-a-quarter assessment, while an ESOL group might need a regular, once-a-week assessment to provide rapid short-term learning feedback. 
  • Choose to issue writing assignments for groups that need additional challenging work. 
  •  Obtain differential alerts. For example, advanced students can probably be excused for moving too fast, but struggling students can be red-flagged if they move through questions very quickly. 

Evidence of Learning

The same word encountered by different students or even by the same student at different stages of learning will be tested for mastery in different ways. A student just starting out on Membean or an English language learner might be required to demonstrate a broad understanding of the word before moving on. Experienced users might be required to show a clear understanding of word nuance before moving on. Additionally, various flavors of writing assignments are available to provide students additional opportunities to demonstrate mastery.   

Custom Assessments

Assessments are customized to every student, and teachers can also customize the length and difficulty to match the students’ needs. No two students in a given class will be tested on the same set of questions, and each assessment is auto-graded. These assessment options allow teachers to tailor assessments for their students’ abilities:

  • Assessment Length: Teachers can choose to include as few as ten or as many as one hundred questions.
  • Assessment Rigor: Assessments can be made less or more challenging by including select-all-that-apply questions.