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Depth & Complexity Icons:

Powerful Tools for Differentiating Instruction

The Depth and complexity icons consist of 11 pictures or icons, each with a corresponding title and concept. The icons are tools that can be used in many different ways to extend and elabortate curriculum, helping students to delve more deeply into a topic of study, while viewing content from multiple perspectives. They provide a means for students to develop and exhibit abstract thinking, and help students to make interdisciplinary connections. Using these icons and enriching your curriculum and instruction with depth and complexity facilitates student thinking and learning.

These icons are being successfully used in classrooms around the country and in all grades Kindergarten through hgih school. They can also be used in all content areas; teachers are enriching their curriculum and instruction in English Language Arts, History Social Studies, math, science, electives, even P.E.

USC Professor of Education Dr. Sandra N. Kaplan ( developed the Depth & Complexity Icons (as well as the Content Imperative icons) in the mid-1990s under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research & Improvement (OERI,, Javits Curriculum Project T.W.O.

There are 8 depth icons, 3 complexity icons, and 5 content imperative icons:

Depth Icons:Complexity Icons:Content Imperatives
  • Language of the Discipline icon Language of the Discpline
  • Details icon Details
  • Big Idea icon Big Idea
  • Unanswered Questions icon Unanswered Questions
  • Patterns icon Patterns
  • Rules icon Rules
  • Trends icon Trends
  • Ethics icon Ethics
  • Relate Over Time icon Relate Over Time
  • Multiple Perspectives icon Multiple Perspectives
  • Across Disciplines icon Across Disciplines

Here are a few resources for you to use in your classroom. And we welcome your contributions, too! If you have developed some great lessons, graphic organizers or other resources that use these icons, please send us the files (or a link to where you’ve posted them online) and we will happily add them to this list.

This is just a start—we’ll do our best to add many maore resources to this list, as well as annotations and proper citations, as soon as possible.

Resources from Our November 20, 2010 Workshop:

Printable Resources – General:

Examples of Classroom & Curriculum Applications:

Online Resources:

PVUSD GATE Services also has a web page of Depth & Complexity Icon Resources.

Resources from Our November 21, 2009 Workshop:





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