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Planning with UDL

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach to teaching and learning that uses what we know about the brain and how it learns to ensure that each lesson or learning activity is free of the barriers that many have to overcome to learn. Using UDL to plan gives all students more opportunity to succeed.

Instead of thinking about what all students need, UDL asks teachers to consider the barriers and structures of teaching and learning in order to eliminate those barriers for each and every student.

Check out the structure of UDL provided by CAST below.

UDL Table

UDL, created by CAST and grounded in modern neuroscience, is organized into three principles and three sets of guidelines for each principle. With the caveat of possibly oversimplifying things, each of these principles (representation, action & expression, and engagement) relates to three different brain networks (recognition, strategic, and affective respectively), each pair of principles and brain networks relating to effective instruction as guidelines (access, build, and internalize).

Below are some barriers that commonly exist in our day to day practice organized by principle.

Barrier Matrix


Action & Expression


Learning Purpose & Context

If students are only “told” in one way, there will be students that don’t have all the purpose or context of the lesson at the start or during the lesson activities. This also prevents students from seeing themselves within the purpose or context of the lesson.

If students are only asked to repeat the learning purpose verbally, individual students only have the opportunity to parrot the response back, instead of showing that they actually understand the information from their perspective.

When only asked to reflect either verbally or in writing words, or only at the end of the lesson, we prevent students from identifying and getting the support they need to monitor their learning across the lesson.

Learning Materials & Assignments

When materials are only text, or only visuals, or only music, etc, every student doesn’t have the opportunity to access the information they need to make sense of the information. This leaves students out of the community of classroom environment.

When we require a specific format (specifically, one that is not specified by the standard, objective, or learning goal), we close the door on creativity, deep thinking, and wider connections that are central to true understanding of content.

When we only provide paper or only tech, we don’t allow students access to the information in the ways that they decide could help them best.

So how do we plan with these principles in mind?

To provide access to these options in your lesson plan, consider the following questions in relation to each of the principles and guidelines.

Provide Multiple Means of Representation

By providing multiple means of representation in the materials used to get new information, your students will have access to wider scope of the context and content of the information you want them to get. There are many ways to do this outside of traditional paper books, worksheets, note sheets, or even slide presentations.

Digital materials that students can manipulate provide text-to-speech, font size, and background color options. Introducing videos, music, and movements to represent concepts or steps allows for students to adjust the speed and volume, for example. Using art representations help students to make sense of both and find relationships or connections.

This options allow each student to interact with the information in the best way for their particular learning preferences.

Provide Multiple Means of Action & Expression

In creating space for students to interact with the information, multiple means looks like giving students ideas and options for how they practice and submit the work. Instead of simply having them write or speak responses. There are a multitude of ways that students can demonstrate their learning - and what they come up with might surprise you!

Some options include making a video essay, drawing a storyboard, or building a model. The possibilities are endless and even group work is appropriate (which can cut down on your grading)!

Provide Multiple Means of Engagement

In order to use multiple means of engagement, the key here is to help students be meta about how they are learning by prompting them. This also relates to multiple means of representation because they can respond in any way that feels the best for them. Remember to prompt students to ask for help or clarification - not just by asking "who has questions?" but asking "what questions do you have about ___?"

Below are some additional questions you can ask your students:

  • Have you reached our learning goal yet? How do you know?

  • How close are you to reaching our learning goal? What do you need?

  • Do you need to do anything different in order to reach our learning goal?

  • How has what you've done today helped you learn something new?

Check out this list here for even more ideas about integrating UDL on your lessons!

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