Apply Universal Design for Learning

Share: Share on LinkedIn! Print page! More options


“I was most surprised [in the course] at how well the UDL concepts fit into my teaching beliefs that all students learn when given the information in a form that relates to their needs.”

Sherri Soluri, Florida TEAL Team

“[After learning about UDL], I realized that I was paying more attention to individual students in big classes (who were slower to engage) and focused on making writing exercises fun and interesting. I could witness the students respond. Also, I had just seen the movie, Waiting for Superman, and realized how important it is for a teacher to always be engaged in the classroom and committed to student learning.”

A.J. Zissler, Idaho TEAL Team

It’s the key word in the Universal Design for Learning Guidelines from CAST (2011). Look for multiple ways to get your teaching objectives taught as means in which teachers help learners to engage with the instruction. In writing, think about all the ways writers could do the physical work of writing:

  • Handwriting
  • Typing
  • Word processing
  • Voice recognition
  • Word prediction
  • Edit with highlighters
  • Cut and paste revisions with paper

Make Time to Plan

How can you support planning in multiple modes? How much time do you allot to planning? This is an incredibly important step and one struggling writers will regularly skip—to their detriment. Use this list of ideas to spark your imagination:

  • Video
  • Music
  • Collage and montage
  • Art
  • Stories
  • Nature walks/time outdoors
  • Models of writing
I. Provide Multiple Means of Representation.

1. Provide options for perception.

  • Options that customize the display of information
  • Options that provide alternatives for auditory information
  • Options that provide alternatives for visual information

2. Provide options for language and symbols.

  • Options that define vocabulary and symbols
  • Options that clarify syntax and structure
  • Options for decoding text or mathematical notation
  • Options that promote cross linguistic understanding
  • Options that illustrate key concepts non-linguistically

3. Provide options for comprehension.

  • Options that provide or activate background knowledge
  • Options that highlight critical features, big ideas, and relationships
  • Options that guide information processing
  • Options that support memory and transfer
II. Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression.

4. Provide options for physical action.

  • Options in the mode of physical response
  • Options in the means of navigation
  • Options for accessing tools and assistive technologies

5. Provide options for expressive skills and fluency.

  • Options in the media for communication
  • Options in the tools for composition and problem solving
  • Options in the scaffolds for practice and performance

6. Provide options for executive functions.

  • Options that guide effective goal-setting
  • Options that support planning and strategy development
  • Options that facilitate managing information and resources
  • Options that enhance capacity for monitoring progress
III. Provide Multiple Means of Engagement.

7. Provide options for recruiting interest.

  • Options that increase individual choice and autonomy
  • Options that enhance relevance, value, and authenticity
  • Options that reduce threats and distractions

8. Provide options for sustaining effort and persistence.

  • Options that heighten salience of goals and objectives
  • Options that vary levels of challenge and support
  • Options that foster collaboration and communication
  • Options that increase mastery-oriented feedback

9. Provide options for self-regulation.

  • Options that guide personal goal-setting and expectations
  • Options that scaffold coping skills and strategies
  • Options that develop self-assessment and reflection
© 2011 CAST. Adapted with permission. All rights reserved. For the full version, see


Alter Your Expectations

Use the ideas from the Universal Design for Learning Guidelines provided in this section to expand your thinking on getting students engaged in learning.

Struggling writers often have weak content-area vocabulary and prior knowledge. Scaffold with them and help them grow their own funds of knowledge and experience. Make explicit analogies from their lives and work. Create lists and webs of words and ideas generated in class, and keep the following visible during the writing phases so learners can use them:

  • Classroom-created lists
  • Lyrics
  • Internet searches
  • Online dictionaries and thesauruses
  • Magazines
  • Book titles

Share your secrets to getting and staying organized!

  • Paper or digital outlines
  • Preformed templates and graphic organizers
  • Index cards
  • Poster paper
  • PowerPoint slides


Engagement Is an Everyday Concern

On writing, the research is clear: Choice of topics, authentic questions, and real audiences for the work are motivating and engaging. Adults are especially motivated to work on issues in their daily lives and communities, and they can usually suggest hot topics to address. Even when assignments are preformed, look for ways to enhance the relevance of the assignment to learners’ daily concerns:

  • Various prompts
  • Choice of topics
  • Authentic questions
  • Uses for writing

Rely on Peers

Use collaborative groups or pairs to dialogue a topic and flesh out appropriate vocabulary and concepts and to deepen learners’ thinking on the topic. Use collaborative groups or pairs to offer peer support for reviewing, editing, and providing insight on audience response.

Set Goals

Goal setting is a critical element to successful teaching/learning. Help learners to set achievable and specific goals, and help them monitor progress toward their goals. (See the Teach Self-Regulated Strategy Development section).

For more information, see the TEAL Center Fact Sheet on Universal Design for Learning at the end of this section.


Button to the next page


CAST. (2011). Universal Design for Learning guidelines version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Author. Retrieved December 27, 2011, from