Universal Design for Learning Strategies

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an instructional method to provide all students equal access to the curriculum. This lesson presents instructional strategies for student engagement, representation, and expression using the UDL framework.

Universal Design for Learning Principles

As a teacher, how do you reach the many different types of learners in your classroom? Today, a typical classroom contains a range of learners including:

  • Students with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia
  • Students with other disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder or visual impairments
  • Students with attention disorders, such as ADHD
  • Gifted students
  • English Language Learners

One way to help all your students achieve success in such a diverse classroom is to use Universal Design for Learning (UDL) strategies.

Universal Design for Learning is a method of adapting the curriculum so that it is differentiated and able to meet the various needs of all learners. The UDL guidelines are separated into three categories: strategies for engagement, representation, and expression.

Strategies for Engagement

These strategies relate to getting your students interested in what they're learning and maintaining their interest throughout the learning process. Some of the basic tenets of this category include offering students choices, relevance and authenticity, collaboration, motivation, and self-reflection. Here are some specific UDL strategies for engagement.

Student Choice

Allow your students to choose a topic of interest to explore for a research project, or a text to write their book report on. If necessary, provide a list of choices or guidelines to make sure their choices are appropriate.

Standing Desks

If your school has access to standing desks, consider allowing students the option to use them as opposed to sitting all day. Standing desks can boost student engagement and motivation.

Socratic Seminar

During a Socratic seminar, students in a small group discuss a topic, whether it's a teacher-led prompt or a response to a text. Emphasize collaboration and perspective rather than arriving at a correct answer or interpretation.


A jigsaw activity is a way of sharing responsibility for reading a text. For example, you could break a text into three sections and assign one section each to three small groups. When each group has finished reading their section, students come together to share what they've learned, putting each piece together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Brain Breaks

Provide students with short, structured learning breaks, such as a guided stretching activity, deep breathing, or chanting.


Pose a discussion question to all your students. After thinking about it individually, each student pairs up with a partner. The two of them discuss their thoughts, and then share their responses with the class.

Talking Chips

Provide each student with bingo chips or other tokens to 'cash in' when they want to contribute to a small-group discussion. This helps maintain accountability for all students as members of the discussion.

Strategies for Representation

Strategies for representation relate to how you present information to students. Some areas to consider include activating prior knowledge, using multiple forms of media, and differentiating the display of information. Here are some specific UDL strategies for representation.

Frayer Model

This vocabulary strategy helps your students acquire new words. Students write their word in the center of a piece of paper and write features of the word in each of the four corners of the paper. The categories might include examples, synonyms, antonyms, and a drawing of the word.

Word Sorts

When you give students new vocabulary words, allow them to sort the words into different categories depending on the words' features. For example, one category might be 'words with two syllables.'

Adapted Text

Present text in a variety of formats, including large-print, braille, and audio books.

Anchor Charts

An anchor chart is a collaborative activity between you and your students. As the class explores a topic, take notes on a large piece of chart paper and then display it in the room for student reference. Usually, anchor charts present information in a visually engaging way.

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