Practical UDL strategies

On this page, you will find a few strategies to help you to start implementing Universal Design for Learning practices. Start with the Plus One approach to think about areas where you'd like to offer more flexibility or choice, or where students are experiencing particular barriers, and use some of the prompts below to make a change.

  • Create a classroom community, get to know your students, and help them to get to know each other: Introduce yourself to your class. Tell them about your background: how you first became interested in the subject, how it has been important to you, and why you are teaching this course. Genuinely convey your enthusiasm for the field and the subject. Use ice breakers and give students the opportunity to get to know each other. Share through music - invite students to create a class playlist, ask students to suggest a song or piece of music for the beginning of class while people settle.  
  • Create class rules and etiquette which respects all in the classroom. Ensure to include a section on expectations for valuing differences through respectful dialogue.  
  • Be culturally sensitive and responsive by including a variety of names, races, genders, settings, or cultural references in classroom activities, imagery, and example scenarios. Invite students to share their experiences, but don’t ask a student to “represent” a group.  
  • Help international students to feel included in your classroom by encouraging cultural exchanges by giving learners opportunities to address relevant topics from their cultural perspectives and connect learning to their experiences. Highlight key questions or issues in written and verbal forms and define unfamiliar words and concepts and allow time for clarification. Use neutral language, avoid slang, and address political and religious topics with respect. 
  • Use and encourage the use of personal pronouns. Make it clear that students are welcome to self-identify (or not) regarding their gender and lived personal pronouns. Avoid assuming a student's pronouns. If you do make a mistake and mispronoun someone, make sure to correct it.  
  • Use inclusive language and use gender-inclusive language where possible (such as “partner” instead of husband/wife).  
  • Create more diverse reading lists. Examine your reading lists and resources: are they diverse? Can you add another voice to these lists which isn't represented? Try to also include a gender balance in your reading lists. Use the Gender Balance Assessment Tool (GBAT) 
  • Connect course content to real-world experiences. Invite past students to show your learners how they have used what they have learned from your course in their own careers; Share examples of past students’ coursework and how it met learning outcomes. Ask learners to identify potential real-world audiences or applications they see in their work; Try using role-playing scenarios with students.  
    Read about how a quiz helped students to understand and empathise with a concept they had previously had difficulties with

  • Make yourself available in a variety of places. Be clear with students when your office hours are and offer more than one option on how to contact you during that time (in person, or online chat or by phone). 

  • Provide slides and resources in advance so they can be manipulated by learners who need to use assistive technologies during class, and to help students who may have difficulties understanding a concept or language used.

  • Offer students choices in what they’d like to review, and areas they are unsure of. Consider making this option available anonymously and try using anonymous forms or polling (such as Mentimeter) at the end of class. 

  • Use active learning techniques such as flipped classrooms, role-playing scenarios, think-pair-share, jigsaw activities, one-minute papers, group work, group discussions.
    Read a case study on how a Flipped Classroom technique helped students to understand a difficult concept.

  • Create a culture where students support and encourage each other. When you see students putting in effort, acknowledge and encourage it. This can be through verbal encouragement in the moment, or even an email after the fact. 

  • Create reflective activities (discussions, writing activities, silent reflection, reflective journals) that prompt students to think about their own learning process and areas they would like to work on. These do not need to be graded or even collected to have a learning benefit for the students. 

  • Ask for feedback. Invite students to give you anonymous feedback on the module and show you are listening by actively incorporating suggestions they make. 

  • Make it okay to be unsure and share that learning is a process. Create a safe environment where students can ask questions if they're unclear on a topic and suggest resources that students with less prior knowledge of your discipline can use to catch up.  
  • Invite students to meet with you if they feel confused. Rather than just sharing your office hours’ time and location, explain what office hours are designed for and how students can use this one-on-one time with you. 
  • Offer no-consequence practice by allowing students to submit drafts and/or re-submit assignments, and by offering ungraded and untimed quizzes.  
  • Be explicit that mistakes are opportunities for growth. Change the language from "I am not good at XXX" to "how can I improve on XXX?" 
  • Give coping examples and show struggles. Share examples of how past students (or you!) have coped with challenging learning situations or experiences or got back on track.  
  • Provide examples of what you consider to be high-quality or exemplary work and, very importantly, the process students can use for achieving those results. 
  • Scaffold learners with prompts, progress bars, and checklists for what they need to do. 
  • Be mindful of situations that can create anxiety, such as speaking out in class, or giving presentations. Empower students by giving them options in these situations, such as choosing how they offer an answer, or allowing them to prerecord a presentation. Allow options for stress release such as fidget tools and mindfulness breaks. 
  • Actively encourage students to use the resources that are available to help. Direct students to support services such as counseling, well-being resources, library resources, and learning centres. If you feel comfortable doing so, you may want to share an example of how you took advantage of such resources during your education or how you have seen it make a difference for other students. 
  • Encourage students to actively support one another. Use the virtual learning environment to create online discussion forums where students can respond to each other's queries.  

  • Give students the opportunity to work individually, or as a group. Ask groups, when they do form, to design their own working codes.  

  • Use peer learning activities, such as Think-Pair-Shares, Jigsaw activities or Team-Based Learning. Provide students with opportunities to research, understand, and teach their peers about course concepts and topics.

  • Allow students to use peer evaluation to provide feedback to each other. 

  • Provide different types of content: Consider how your students can interact with your content in ways that do not depend on a single sense like sight, hearing, movement, or touch. How can you present content in ways that will reach all learners?  

  • Use accessibility checkers. These are built into many of the products we use, such as PowerPoint and Word. 
    Read how the use of Accessibility Checkers helped a lecturer in UL

  • Provide online resources. Create resources and materials that students can access electronically so they can personalise it to their own needs, such as increasing the size of text, altering contrast, adjusting volume, or changing fonts. 

  • Illustrate through multiple media. Present course information in multiple formats (e.g., videos, text, graphics, audio, podcasts). 

  • Offer alternatives for auditory information. Provide captions for videos and transcripts of videos or podcasts. Consider sharing a transcript of your lecture so that students with low hearing or auditory processing disorders can complement lectures with a written format. This would also help international students and those who may be unaccustomed to your accent or jargon in the course.  

  • Record lecture videos: Capture class lectures, caption them and make them available to stream after class    

  • Offer alternatives for visual information. Provide descriptions (text or spoken) for all images, graphics, video, or animations. Provide audio alternatives to visual information. Where possible, offer audiobooks and podcasts. Provide options for engaging with texts, such as text-to-speech, audiobooks, or partner reading 

  • Find Learning Technology Forum (LTF) resources on creating educational materials.

  • Align all assessments with learning outcomes so students can understand why they are being asked to do something. 

  • Assessment choices: Where possible, provide additional choice in how students present their learning (e.g., write an essay or produce a short video or create a leaflet or record a podcast or create an annotated PowerPoint). Provide assessments where the knowledge, skills or abilities students are asked to display are relevant to the learning outcomes. For example, does a student need to write an essay to demonstrate their knowledge? Could they create a video instead? Construct-irrelevant features in assessments can create barriers that prevent some learners from accurately demonstrating what they have learned.  

  • Provide rubrics for students and base the rubric on the learning outcomes, not on the assessment method. Rubrics can provide transparency and consistency in assessments.  

  • Break down big assessments: Break large assessments or projects down into smaller assignments throughout the semester and provide formative feedback for each part to allow students to monitor their progress. Clearly provide interim dates for large assessments and prompt learners about upcoming deadlines. 

  • Presentations: If a student must give a presentation, give them the option to do it live or to pre-record. Many students suffer from anxiety and this extra option can bring them comfort. 

  • Quizzes, tests, and exams. Add additional time or unlimited time for quizzes, tests, and exams. Try making exams and tests open book. remember that timed exams can include skills such as motor coordination (handwriting or typing skills), short-term and working memory, organization and time management, attention, and the ability to work under pressure. The additional measurement of these many factors can prevent gaining an accurate picture of a student’s knowledge. 

  • Vary how students can respond: Add more options to assessments that have a single response mode (such as using only multiple choice, asking for only a written response, or asking learners to draw diagrams for every answer). 

  • Submissions: Provide alternative submission options and be flexible with submission dates. 

  • Be explicit with assessment instructions. Ask someone else to review them to make them make sense. Consider adding a screencast of a process if students have difficulties with that process. Add an audio or captioned video version of your instructions to help students to understand what they need to do. Create a discussion forum for specific questions on assessments and add these questions to the instructions next time you run the assessment. 

  • Share examples. Give examples of past students work and how they met the learning outcomes. 

  • Group work: Give students the opportunity to work individually, or as a group. Ask groups, when they do form, to design their own working codes.  

  • Find Learning Technology Forum resources on Assessments and Feedback.

  • Use a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) template: Each Faculty offers templates in Sulis and Moodle to structure your site, and to help students find the materials they need. Ask your Faculty Educational Technologist for help if you’re not sure how to use a template. 

  • Prompts and checklists: Consider using prompts and checklists to help students understand what is expected of them, and to help them to manage their time. 

  • Provide clear learning outcomes and refer assessments to them so students can understand why they are being asked to do something. Connect key points with larger course objectives   

  • Add a calendar of important dates and deadlines at the beginning of the semester so students can clearly refer to it and use it as a plan. 

  • Be clear and specific when writing assignment outlines and learning activity instructions. Ask someone else to review them to make them make sense. Consider adding a screencast of a process or an audio podcast of your instructions. Create a discussion forum for specific questions on assessments and add these questions to the instructions next time you run the assessment. 

  • Clarify vocabulary and symbols. Provide a glossary of terms which students can access in their own time. Ask students to collaborate and create their own class glossary of terms to help each other. Consider telling students at the beginning of the semester that they should ask if you use words they do not know, or they should write it down and look the words up after class. Provide definitions of symbols and keys for graphics or maps.