Naturally Embed UDL in No Time

A MiddleWeb Blog


The teacher life is a busy life, no question. Since my last post about integrating the Universal Design for Learning approach into instructional planning and teaching, I’ve received some predictable questions: “How do teachers find the time to do all that?” Or simple, flat statements like: “I don’t have time for that.”

Case closed, right? I don’t think so. I’d like to keep the discussion going and try to show how I’m working to integrate UDL in my own English inclusion class. First, here’s some context.

My district has not adopted a formal UDL framework (yet–>grin<)

Most public school teachers where I teach and across the United States are swept up in the instructional shifts brought on by the Common Core. We are in the midst of adjusting to CCSS curriculum changes. And let’s face it, for many people change is scary.

Most teachers either do not know about UDL or they feel they do not have the time for it based on what little they do know.

The lesson outline you are about to see was planned with a focus on the Common Core — the thought of including UDL strategies was not on my co-teacher’s mind.

UDL is not about causing change. It’s about looking for natural connections to what one is already doing that can help diversify instruction. It’s about raising our own awareness and turning up our reflective skills so we become accustomed to thinking about how lessons align with the needs of diverse learners.

In my own situation, I’ve decided rather than to push my UDL passion on my co-teachers, I will begin by noticing what they are already doing and make the effort myself to weave UDL in naturally. It’s a start.

Here’s my approach to integrating the UDL framework

Since UDL is in perfect alignment with the Common Core (and I purposely state that as a fact, rather than an opinion), I’ve decided to dedicate this post to zooming in on a specific lesson. I want to show the value of a UDL mindset that even the busiest of teachers may easily adopt — pain free.

My hope is that general education teachers and special education teachers alike will see that UDL is all about high quality instruction and points the way to expanding our best practices to meet the needs of all learners.

This school year, rather than plan direct UDL lessons, I decided to take a thoughtful approach and look at a typical school day for me. I asked myself, “What’s happening in classrooms that naturally align with my wish to make sure that we are implementing a mindful Universal Design for Learning approach? Are there multiple ways that representation, engagement, and expression are happening during daily instruction?

Last week I listed  some of what I noticed going on in my inclusion classrooms. This week let me tie that to a specific lesson, planned with the Common Core in mind and without UDL even coming into the conversation. Here’s the gist:

Lincoln-posterPurpose of Lesson: To deepen student understanding of famous Civil War leaders and events and broaden their background knowledge of the Civil War.  This lesson provided background as we prepared to read Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt.

Process: Using the Carousel Protocol, students read various texts to gather information on the Civil War and listed important facts about given topics. The classroom was set up with desks in groups of four or five. At each group was a large piece of chart paper with a topic clearly listed at the top. Nonfiction texts of various reading levels were stacked on the desks to support the given topic. Students were given time to read through the text, discuss their findings, and write their key points onto the large chart paper.

After time was up, each group moved to the next table where they would begin their research, discussion, and writing on another topic (and another poster). As class time came to a close each group had the opportunity to review and add facts to the posters.


My co-teacher and I walked around the room listening in on students’ conversations in the midst of the learning–we gained information about their level of comprehension and ability to use text features to locate important information.

Students’ written facts demonstrated their ability to read and identify key facts.

Some students sketched their new understanding rather than writing words.

Students’ listening and speaking were noted through their group discussions as well as whole class discussions.

 UDL easily aligns with this lesson

According to the Three UDL Principles, here’s how UDL naturally aligned with this lesson:

Common Core Standards Lesson Activity UDL
CCSS. ELA-Literacy. RI. 7.1 Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.2 Determine two or more central ideas in a text and analyze their development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text. A variety of leveled texts were displayed to consider varied reading abilities. Students interpreted, illustrations and charts to gain information.Students listened to the teachers and to one another as they gained insightAfter reading, listening, speaking, and writing, about one topic, students moved from group to group and began the process with another Civil War topic Multiple Means of Representation:Provide options for perception1.1 Offer ways of customizing the display of information.1.2 Offer alternatives for auditory information1.3 Offer alternatives for visual information

Multiple Means of Engagement:

Provide options for sustaining effort and persistence

8.1 Heighten salience of goals and objectives

8.2 Vary demands and resources to optimize challenge

8.3 Foster collaboration and community

8.4 Increase mastery-oriented feedback

Multiple Means of Expression:

Provide options for physical action

4.1 Vary the methods for response and navigation

4.2 Optimize access to tools and assistive technologies


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.3 Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events). Students read through texts, analyzed photographs, charts, and graphs to gather information.Students discussed their finding with peers in the group and added their thinking to one another’s thinking.Students sketched ideas or wrote facts on chart paper

Students discussed and evaluated the value of chosen facts to add to the chart.


Students used highlighters, colored markers, and pencils to demonstrate their thinking about key ideas.

Multiple Means of Representation:Provide options for comprehension3.1 Activate or supply background knowledge
3.2 Highlight patterns, critical features, big ideas, and relationships
3.3 Guide information processing, visualization, and manipulation
3.4 Maximize generalization and transferMultiple Mean of Engagement:Provide options for self-regulation9.1 Promote expectations and beliefs that optimize motivation9.2 Facilitate personal coping skills and strategiesDevelop self-assessment and reflectionMultiple Means of Expression:

Provide options for expression and communication

5.1 Use multiple media for communication

5.2 Use multiple tools for construction and composition

5.3 Build fluencies with graduated levels of support for practice and performance


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone. Students used a dictionary, thesaurus, context clues, and engaged in discussions to figure out the meaning of unknown words and phrases.Students were allowed to use their iphones to access the dictionary or thesaurus as they looked up words Multiple Means of Representation:Provide options for language, mathematical expressions, and symbols2.1 Clarify vocabulary and symbols2.2 Clarify syntax and structure2.3 Support decoding of text, mathematical notation and symbols

2.4 Promote understanding across languages

2.5 Illustrate through multiple media

Multiple Means of Expression:

Provide options for executive functions

6.1 Guide appropriate goal-setting

6.2 Support planning and strategy development

6.3 Facilitate managing information and resources

6.4 Enhance capacity for monitoring progress

Multiple Mean of Engagement:

Provide options for sustaining effort and persistence

8.1 Heighten salience of goals and objectives

8.2 Vary demands and resources to optimize challenge 8.3 Foster collaboration and community

8.4 Increase mastery-oriented feedback

Download this post in Word for easy reading!

What’s special about a UDL lesson?

The aim of a UDL lesson is to create (1) resourceful, knowledgeable learners through multiple means of representation; (2) strategic, goal-directed learners through multiple means of engagement; and (3) purposeful, motivated learners as a result of multiple means of expression. In this lesson, many of those objectives were achieved thanks to the learning strategy selected and the opportunities and options given to students to express and demonstrate their learning. Additional time invested: practically zero.

It is truly amazing how UDL is naturally embedded into high quality, Common Core lessons. Can you imagine what more might be done when UDL is intentionally planned and included in lessons? I can, and that is my mission in my own school and district. It’s really not nearly so much about time as it is about strategic thinking and planning with all students in mind.

Here’s a question…

What natural UDL connections do you see in your inclusion classrooms? Share what you see…and what you hope to see…and then let’s discuss ways to make it happen.

Elizabeth Stein

Elizabeth Stein has more than 20 years teaching experience spanning grades K-8, specializing in universal design for learning and special education. She’s currently a special education/UDL instructional coach and new-teacher mentor in Long Island NY’s Smithtown Central School District. Elizabeth is National Board Certified in Literacy, and a contributor to Education Week and other publications. Her books include Comprehension Lessons for RTI (Grades 3-5) (Scholastic, 2013), Elevating Co-Teaching Through UDL (CAST, 2016) and Two Teachers in the Room: Strategies for Co-Teaching Success (Routledge, 2017). Follow her on Twitter @elizabethlstein and #coteachat

18 Responses

  1. Bravo! Thank you for demonstrating how best practices promote learning across all groups. The initial investment in time and planning to modify lessons for UDL will pay off later on with expanded student outcomes. We work along similar lines with applying metacognitive strategies to support learning. Thank you so much for sharing this important information.

    • Elizabeth Stein says:

      Thank you, Darleen. I am so lucky to work with very dedicated teachers. And I am so excited to share my passion for UDL and to make UDL an intentional part of my co-teaching experiences.

      Thanks for sharing your connection; it is empowering to hear about others who apply metacognition and UDL principles. I hope you’ll come back and share one example from one of your typical teaching days.
      Thanks for sharing your voice and enthusiasm!

  2. Margie Jobe says:

    May I use this document for training or is their a copyright?

    • Elizabeth Stein says:

      Sure! I hope the piece is helpful to you and others. Please just make sure to include to link to cite the source. Here’s the direct link:

      Please come back and share a bit about the training–who is involved?
      Would love to hear about your work–all the best!

      • Aleatha Kimbrough says:

        Thank-you Elizabeth, I just recently discovered MiddleWeb and your blog. I am planning a presentation for a conference in Michigan related to inclusion and UDL. I will share your ideas and the direct link. This will be helpful to the teachers and instructional coaches attending the conference.

        • Elizabeth Stein says:

          Thank you, Aleatha! Yes, MiddleWeb has amazing resources–be sure to visit the homepage and check out all of the links…

          I, too, will be presenting for colleagues on inclusion and UDL (in the fall). We should compare ideas–I’d love to hear about the work you do.
          Please come back and share how it goes…all the best!

  3. Kendra Grant says:

    Thanks for an insightful post. Like anything the more you apply and include UDL principles in your planning and teaching the easier it becomes. By adding in UDL principles you’ll free up time, as students will be less likely to be off task, misbehave or shut down because you have better addressed their learning needs.
    As you mentioned, deconstructing a lesson and looking for UDL Principles and Guidelines is a great first step. Then, working to intentionally add UDL principles into your instruction from the onset is an important next step. Finally, exploring how technology can address learner variability will help to ensure you remove as many barriers to learning as possible.
    This isn’t a one week project. Take it slow and build your understanding of UDL over time. Share ideas with colleagues. Include technology where possible.
    BTW: If your readers are at ISTE in San Antonio this June, encourage them to visit the UDL Playground or join SETSIG (a special interest group of ISTE). At the playground you can explore how 9 apps can support the 9 Guidelines of UDL in simple but effective ways. There will be free app downloads, a Symbaloo page ( to help you explore resources beyond iPad apps, and a handout for easy reference.
    See you there!

    • Elizabeth Stein says:

      Thank you, Kendra, for adding your expertise here. It is so important to put the steps for implementing UDL in context–makes it so manageable. And then teachers and administrators may apply in ways that meet the specific needs of their schools and their students.

      Also, thanks for adding such valuable information about the upcoming ISTE conference. Here’s a link to more information about the conference for interested folks:

      Many thanks!

  4. renee cameto says:

    What was your source for the UDL features in the third column? I would like to use them. Are they available publicly?

  5. Linda Stummer says:

    Hi Elizabeth,
    I loved this blog and wondered if there is a way to get a print version. I would like to share this with teachers and would love to be able to print a version in addition to having an electronic copy.Thanks for your help! Sincerely, Linda Stummer

  6. Ron Rogers says:

    I too would like a Word version if that is possible.

  7. Robert Lordi says:

    Good Morning Elizabeth, I look forward to reading and utilizing aspects of your take on UDL in the classroom. My question is ??? There are so many excellent teachers and my feeling is that though UDL is a fresh introduction to classroom materials, isn’t it very similar to what many call a multi modal approach to material delivery? Being a special ed teacher we must consider the varied levels of learning and deliver materials in as many ways as possible in order to target specific needs.

    Thank you……I look forward to hearing back…..I am excited to have this opportunity to discuss this with someone so experienced and well known.

    • Elizabeth Stein says:

      Hi, Robert, You are right on! Special educators find adopting a UDL mindset rather second nature. It is a common sense approach to what we know as meeting the needs of all types of learners. Yet, there are many unique layers to a UDL approach. For starters, it is a proactive, flexible approach that begins with the end in mind. We plan for the needs of all learners, and then we think about the additional scaffolds needed to reach our students with IEPs. You’re right, UDL brings a fresh spin to planning and implementing classroom materials–but it considers the entire curriculum as well.
      For example, curriculum according to UDL includes considering multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression through a comprehensive curriculum to include:
      Hope this makes sense–let me know.
      Thanks for sparking this discussion further!
      All the best!

  1. 05/21/2013

    […] Great resource on UDL! […]

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