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5 Tips for Redesigning Your Reading Assignments with UDL in Mind

Matt Bergman, Ed.D
Matt Bergman, Ed.D
September 24, 2023

Imagine you have decided to give students the same reading assignment in your room. The learning goal states that all students will read the same article; however, you realize there is tremendous variability in your classroom. How do you plan with variability in mind? 

The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework is a proactive framework for designing accessible and engaging lessons for all students. It is based on brain research and states that there are typically three types of barriers and ways to plan for those barriers proactively.

Redesigning the look of a reading assignment to create access is something that is extremely easy to plan for, but is often overlooked. Here are 5 tips for using UDL to redesign the reading assignment with access in mind (aka Multiple Means of Representation). 

Tip #1: Change the Background Color

Research indicates that pure white backgrounds and black text can generate difficulties reading for students with Dyslexia. To make your text more conducive for reading, try using grey fonts on white background or using and cream color backgrounds (light yellow, orange, etc.) with black text.

Tip # 2: Provide Options for Reading

Providing students with print, digital, and audio options is helpful for increasing accessibility. Digital files in PDF format can easily be manipulated, annotated, and used with screen readers.

lightbulb - ideaDid you know that you can save a Google Doc in PDF format? Simply visit the File menu and choose Download as a PDF. 

Tools like Adobe Reader, Speechify, and Read & Write for Google Chrome have built-in text-to-speech features to read PDF’s and Google Docs. In addition, Vocaroo makes it easy to create a voice-recorded audio version of the article. 

Tip # 3: Build-In Background Knowledge

We cannot assume that all students have the same knowledge and background knowledge when providing reading assignments; therefore, helpful tools like videos and images are extremely helpful for building student understanding and context. 

Many teachers find using YouTube 360 videos helpful for providing students with a customized video experience, where students can navigate 180 and 360-degree spherical videos. 

Here is one of my favorite YouTube 360 videos


Tip # 4: Hyperlink Important Vocabulary Terms

Do you know some of the vocabulary terms that students will have difficulty with? It may be helpful to add hyperlinks to important definitions students may need. Although there are many great online dictionaries available, you may want to consider doing a Google search for a specific definition.

image of the google search bar showing running resultsFor example, if you did a search for “definition of running,” Google would provide you with the definition, images, and an audio recording of how to pronounce the word running. You can then copy and paste this URL as a hyperlink in your document for students to access. 



Tip #5: Embed Opportunities to Reflect

Creating chances for students to engage in reflective activities when completing reading assignments can significantly boost their comprehension and critical thinking abilities. Incorporating moments where students can pause, deliberate, and contemplate their reading material is valuable.

For example, you might contemplate the inclusion of digital text boxes at regular intervals, allowing students to record their thoughts electronically. Alternatively, you can provide physical post-it notes for students to jot down their insights or sketch their reflections within the text. These thoughtful pauses can greatly enhance the learning experience.

Furthermore, the Text Rendering Protocols provided by the National School Reform Faculty and Project Zero's Thinking Routine Toolbox offer valuable tools for taking a deeper dive into a text.

Bonus Tip! Buddying Up for Reading

Buddying up with another student can be a great way to enhance your reading experience. By reading a passage with a partner, students can gain fresh insights and perspectives they may have missed. Plus, it's a low-tech solution that can be easily implemented in any classroom or study group.

Embracing the UDL framework equips educators with the tools and resources needed to revamp reading assignments for accessibility and engagement. Implementing strategies like adjusting background colors, using readable fonts, offering diverse reading options, incorporating multimedia resources, and hyperlinking key vocabulary terms fosters an environment where all students can comprehensively access and engage with the material. UDL's proactive approach paves the way for a more equitable and enriching learning experience, accommodating the diverse needs and strengths of every learner.

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