royal flushAs educators, we hand out assignments like Vegas card dealers. When we distribute our assessments, we expect students to play a quality hand (Full House? Royal Flush?), so it’s frustrating when they fold or throw down a pair of twos. When this happens to you, it’s important to take a step back and look at your assignment.

Students will only be as successful as our assignment guidelines and instructions. Each assignment we hand out to students should have a clear objective, a detailed assignment rationale, enough scaffolding to prevent students from asking us a million questions, and a rubric, and if possible, the assignment should provide students with choices to increase their engagement.

 In the spirit of UDL,think about the following when writing assignment guidelines:


What do I want the students’ papers to look like?

  • Do I care if it’s in pen or pencil?
  • If I want it typed, which font do I expect?
  • What heading should be on the paper?


What standard or objective is this assignment fulfilling?

  • You should be able to put this at the top of the paper. If you don’t know where it fits, you shouldn’t hand it out. Completing the assignment should allow you to see if students are meeting a required standard. For more on sharing standards with students, watch this video.


How will I evaluate the assignment?

  • Students should know from the beginning what they need to do to earn an A, so what do I need to tell them so they can be successful?


Do students have a choice about how they will communicate the content?

  • If yes, then you need to provide numerous choices.  For example, these were choices I provided my students on a recent Old Man and the Sea assignment.

Alone or with a partner, choose one of the following assignments to complete. Regardless of how you choose to express your understanding of theme and symbolism, it must be a minimum of 15 lines (or sentences), focus on the theme of perseverance, and include at least one well known symbol and/or allusion.

  1. Create a graphic novel (use pictures and words) that tells a story of perseverance.
  2. Write a catchy poem or song about the theme of perseverance. (You can sing it at presentation time!)
  3. Write and be ready to perform a skit which focuses on the theme of perseverance.
  4. Write a personal reflection, or diary entry, where you reflect on an experience in your life when you showed perseverance. It may be something you are still working toward. Is there a symbol or allusion that you could compare your journey? Discuss.
  5. Develop your own assignment – must get it approved by teacher before you begin.
  6. *** SUPER CHALLENGE: Write a letter to Ernest Hemingway, analyzing his use of theme and symbolism/allusion in Old Man and the Sea. Be sure to use formal language appropriate for the author.
  7. ROLL THE DICE! The only rule is you must respect the dice. Whatever you roll, you complete. If you roll a 5, I pick for you.
  • If you are not providing choices, you need to provide graphic organizers, work samples, and a rubric.


Remember, when students need to fold,  it’s often because our assignment guidelines weren’t clear enough. Deal them up UDL friendly instructions, and they will bring down the house.


Dealing up UDL

3 thoughts on “Dealing up UDL

  • May 13, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Katie, I love your comparison to a card game. Where do you come up with these great ideas? Your classroom students are so lucky to have you as their teacher.

  • May 21, 2013 at 8:14 am

    I love the creative ideas you have shared. Since we are using common core curriculum, it is my understanding that we must now have our students show specific textual quotes or paraphrasing demonstrating how the item is related directly to the text. Am I right about my assumptions?

    • May 21, 2013 at 8:22 am

      Hi Debra-

      Citing textual evidence is just one of the Common Core reading standards, so it is an important skill, but you don’t have to use it in every assignment. I try to incorporate it as often as possible though. Just know that you can skill be creative while using this evidence. Check out my most recent assignment, where I focused on point of view and citing textual evidence.

      Have a great day,


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