Practical Ways to Reach All Students in the Classroom

As a special education teacher, I’m well versed on the challenges of motivating and engaging my students.  I’m always searching for ways to prepare lesson activities that speak to each student in order to motivate them.  The challenge is not isolated to special education, but a challenge for all teachers.  How do we engage every student given their unique needs, abilities, and preferred learning styles?  A key approach for this is to use differentiated instruction. According to Tomlinson who is an expert in the field, differentiated instruction is a student-centered approach “crafted to encourage student growth, and multi-faceted, blending whole group, small group, and individualized instruction (as cited in Beam, 2009, p.3).  While this makes perfect sense, how does a teacher go about planning and preparing a lesson using differentiated instruction?

There are a couple of approaches that can assist teachers in this effort.  The first, Multiple Intelligences (MI), is a theory developed by Dr. Howard Garner that states that intelligence can be defined by eight different areas.  These areas include linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist.  Every student excels in at least one or more of these intelligences and this becomes their preferred method(s) of learning.  By developing lessons that incorporate as many of these intelligences as possible, all students will find a unique way to learn and express themselves.  Given that there are eight such intelligences to be packed into a single lesson, the task appears daunting.   So, the first step should be identifying the students’ preferred intelligences.  Beam (2009) suggests administering an interest inventory that will identify the students’ preferred intelligences, and suggests searching the web for interest inventory tests instead of reinventing the wheel.  There is a web based interactive tool provided by the Birmingham City Council that provides both a text and audio version of the test.  This test can be found at Once you have an understanding about how the students in your class learn best, you can then look for ways to incorporate the different intelligences into your lessons.

A second useful approach to developing differentiated lessons involves Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a framework that provides guidelines as to how students learn.  The framework is based on three networks: engagement or the ‘why’ of learning, representation or the ‘what’ of learning, and action and expression or the ‘how’ of learning.  UDL is an important part of differentiated instruction because it states that all students are unique and learn in their own way.  The National Center on Universal Design for Learning website ( provides information on UDL and how to employ the framework in the classroom.  By using the UDL principles to motivate, teach, and assess; students will be given choices that foster for creativity, independent thinking, and are student-centered.

By combining the theories of Multiple Intelligences and Universal Design for Learning, we can develop lessons that provide freedom of expression, creativity, and engage learning for all students in the classroom.  Fortunately, technology provides a variety of ways to implement this strategy.  There are a myriad of Web 2.0 tools, sites, and software that provide unique learning experiences for students.  Many of which are low cost or free for educators.  For example, Newsela ( is a site that presents timely news and current event articles in such a way as they complement a student’s reading comprehension level.  Using Newsela, all students can read the same article and contribute to the lesson regardless of their reading ability.   Taking this idea one step further, by allowing students to choose from a list of Newsela articles, students can choose what interests them and are more likely to be engaged in learning.  Another Web 2.0 tool that encourages students’ freedom of expression while following UDL principles is Voki (  With Voki, students create an animated avatar that speaks content that is inputted by voice, recording, or text.  Students can use Voki as a presentation method to demonstrate knowledge and understanding.  Prezi ( is presentation software that blends various forms of media with a colorful and dynamic presentation format.  Prezi supports both MI and UDL principles because students have a seeming endless amount of choices for presenting information and demonstrating knowledge.  Khan Academy ( is an educational site that provides videos, lessons, and assessments on a variety of content areas.  Teachers can use Khan Academy to create a flipped lesson, where students watch the video and answer questions as homework prior to an in-class activity.  That way, students are familiar with the topic prior to class.  While in class, the teacher can provide a list of activities for students to choose from that will reinforce the knowledge learned.  By incorporating MI and UDL principles, the list would allow for students’ personal preferences and natural learning styles. 

These are just some of the hundreds of free or low cost technology options for the classroom.  Most can be found be using a simple internet searches for educational web tools or apps.  The search will also provide a list of sites that rate or review these tools and apps.  Due to the constant changing of operating systems and web browsers, many of the free apps may not always stay current.   To ensure the latest and most reliable tools and apps, set your search criteria for a period no longer than one or two years.

Game based learning is also an excellent way to provide differentiated learning because it often provides multiple means of representation and can be administered individually or collaboratively,   Technology-based games range from free Web 2.0 tools such as Fling the Teacher (, to virtual reality, multiple level games such as Quest Atlantis (  Students become immersed in learning because they are active participants in the learning process.  Many games allow students to create avatars in order to take on new identities.  They also provide multiple forms of action in for game level advancement, which allows students to utilize methods that are most comfortable for them.  Finding free or low cost games such as this is as easy as performing an internet search.

The internet provides teachers with a wealth of choices for incorporating technology into the classroom.   But, first we must do our groundwork and identify the ways to reach each student in our class.  Once we have a framework of what combinations work best, we can utilize the myriad of free and low-cost technology available to ensure each student is motivated and the playing field is level.


Beam, A. (2009). Standards-based differentiation: Identifying the concept of multiple intelligence for use with students with disabilities. TEACHING Exceptional Children Plus, 5(4) Article 1. Retrieved from

Birmingham City Council. (2015). Multiple Intelligences. Retrieved from

Fling the Teacher. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Khan Academy. (n.d.) Retrieved from

National Center on Universal Design for Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Newsela. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Prezi. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Quest Atlantis. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Voki. (n.d.). Retrieved from


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Comment by Sonia Martinez on December 15, 2015 at 10:03am

How do we engage every student given their unique needs, abilities, and preferred learning styles?


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