Preferred Modes of Expression

UDL 3.4 UDL 4.1

Preferred Mode of Expression is an engagement strategy where students are given the choice of different methods to express themselves (e.g., verbal responses, drawing, acting/movement demonstration) when presenting information or understanding of what they have learned. First, a teacher explains that some individuals can best express themselves through oral modes, visual channels, and others through movement. Next, a teacher helps students evaluate which approach works best for them in particular contexts through discussions or administering a survey (e.g., discovering a student prefers verbal responses for reading and drawing a model for math). After, the teacher structures classroom activities with a list of options that reflect student expression preferences. As a result, students can apply their strengths and interests to demonstrate knowledge, increasing engagement and minimizing communication barriers.

Ready-to-Use Resources

Flash Cards

Illustrated Sign Language Cards

A set of core vocabulary words cards (i.e., words have a functional and academic purpose) illustrated with American Sign Language symbols. Use these as a reference when teaching students new core vocabulary words, as labels for AAC devices, or as word icons for students using a picture communication system. The set includes six high-frequency words and a customizable, blank template.

Grade K, 1 · English Language Arts, Reading, Speaking · 2 pages

Implementation Tips

Discovering Expression Preferences
Prepare and assign a survey, like [[ | this sample ]] reflecting Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, to help students assess preferred modes of expression (e.g., gauging areas of student confidence, such as logic, body/spatial awareness, artistic abilities). Use these to inform which choices to provide in future tasks.
Differentiating Classroom Activities
Differentiate classroom activities by providing students with options to select a preferred mode of expression (e.g., identifying answers through writing, drawing a picture, composing a song/rap). Set clear guidelines to define expectations included with each type of response.
Pre-teach the multiple methods in which learners best express themselves (e.g., oral, visual, movement). Introduce the survey to help students determine preferences before having students chose how to respond to a classroom task. Overtime, post exemplars of student work as models for student reference.
Providing Response Options
Provide students with pre-made graphic organizers, such as this [[ | free storyboard template ]] or [[ | acrostic poem template ]] to support student thinking and organization when crafting chosen responses. Make sure students are given clear explanations of how to use new templates/planning outlines during activities.
Multiple Modes of Expression
Encourage students to try multiple modes of expression (e.g., write a story AND draw a picture) to help students develop familiarity with alternative means to present their thinking. Encourage students to select one response to submit for assessment and one alternative response for “extra credit.”
Welcoming Technology
Welcome technology by offering students digital response options when available (e.g., typing a story/poem/song, record a free podcast, create an animation) to increase engagement and make visual response options more accessible to students.
Building a Routine
Embed opportunities for students to select and practice different modes of expression in daily classroom activities, even if they are modified (e.g., a quick sketch vs. an elaborate diagram for different purposes). When possible, add elements onto a typical “pen and paper” response (e.g., “Now that you have solved the multi-step problem, compare how you solved it with the person next to you.”).
Remind students to go back and revise their responses (e.g., add text annotation or labels to a diagram, write/type a blurb to describe a picture or diorama) to add more detail and expose students to different modes of expression after they have used a preferred mode for their initial response.


Formative Assessments
At the end of a week-long Science unit on Photosynthesis, a teacher monitors student understanding of the scientific process by designing activities in which students can explain Photosynthesis by choosing from a list of responses. Based on previous surveys that reflected high student interest in building dioramas, writing creative stories, and drawings, the teacher decides to provide students with three response options. Students individually select one option from the list (e.g., create a scientific diorama, write a “chloroplast adventure”, make a poster, or record a mock podcast interview with a plant cell). Once assignments are completed, students share work in a “Photosynthesis Exhibit” (e.g., Gallery Walk).
Monitoring Reading Comprehension
After a class read aloud and discussion about Odysseus, a teacher asks students to create a journal entry to track their thinking (e.g., include 3 new insights about the character). Knowing that some students have difficulty transferring ideas into full, grammatically correct sentences, the teacher offers students response alternatives to minimize frustration. After presenting the list of options, the teacher supports students in choosing an option based on their known preferred modes of expression (e.g., “Nina, you might want to sketch a picture with labels of Odysseus’ character traits.” / “Greg, I bet you could make a really creative storyboard with three scenes that reveal Odysseus’ character.”).
Alternative Assessment Option
After direct instruction and guided practice during a single-digit math lesson, a teacher assesses how individual students received the content. Students are provided with three additional problems to complete independently, with the option of demonstrating their answers by drawing a picture/model, writing calculations in numerical form, answering the questions via digital app, or orally to the teacher. After students choose an option and begin their work, the teacher circulates to check-in on students and provides support as needed. When students are finished, the class conducts an open discussion to share different representations of student answers.

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