Providing literacy support using technology and UDL



 Download the 'Providing literacy support using technology and UDL' guide as a PDF


This guide uses the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) lens to identify common ways that technology can be used to access and support students in reading, writing and organisational tasks.

This guide is intended for teachers and is appropriate for primary, intermediate and secondary levels.


Using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) lens

Identifying learning needs

Technology options for literacy support

First: Clarify learning intention

UDL Principle: Engagement

UDL Principle: Representation

UDL Principle: Action & Expression

Useful Links



Once you have read this guide you are welcome to contact the Connected Learning Advisory to get more personal assistance. We aim to provide consistent, unbiased advice and are free of charge to all state and state-integrated New Zealand schools and kura. Our advisors can help with all aspects outlined in this guide as well as provide peer review of the decisions you reach before you take your next steps.

For more information visit

Check out our resources at

Call us for personalised service on 0800 700 400

Make a personal inquiry via our online form at




Using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) lens

lens icon

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a term coined by CAST. They define it as ...a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.
Rather than address individual needs through one off adaptations of differentiation, UDL aims to remove barriers to learning and create inclusive learning environments (see picture below).


Image: Advancing Equity and Inclusion- A Guide for Municipalities ©CAWI

UDL is not a technology framework but digital technologies can provide options for students that address specific learning barriers and provide supports that simply were not available in the past.


Last year I had dyslexia and I felt different, this year I don’t feel different. It’s much easier.


Felix on moving into a 1:1 iPad class where UDL design principles were applied

Dyslexia: Using an iPad to support learning


The universal design framework uses neuro and learning sciences to identify three principles:

  1. Engagement: creating engaging environments and sustaining motivation
  2. Representation: supporting independent access to usable learning materials
  3. Expression: providing multiple ways to create, learn and demonstrate understanding

 UDL graphic


Examples from other schools

Video example of UDL and technology in literacy support: Dyslexia: Using an iPad to support learning

Improving student writing using Blogs: An authentic audience giving specific feedback - Includes parents giving online feedback to the students

Raising student writing levels using Google Docs - Students collaborating, providing feedback and feedforward

Writing together: Writing with iPads - Making the class programme accessible for learners


Identifying learning needs

i icon


The first step in providing the right digital technologies to support any student is to identify their needs. The black box technique allows you to make a recommendation for appropriate technology for a student or group even if you have never heard of that technology before. It is very simple and keeps the focus on learning.

Simply imagine that you are giving your student a black box. List the features that the black box would need to have to support that student’s learning. Once you have developed the list, use it to select technology options with the specific features you are looking for. Use your own networks, local specialists and web searches to find information that you need or you can contact the Connected Learning Advisory for further support.

You can use the technique to select devices or software and apps.

Below is a simplified example of a feature list for a student whose learning goals are:

  • To independently complete tasks involving reading and writing
  • To increase the quality, quantity and legibility of their writing



Example of Feature

Educational reason for feature




Keyboard & Voice typing

Increased writing speed and improved legibility because the student struggles to write with a pen




Dyslexia font and resize

Can convert text to dyslexia font and increase font size for ease of reading






Independent access curriculum material above their current reading age. Support editing.


Depends on additional apps

Depends on additional software

Alternative format

Can access multimedia resources to support comprehension




Portable & light

Carry from class to class and from school home





Same technology as is used throughout school





Technology options for literacy support

technologies icon

The following tables outline some common ways to use technology to support students at any curriculum level. There is a large amount of information included but this is neither a comprehensive list or a must do checklist - rather it is intended to give some concrete examples of how technologies can be used to support a variety of learners.


First: Clarify learning intention

The range of technology supports you offer will will depend on the learning intention for any specific activity or lesson.

For example, tools such as voice typing (speech recognition) are appropriate when the learning intention is to have students show their understanding of a concept or tell a story but would not be appropriate if the intention is to develop the ‘skill of writing with a pen or keyboard’ or to spell words correctly. 



UDL Principle: Engagement

This section outlines some examples of ways to utilise technologies to support students to be engaged and sustain motivation.






Organisation and self management

Support routines with visual schedules and allow students to plan for and anticipate transitions.


Cultural and personal connections

Create rather than consume - using multimedia, student voice, images and video from their school, community, culture and country.

Make connections with culture and identity, value Māori as tangata whenua and Pasifika cultures.



Giving students an audience that is wider than just their teacher can be both motivating and enriching.


Technology allows students to collaborate with others anywhere, anytime and using any device





UDL Principle: Representation

This section outlines some examples of ways to utilise technologies to support students to access learning materials (including reading material) and to support comprehension.





Provide digital versions of key material in the cloud

Handouts, workbooks and writing on whiteboards are some of the least accessible options for some students. When content is digitised, students can use their personal preferences to access material.

Using consistent school and class systems for sharing resources helps students find material easily, provides 24/7 access and can reduce the need for whole class teaching.

When content is digitised, students may use dyslexia fonts, change colours, size, style and spacing, have text read by the computer (text-to-speech) or using braille or a screen reader.


Convert an image of text (e.g. worksheet or pdf) into editable text in Google or Microsoft.

Use multimedia

Share essential information in multiple formats Using only one media means that if a student has a specific disability in that one media the material will be inaccessible to them (e.g. reading disability).


Multiple format examples include:

Provide key content or models in alternative formats

Simply restating a concept in a different way or in another format can help students to understand or reinforce learning.

Sometimes it may mean creating your own content but students and peers can also create resources for others - and this can consolidate their own learning.

Sometimes alternatives are already available. For example:

  • Maths videos – Teacher YouTube Channel (Andrew Ricciardi, Waimea College)

Create your own. For example:

Make text-to- speech an option

Text to Speech allows students to access text above their current reading age, can support comprehension.


Some text to speech software can also save files to audio formats (e.g. mp4, wav)


Options for text to speech:

See this text to speech VLN blog for more


UDL Principle: Action & Expression

This section outlines some examples of ways to utilise technologies to support students to create, learn and express themselves and demonstrate understanding.


Action and Expression



Provide frameworks and models

Graphic organizers and visual thinking strategies to help to break tasks down into smaller pieces and to organise information in a way that makes it more visible and easier to understand.

For example:

Make voice typing an option

Voice Typing allows you to speak aloud to your device and have words typed as you speak.


The software has improved so significantly in the last few years that it is now a real option for text entry. This software may work well for students who can express themselves well verbally but struggle to write.

For example:

For more information see the Assistive Technology Voice typing blog

Offer word prediction

Word prediction software provides more in depth support for spelling, reading, writing and editing and reduces the number of keystrokes necessary for typing words. It predicts a required word as a student writes, producing a list of words beginning with the letter sequence typed.

For example

For more information see software comparison

Provide alternatives to writing

If the learning intention is to show what the learner knows or understands a writing format is just one of a range of ways that can be offered.


Multimedia tools mean that his content can be kept to show a record of student learning.

For example:



Useful Links

links icon

Further information in a much more varied format is available on the Inclusive Education website. The site has a wealth of resources and NZ examples of UDL in action. The Enabling e-Learning site also has a large number of examples of e-learning practice in NZ and includes an excellent video library.


This guide has been produced in response to a number of specific queries about literacy support from schools.

It should not be read as a recommendation or endorsement of any specific product. The Connected Learning Advisory is a Ministry of Education supported service that provides schools with technology information relevant to their queries and does not recommend one product over another.

cc icon This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.  Produced for the Ministry of Education’s Connected Learning Advisory by CORE Education



Date Last Updated:



Have more questions? Submit a request