Building Engagement with Distance Learning

DL #20: Online Inclusive Education: Guidelines and Considerations for Planning Virtual Lessons

Given the new reality for learning in public schools this year, planning for online instruction is essential. Planning for instruction is particularly challenging when also navigating how to maintain continuity within inclusive classrooms that shift from face-to-face classes to online learning. What principles of best-practice in face-to-face instruction transfer over to distance learning and what are the principles of best-practice for online instruction? 

Keeping the big picture in mind when planning virtual lessons is key. The ultimate goal for instructional design is to plan interactions that are inclusive and accessible to all students. As many schools are using virtual learning options for all ages, older students are more likely to access the majority of their learning online. It is recommended that teachers in inclusive classrooms use UDL for planning and delivering lessons that consider multiple ways to present information to students, provide opportunities for active student response, and engage students in the virtual lesson (CAST, 2018).

Considerations for teachers when lesson planning

Suggestions to Enhance Inclusive Virtual Lessons

Presenting information to students 

  • Focus on the big ideas from a lesson using only the details that are most important for learning by making the presentation free from distracting or extra details  
  • Include a transcript with a more robust account of the lesson
  • Make connections between lessons explicit to show content and skill sequence 
  • Prioritize images or graphics that add to the understanding of key concepts
    • Include alternate text on images and captions on videos
    • Make sure images and text size are large enough
  • Use a screen reader to review the transcript and replay as needed
  • Offer a digital graphic organizer to clarify connections between topics
    • Utilize prioritized images and graphics in a graphic organizer to show connections between topics
  • Organize lessons on a learning management system homepage

Providing opportunities for active student response

  • Provide a word bank in a chat box or on presentation slide - this can include visual supports and can be sent ahead of the lesson
  • Use guided notes (for example, teacher prepared notes with blanks for students to fill in) with pictorial representations for key vocabulary embedded, or color-coded and able to click and drag to fill in the blank
  • Use a document on a shared drive for students to type in responses
  • Offer choices for responding (for example, dictate to scribe, an audio file, image file, preprinted response card)
  • Have students share presentations through visual or audio technology 
    • Have the student create a product prior to class and then use an auto presenter with a screen reader to share with the class

Engaging students in the virtual lesson

  • Provide student choice in activities and group members
    • Present a choice board with options for activities 
    • Use student pictures for choosing online group members
    • Allow choice to use of tactile response (for example, response cards or whiteboards) to hold up to the camera to answer questions 
  • Use tools in the technology platform for students to choose how they would like to answer questions (for example, virtually raise a hand, write in a chatbox)
  • Allow group work in online common spaces (for example, a breakout room)
  • Utilize specially designed supports (for example, a checklist) describing expectations for group contributions 
  • Provide frequent feedback on progress and allow students to self-reflect on their learning process
    • Provide specific feedback through audio and video clips instead of through only written forms and have students self-reflect by submitting audio of video clip analyzing their learning process


  • CAST. (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines (version 2.2). Retrieved from


Free resources from CAST to help in remote learning

CAST webinar with three educators talking about remote learning

Distance Learning Series: DL #20, August, 2020

All rights reserved. Any or all portions of this document may be reproduced without prior permission, provided the source is cited as:

  • Wakeman, S., & Reyes, E. (2020). Online inclusive education: Guidelines and considerations for planning virtual lessons (DL #20). TIES Center.

TIES Center is supported through a cooperative agreement between the University of Minnesota and the Research to Practice Division, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education (# H326Y170004). The Center is affiliated with the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) which is affiliated with the Institute on Community Integration (ICI) at the College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota. The contents of this report were developed under the Cooperative Agreement from the U.S. Department of Education, but do not necessarily represent the policy or opinions of the U.S. Department of Education or Offices within it. Readers should not assume endorsement by the federal government. Project Officer: Susan Weigert

The National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) leads the TIES Center partnership. Collaborating partners are: Arizona Department of Education, CAST, University of Cincinnati, University of Kentucky, University of North-Carolina–Charlotte, and the University of North Carolina–Greensboro.

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