Universal Design for Learning During Morning Meeting or Circle Time

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework that provides multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement in the classroom. By incorporating the principles of universal design for learning during morning meeting or circle time, educators can create inclusive and diverse learning experiences for all children. Leran more about the concept of UDL, the importance of morning meeting and circle time, and how UDL can be applied to create an inclusive and engaging classroom environment.

What is Universal Design for Learning in the Classroom?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a research-based approach that aims to provide all students equal opportunities to learn. UDL focuses on removing barriers and offering multiple means of accessing, participating, and engaging in the curriculum. It takes into account the diverse needs, learning styles, and abilities of students, ensuring that no one is left behind.

Using the principles of universal design for learning during morning meeting and circle time is an inclusive way to encourage participation of all students regardless of disability.

Morning Meeting vs Circle Time

Morning meeting and circle time share similarities and differences in both purpose and structure. Both routines aim to create a sense of community, foster social-emotional learning, and set a positive tone for the day. They provide opportunities for students to practice active listening, self-expression, and collaboration while allowing teachers to introduce or reinforce academic content. In terms of structure, morning meeting and circle time typically involve students sitting together in a circle, emphasizing inclusivity and equal participation.

However, there are notable differences between the two. Morning meetings are more commonly used in elementary classrooms and often include specific components, such as greetings, sharing news or announcements, group activities, and discussions about the day’s learning objectives. This structured approach helps to build relationships, promote a positive classroom climate, and establish routines.

On the other hand, circle time is predominantly utilized in early childhood settings, with a focus on group activities, games, and discussions that encourage active learning and social skills development. Circle time may be more flexible and adaptable, allowing teachers to address young learners’ unique needs and interests. Despite these differences, both morning meeting and circle time serve as valuable tools for fostering a sense of belonging and engagement in the classroom.

UDL and Inclusion

Incorporating UDL principles during morning meeting or circle time creates an inclusive environment that meets the diverse needs of all students. By offering multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement, educators can support the learning and development of each child, regardless of their ability or background.

UDL Principle – Multiple Means of Representation During Morning Meeting or Circle Time

One approach to universal design for learning during morning meeting is to offer a variety of ways for children to access the curriculum content.

Visual Aids and Technology:

Use visual aids such as posters, charts, or pictures to support verbal explanations. Incorporate technology, like interactive whiteboards or tablets, to engage students and provide additional supports. Here are a few examples:

  1. Daily Schedule: Display a visual daily schedule that outlines the sequence of activities and events for the day. This can help students understand what to expect and transition more smoothly between tasks. Use pictures or symbols to represent each activity, making it accessible for students who are pre-readers or have limited language skills.
  2. Visual Greetings: Create a visual greeting chart with images or symbols representing different ways to greet one another (e.g., high five, fist bump, handshake, or wave). As students enter the classroom, they can choose a greeting from the chart and greet their peers accordingly. This supports social-emotional learning and allows students who may struggle with verbal communication to participate fully in the greeting process.
  3. Visual Prompts for Sharing: Display visual prompts or conversation starters related to the day’s topic or theme. These can be in the form of images, photographs, or illustrations. For example, if the theme is “community helpers,” show pictures of various community helpers and ask students to discuss their roles and responsibilities.
  4. Visual Aids for Group Activities: Use visual aids, such as posters, charts, or graphic organizers, to support group activities and discussions during the morning meeting. For example, when discussing problem-solving strategies, provide a visual flowchart or diagram to help students understand the steps involved in the process.
  5. Interactive Whiteboard Activities: Utilize an interactive whiteboard or touchscreen display to engage students in various morning meeting activities. For example, create a digital “question of the day” with accompanying images, and have students drag their names or icons to their chosen answer. This not only provides a visual support but also encourages active participation and interaction.
  6. “Would You Rather” Videos: Show short video clips that present different “would you rather” questions. After each question, give students the opportunity to discuss and share their preferences with their peers.

Hands-On Activities:

Integrate hands-on activities, such as manipulatives or sensory materials, to enhance understanding of concepts.

  1. Sensory Bins: Create sensory bins with various materials, such as sand, water beads, or rice, and hide objects or images related to the topic of discussion. Students can explore the sensory bin and find the hidden items, then share their findings with the class.
  2. Emotion Charades: Provide cards with different emotions (e.g., happy, sad, angry, etc.) written on them. Students can take turns picking a card and acting out the emotion without speaking, while their classmates guess the emotion being portrayed.

Sensory Materials:

  1. Playdough Storytelling: Provide students with playdough and ask them to create a character or object related to a specific topic, such as a book character, a historical figure, or a science concept. Students can then share their creations with the class and explain the connection to the topic.
  2. Fidget Toys and Stress Balls: Offer a variety of fidget toys or stress balls for students to use during morning meeting or circle time. These tools can help students focus, self-regulate, and engage more effectively in discussions and activities.

UDL Principle: Multiple Means of Action and Expression

Offering a variety of ways for children to demonstrate that they have mastered learning goals. Allow students to express their understanding and mastery of learning goals through various means.

Encourage Students to Share

Encourage students to share their thoughts, ideas, and feelings through different formats, such as drawing, writing, or role-playing. For example:

  • Drawing: Create a “Feelings Gallery” where students draw a picture to express their emotions or thoughts about a specific topic or event. The drawings can be displayed and students can walk around the gallery, discussing and reflecting on their peers’ artwork.
  • Writing: Begin the morning meeting with a quick “Journal Share” where students write a short paragraph or sentence about a prompt (e.g., “What are you looking forward to today?” or “What did you learn yesterday?”). Afterward, students can voluntarily share their responses with the class.
  • Role-Playing: Have students act out scenarios or situations related to the day’s topic or theme. For example, students can take on the roles of historical figures or characters from a story, engaging in a mock debate or conversation.

Provide Alternative Ways for Participation

Provide alternative ways for students to participate in group activities, like using communication devices or adaptive tools. For example:

  • Communication Devices: For students with speech or language challenges, provide access to augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices or apps that allow them to express their thoughts and ideas during discussions.
  • Adaptive Tools: Offer adaptive tools, such as switches, specialized seating, or modified writing utensils, to enable students with physical disabilities to participate more fully in group activities.
  • For younger students provide playful opportunities: Toys need to engage many senses and require variability of play. During play time is when children learn many cognitive, social and physical skills. This is a young child’s true classroom. UDL is important during play time too!

Support Student Collaboration

Support student collaboration by assigning group tasks and allowing students to divide responsibilities based on their strengths and preferences. For example:

  • Group Problem Solving: Assign a problem or challenge related to the day’s topic, and ask students to work together in small groups to find a solution. Encourage students to divide tasks based on their strengths and preferences (e.g., one student can be the researcher, another can be the writer, and another can be the presenter).
  • Collaborative Art Project: Provide materials for students to create a collaborative art piece related to a theme or topic. Each student can contribute their own unique element to the artwork, based on their interests and abilities (e.g., drawing, painting, collage, or sculpture).

Multiple Means of Engagement – Universal Design for Learning During Morning Meeting

By offering a variety of ways to increase children’s motivation and engagement with learning, it can help to foster engagement during morning meeting or circle time.

Offer Choices

Offer choices in activities or topics to discuss, allowing students to pursue their interests and passions.

  • Interest-Based Discussion Groups: Allow students to choose from a list of topics or themes for small group discussions. These topics can be related to current events, personal interests, or academic subjects. By allowing students to choose their discussion group, they are more likely to engage and participate actively in the conversation.
  • Choice Boards: Create choice boards with various activity options related to the day’s theme or learning objective. Students can select the activity that appeals to them most, encouraging self-directed learning and personal investment in their work.

Use Real Life Examples

Use real-life examples and relatable situations to make the content relevant and meaningful:

  • Current Events Connections: Bring up a current event or news story related to the day’s topic and facilitate a class discussion. Encourage students to share their thoughts, opinions, and personal connections to the event, making the content more relevant and engaging.
  • Personal Anecdotes: Share personal stories or anecdotes related to the day’s theme or topic. Encourage students to do the same, fostering connections between the content and their own lives.
  • Show and Tell with Personal Connections:
    • Organize a “Show and Tell” activity in which students bring in a meaningful object from home or choose a favorite item from the classroom to share with their peers. The chosen object should be connected to the day’s topic, theme, or learning objective.
    • Before the activity, provide students with guidance on selecting their item and encourage them to think about why the object is significant to them and how it relates to the topic. During the morning meeting or circle time, each student will have an opportunity to present their item, explain its personal significance, and discuss its connection to the day’s theme.
    • For example, if the topic of the day is “family traditions,” students could bring in a family heirloom, a photograph, or an item related to a specific tradition they practice with their family. As students share their objects, they will be encouraged to listen, ask questions, and make connections between their own experiences and those of their peers.
    • This “Show and Tell” activity promotes personal connections, active listening, and empathy, while allowing students to engage with the content in a meaningful and relevant way.

Use Interactive Activities and Movement Breaks

Implement games, interactive activities, and movement breaks to keep students engaged and energized throughout the session:

  • Interactive Trivia: Organize a trivia game based on the day’s topic or theme. Divide students into teams and use a mix of questions that challenge their knowledge, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. This activity promotes collaboration and active engagement.
  • Movement Breaks: Incorporate short movement breaks or brain breaks into the morning meeting or circle time. For example, have students stand up and participate in a quick stretching activity, a yoga pose, or a dance routine. Movement breaks help students refocus, increase engagement, and improve overall well-being.

Summary Universal Design for Learning During Morning Meeting or Circle Time

In summary, morning meeting and circle time are valuable routines that foster community, promote social-emotional learning, and set a positive tone for the day in both elementary and early childhood settings. Educators can create a more inclusive and engaging learning environment by incorporating Universal Design for Learning principles. Key strategies include offering multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement through the use of visual aids, hands-on activities, sensory materials, and real-life examples. Furthermore, providing alternative ways for students to participate, supporting collaboration, and offering choices in activities or topics can help accommodate all students’ diverse needs and learning styles.

Actionable Tips:

  • Incorporate visual aids, such as videos, slideshows, or visual schedules, during morning meeting or circle time.
  • Provide hands-on activities and sensory materials, like sensory bins, playdough, or fidget toys, to engage students with diverse learning needs.
  • Offer alternative ways for students to participate, such as using communication devices, adaptive tools, or role-playing.
  • Encourage students to share thoughts and feelings through different formats, like drawing, writing, or acting.
  • Provide choices in activities or topics and use real-life examples to make content relevant and meaningful.
  • Implement games, interactive activities, and movement breaks to keep students engaged and energized.

By implementing these actionable tips, educators can create a dynamic and inclusive morning meeting or circle time experience that meets the needs of all learners.


Gauvreau, A. N., Lohmann, M. J., & Hovey, K. A. (2023). Circle is for everyone: Using UDL to promote inclusion during circle times. Young Exceptional Children26(1), 3-15.