Using Asl in the Classroom

Asl (Sign Language) For the Classroom

using Asl in the classroom

Over the years, the teaching and management methods used by teachers in traditional classrooms have significantly transformed and become more diverse. One reason for this is the mainstreaming of students with various kinds of disabilities and diverse economic and cultural backgrounds into the general education environment. Using a single approach to teaching makes it hard for a teacher to reach all students. 

Teachers are continuously seeking for new, inventive ways to engage their pupils in the learning process. Using Asl, i.e. American sign language in the classroom, is one probable solution to reach all students. Using sign language in the classroom can enhance students’ learning process by bringing auditory, visual, and kinesthetic feedback and making it more effective for the teacher to convey his/her message across easily. 

Read on to learn why and how using Asl in the classroom can enhance students’ overall learning experience.

Why teachers use sign language in the classroom?

Generally, teachers use sign language in the classroom to: 

  • Keep students actively engaged in the learning process
  • Manage student behavior 
  • Assist students in language development 
  • Assist students in speech development 
  • Assist students in the literacy development of reading, phonics, and spelling

Promote positive peer-to-peer interactions and communication 

Benefits of using language in the classroom

The benefits of teaching Asl in the classroom are, but not limited to:

For students:

  • Several studies have shown that pairing specific signs with the English language can greatly help students formulate mental pictures. 
  • The multi-modal experience of using Asl in the classroom, along with traditional teaching tactics, can significantly help create new pathways in the learner’s brain for storage and retrieval. 
  • Using Asl in the classroom can help students recall and remember spelling words and sight words. 
  • Moreover, studies have shown that learners who use sign language for particular sight words learn to read faster. 
  • Students today are diverse learners, and using Asl in the classroom can promote faster academic achievement.

For teachers:

  • Asl is also used as an effective management tool by teachers.
  • Incorporating non-verbal and sign gestures in the classroom is an effective way to eliminate unnecessary interruptions in the class. 
  • Using Asl in the classroom can allow teachers to maximize teaching time and encourage learning. 
  • Incorporating sign language in the classroom can greatly enhance teacher-student engagement. 

These are just a few of the reasons why all teachers must explore the possibility of using sign language in their classrooms. 

3 Activities to Use Asl In the Classroom

Activity #1: Guess the date 

In this starter activity, encourage the class to think of ways to communicate without speaking. 

  • Set up a 3-minute timer on your stopwatch. 
  • Explain to the class that they have three minutes to position themselves in a line alongside one of the classroom walls.  
  • Explain to them that they must stand in order of their birth date – not in age order – starting with January and ending with December. 
  • Inform them that during this activity, they must not make any noises or talk with each other. 
  • Ensure they understand the instructions and begin the timer. 
  • During the activity, don’t give any prompts other than to inform them about the remaining time. 
  • Observe different tactics that are being used to accomplish the task.
  • Once the 3 minutes are over, ask the students to call out their birthdays, and see how effectively the task as been accomplished. 
  • Once the students have returned to their designated places, ask them how difficult they found the task. Ask them to elaborate on the methods they used to complete the task and discuss other ways it may have been achieved. Some examples of these methods are:
    • Lip-reading/mouthing
    • Sign language 
    • Hold up fingers to represent the numbers of dates and months 
    • Writing in the air 

Activity #2: Fingerspell your name

In this activity, encourage the class to learn some American sign language: 

  • Begin by elucidating to the students that almost every English phrase or word or phrase has its own Asl sign.
  • However, for words that don’t have a designated sign, such as names, and for words/phrases that you don’t know the sign for, you can spell the word using the Asl fingerspelling alphabets. 
  • Each alphabet has its own particular sign, and this is one of the best ways to begin teaching and learning ASL.
  • Download and print a chart of the Asl fingerspelling alphabets and distribute it within the classroom
  • Split the classroom into small groups and ask them to go through the alphabet.  
  • Ask each student to use the fingerspelling alphabet and learn their own names in sign language and then encourage students to test each other’s fingerspelling abilities by spelling their names to each other.

Activity #3: Guess the sign 

This activity will reinforce the idea of non-verbal communication among students and would also help to expand their Asl vocabulary: 

  • Create an Asl slideshow and ask students to guess the sign or you can give words and ask students to exhibit its specific sign. 
  • For example, start with a slide that contains a single word, such as ‘cow.’ Ask your class to make up a movement or sign that can be used for a cow. 
  • Remind students they must not use speech, only gestures. 

Once the students guess the sign, on the next slide, display the Asl sign for that word and see if they’ve guessed it right. 

Closing Note

Using Asl in the classroom can be an excellent tool for both teachers and students. Using Asl sign in the classroom will allow teachers to manage trivial things in the classroom that maximize teaching and learning for all.  

Whether you are encouraging the use of Asl in the classroom or any other topic related to the English language, browse the rest of our blog section for a plethora of useful tips and tricks for whatever is in store for your next language lesson!