Sign of the times – ASL in ESL

ASLsignlanguageimageIt was time to write English lesson plans for my first-graders’ first week of school.  Of course, we’d be remembering all of the stuff we’d learned the year before, such as numbers, colors, and things we find in school.  The question for me was how to review these words in a way that was exciting and interesting?  How could I incorporate the various intelligences into the lessons?  I finally hit upon an idea in the middle of the night.  It was so inspiring that I could hardly sleep the rest of the night, and first thing in the morning I raced to start up youtube on my computer to search for videos I could use with my children.

I soon found that combining the terms “ASL” (American Sign Language) with “song” and the topic at hand gave the best results.  Before long, I had found just the right video for reviewing counting:

The song combined with the gestures was an instant hit with the children, and they begged to sing the song again and again.  Later, I found even more examples of instructional videos I could use:  farm animals, Christmas songs,  and songs about food were soon added to various lesson plans.  I found that the children remembered new words easily when combined with the gestures.  I incorporated the gestures into storytelling exercises and songs in which the children would provide the word indicated by the gesture, or played guessing games with them.

Later on, I read about how TPR (Total Physical Response) is often used in ESL/EFL lessons.  I realized that by incorporating sign language into my lessons, I not only encouraged children to develop their bodily intelligence, I had also been applying the principles of TPR to my teaching without even realizing it.

Sometimes it's easier for young children to understand what feeling one is naming when it's combined with motions.

Sometimes it’s easier for young children to understand what feeling one is naming when it’s combined with motions.

I had always used certain hand gestures in my teaching, but now I had a new tool in hand: official sign language.  Certainly I’m no expert in the area of sign language, but knowing how to find and learn useful, recognized gestures has allowed me to develop a consistent “gesticulative vocabulary” for use in class.

Are there other teachers who use sign language in their teaching?  If so, I’d love to hear about your experiences.



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