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Make Your Word Wall Interactive & Fun: Incorporate American Sign Language (ASL)

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 9/11/2012

Help your students recall their word wall words faster and easier by incorporating American Sign Language (ASL). Watch your word wall come alive as students who used to ignore the word wall, now want to read ( and sign) it even during free time.

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    Word Walls & American Sign Language

    If you’re like most primary teachers, then you have a word wall. Your word wall has basic sight words and maybe even some content words. These words are posted for the children to use, which they rarely do unless you draw their attention to them. How can you make your word wall more interactive, eye-catching and fun, so that the students will use it more often? Add American Sign Language (ASL)!

    Research shows that when a sight word is introduced to a student along with its accompanying ASL sign, the students have greater recall of those words.In fact, in a study by Hoyer (1985) data was collected on ten 1st grade students who were having difficulty in retaining their sight word vocabulary. With regular instruction, these children retained an average of 69% of their sight words over a 14 week time period. With sign instruction, these struggling readers retained an average of 93%.

    So if you make your word wall into an interactive, eye-catching and fun experience by adding ASL signs, your students are more likely to use it, refer to it, and more importantly remember and be able to read the words on it.

    Here’s how:

    • Take a picture of one of your students making the sign for a word wall word. Print it and tape it to the word wall card.
    • Take another student's picture making a sign for another word. Print it, tape it on and re-post the word.
    • Keep doing this until all of your students have had their photo taken and all of your word wall cards have the signs for those words attached.

    Your students will love looking at their picture and those of their fellow students. They will love learning the signs for each word. And, the students who did the sign can even be the expert signer for that word – teaching their classmates and boosting their self-esteem.

    • You can use your word wall for center time, sight word/content word practice and you’ll probably even see your students over at the word wall practicing their words and signs during free time.
    • For signs, visit Michigan State University’s ASL Web Browser at: http://commtechlab.msu.edu/sites/aslweb/
    • For a quicker way, purchase Scholastic's Sight Word Readers Parent Pack: Learning the First 50 Sight Words Is a Snap!
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    Word Wall Activities Incorporating ASL

    Now that you have made your word wall more fun by adding signs to the words, you are ready to incorporate these suggested activities.

    Matching or Concentration – Have students match the sight word with its matching sign. To take this a step further, try a concentration game. Flip the words and sign photos over and see if they can find the ones that match.

    Find It – Student work in pairs. One student shows the sign for a sight word and the other student finds the word. Or have one student say the word and the other student makes the sign for it (or find the sign photo for it).

    Signing Sentences – Have students write a sentence using ONLY words from the word wall. Let them practice signing and saying the sentence. Have the students share their signing sentence to each other either in pairs or in front of the class.

    Signing Songs – Make up a song to go along with a word from your word wall. Teach it to the students and sing and sign it together as a group.I have found the tune of Goodnight Ladies to be useful. Here’s an example that allows the students to find the word as well: “Let’s find ‘see’, Let’s find ‘see’, Let’s find ‘see’, I think I ‘see’ it now.Sign the word see and then allow the class or group to find the word see on the word wall.

    Sign and Spell – If your students know the American Sign Language manual alphabet (or would like to practice learning it), have your students finger spell each word on your word wall and then sign the word. For example with the word see, student can say and sign “S" “E" “E", See.

    Fill in the Blanks - Leave blanks in the place of words in a pocket chart, morning message or sentence strips. Students can find the missing word on the word wall chart and then say and sign it in the sentence to make sure it makes sense. Children can continue to look on the word wall and see if they find any other words/signs that would make sense in the sentence.

    Signing Stories – You can find many books that emphasize sight words. Choose one for the students to read and teach them the sign for the sight word that repeats in the story. Sign and say the word every time it appears in the text.

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