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Easy Tips For Using American Sign Language in the Classroom

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 2/8/2012

Any student can benefit from learning some sign language and teachers can incorporate signing into their mainstream classroom. Learn how to start with some basic signing in your class.

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    Tips For Getting Started

    1. First and foremost, have fun with adding American Sign Language into your day! Just pick one or two signs that match your curriculum or that would be helpful for everyone in the room to know, and start with those. Try to add another one or two new signs per day/week/month, whatever you are comfortable with. You don’t need to learn a complete second language, just keep adding more as you become comfortable with the ones you know.
    2. When you are just beginning to introduce a new sign, always say it and sign it together. Once you know that the students know the sign, and then you can start surprising them or giving directions by just using only the sign (voices off). This will be a sure way to quiet your classroom.
    3. Incorporate the signs into what you are already doing or into your current curriculum. Don’t teach it as a separate curriculum (unless that is your intention). You are busy enough trying to teach everything else in the curriculum, so just add signs into what you are already doing and don’t make it something extra. You’re already saying the words, so just make the signs at the same time.
    4. Try to stay a day ahead of your students. You will find that your students love that you are incorporating sign language and will start to ask you the sign for other words. I’d suggest keeping a good American Sign Language Dictionary available for this reason. If you work with elementary school age students and younger, you might want to Sign Language Dictionaries for Kids Online to help your students learn new signs and find signs to learn that are appropriate for their age level.
    5. Online American Sign Language games are available to help your students to learn some new signs. They are great to let your students learn and practice from during center time or available free time. They’re educational and fun!
    6. Take a course in American Sign Language if you’re interested, but this isn’t mandatory to get started. Again, don’t feel like this is an all or nothing activity, just begin slowly. If you continue to add signs on and have quite a few in your repertoire and would like to take a course, then I’d highly recommend one. For a good on-line ASL course (which you can do from home at your own pace at a very reasonable cost), go to www.signingonline.com.
    7. Last but not least, start with important keywords. Sometimes teachers feel like they need to learn the manual alphabet right away. I would suggest learning it, however, don’t get overwhelmed by needing to learn 26 signs for the 26 letters of the alphabet. Just start with the important keywords that will be the most helpful for you in the classroom and let the rest flow from there.