Many of us are using American Sign Language with our students as a way of helping them to learn new vocabulary or sight words. Others are using it as a way of improving communication with our students with special needs or speech disabilities–or simply to use with our babies and toddlers.
There are a few websites that your students can play during free play or center time to help them to learn some new signs. Here is a list of sites (not in any particular order) that I’ve found online. I’ve written both the positive and negatives of each so that you can decide what might work best for you and your student(s).
Starfall.com is a great site in general for early readers. Click on ABCs to see a picture of hands on the bottom left hand side of your screen. Click on this and it will show you an animated girl showing each manual letter in the alphabet. She will also say the letter and make the sound of the letter. Even though it is an animated drawing the hand shape is quite clear to understand. My only wish is that she also said an object that started with that letter (and showed the sign for that object) and that there were more things to do on the site that incorporated sign language.
Arthur at PBS
Arthur on PBS is a cute character that children love–and he got his start in storybooks. On the PBS website Arthur has a section on sign language where children can practice signing. Arthur will teach you how to sign your own name (by fingerspelling it for you after you type it in), and he will also show you how to ask some different questions and make some different statements in sign language. You can choose your question or statement from a list of choices and do it over again several times so that you can learn some new signs each time.
There are two drawbacks to this site. One is that the manual alphabet is just shown on one page, it is not interactive and Arthur doesn’t do any sounds the letter makes or objects that start with that letter like some of the other sites reviewed here. The other drawback is that the questions and statements are actually signed English, as the sequence of the words in the sentence are how we would say them in English and not how we would say them in American Sign Language. An example from the site is that in the statements section it has the sentence “I like basketball." In American Sign Language you would sign “Basketball, I like." The subject of the sentence is always put first. This can be misleading on the site, although they do explain this in the “More Information" section.
Once at this website, click on the KiddieSigns sign language games link. There are a total of 6 games to play, making this the most extensive of the sites I’ve recommended so far. You can play for free, or for a nominal fee you can add a picture of your child or student, so that they will see themselves pop up in different places while playing the game(s). Children can learn the manual alphabet (and are shown an object that begins with that letter – which is a plus), and how to count in American Sign Language up to the number 20. What is nice about these two games is that when the game finishes showing the first letter or number, it goes right on to the next one without the student/child having to click. So children can just watch and sign along.
The other four games are great practice activities, they are called “What is this letter?", “What is this sign?", “What is this color sign?" and “What is this shape sign?." In each game they will either show you the sign and you have to select the right letter, number, color or shape, or they will show you the letter, number, color or shape, and you have to select the right sign from three choices. It is great fun and excellent practice.
My only wish for this site is that there currently isn’t a game for colors or shapes where they actually teach you the signs, like they already have for the alphabet and numbers. So if you don’t already know your color and shape signs, you have to try to figure them out as you go along. An added bonus to the site is that for $3 (as of 4/6/10) you can download another game for one week called Signing in the Park. By perusing the demos, this is very cute and you can learn a lot of other great signs. They are American Sign Language signs, but not correct ASL grammar. Although the testimonials state otherwise, the demo shows them sign “where, baby" instead of “baby, where". Overall, an excellent site that you could actually spend some time at with great practice activities!