5 Ways to Bring Sign Language Into Your Classroom

Using sign language in your everyday classroom is easy, fun, and beneficial for all. Here’s how!

Sign language is another form of communication that nearly all students can use and benefit from.  It’s an exciting and engaging language that connects students with a range of different people. Learning signs is a multi-sensory experience, and the visual and tactile nature of signing helps to engage a variety of learners. Plus, it’s super fun!

How can all students benefit?

There are a number of benefits to introducing sign language to your students. Signs can help students with speech and language delays communicate more effectively, and they can give everyone another means of communication. One more tool in the communication tool belt!

Most importantly it gives students an opportunity to embrace diversity by learning not only another language but also the rich history and culture of the deaf/hard of hearing community. Learning about someone else’s language and culture helps students make new connections, and creates a sense of belonging for those in your community who use sign language.

Review your resources!

Remember, sign language is different across countries and languages. Each sign language has its own structure and grammar rules and incorporates hand signs, body language, facial expressions, and lip patterns. Be mindful about the resources you are using, and if you are unsure, talk to someone from the deaf/hard of hearing community in your local school district.

Teaching signs for a range of vocabulary words (e.g. nouns, verbs, adjectives) helps broaden students’ knowledge. Teaching students how to find words by using online sign dictionaries or other resources can help them to be lifelong learners while giving them more tools to use when they meet someone from the deaf/hard of hearing community.

Check out these courses:
Free online ASL videos
NZSL free learning portal
Pay-what-you-can BSL certification
Free SSL learning resources

5 First Steps

Start your journey with a few easy ways to bring sign language into your classroom:

1. Greetings and responses
Greetings are a good place to start introducing some signs because they happen everyday and are often the first things we say to someone when we meet them. This includes the signs for hello and goodbye, and asking for someone’s name. It might be helpful to have students think about cultural behaviors when meeting someone from the deaf/hard of hearing community. Things like getting the person’s attention before signing, changing positions so it is easier to see signs and taking turns in conversations so only one person is signing at a time.

2. Classroom management
Signs can be a great way to communicate with your students especially in noisy school environments. Signs can help you communicate with your students quickly without interrupting the flow of the lesson. Start by picking a few signs that match some of your instructions and daily routines e.g. “eyes on me”, “sit down” and “great work”.

3. Songs 
The rhythmic and repetitive nature of songs means they are a fantastic vehicle for language learning. There are a number of nursery rhymes, kids songs and pop songs that have been translated into sign language on youtube. Learning the same song over a few weeks will give the students an opportunity to see and practice the signs over and over again. Remember you can slow down the playback of the song which can help when students are learning. You can also turn subtitles on so students are exposed to the written word alongside the sign which can help with their understanding. Sharing the song in an assembly or music video helps students to promote the use of sign language on a wider scale and gives your students an opportunity to share what they have learnt #proudteachermomement!

4. Alphabet signs
Introducing finger spelling for the alphabet is a great way to help students during literacy lessons. When students are needing support with spelling teachers can sign the letter they are looking for without interrupting other students working alongside them. When students know all the letters they are also able to communicate a wider range of words.
Tip: Start with the first letters of your students’ names.

5. Ask an expert
Get in touch with someone from the deaf/hard of hearing community and ask if they would like to visit your class. This could be a family member of a student at your school, a sign language teacher, or another member of your school community. This will give your students a chance to practice using the signs they have learnt in class in context and will help them to learn more about the deaf/hard of hearing culture and history – which is just as important as using the language!

Remember to keep sign lessons fun and encourage your students with loads of feedback and praise. Learning another language is hard, but communicating with others and embracing diversity is so important for everyone to learn!