Sign Language in the General Classroom

By the end of 2nd grade, all of my students knew the American sign language alphabet and were using it daily. I'm not going to act like this was part of my master plan to enrich my students' learning; It was a TOTAL accident! In retrospect, teaching my students sign language was one of the best things that I accidentally-on-purpose did as a first-year teacher. It all started during word study. It was one of those days that I'm sure all first year (and veteran) teachers have. I was tired, I had a headache... and I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. I pulled up and projected the sign language alphabet. We talked a little about how ASL (American Sign Language) is a different language, just like Spanish and French are different languages from English. I paired up the students, pointed out the week's spelling and sight words, and said "go." My second graders spent 20 minutes signing words to their partners, who in turn had to figure out which spelling or sight word it was. 

Just like that, my class was HOOKED! They begged me to do sign language every day. I printed each of them a copy of the alphabet and sometimes we practiced sign language as a brain break. My kids could not get enough. It was amazing to me how quickly they all picked up on it. It wasn't long before I could start incorporating sign language into our daily routines. 


When students raised their hands, they made a Q for a question, C for a comment, or an R for restroom. This was a major help to me, as I could avoid the storytellers when needed. I realize that sometimes there is some controversy with this. I made sure that my students knew that they were signing first letters, not the actual signs for those words.


You know that awkward time when kids are done using the restroom and they have to stand in line silently and patiently? I would sign the name of someone standing the correct way in the hallway, and that student would raise his or her hand. We started with first names, then last, then middle. After they got the hang of it, I let the kids be in charge. (Once, I used this method to keep my class under control while waiting to be dismissed from an assembly. My administration was impressed!) 


As you know, it's important to use choral response as much as possible so all students stay actively engaged. When we practiced multiple choice questions, I had students show me their answers by using sign language. 


Occasionally I would use sign language to grab my students' attention at the start of a lesson. I would stand silently at the front of the room and use the ASL alphabet to slowly spell out words to form a sentence. The kids would sit still and quiet, trying to figure out what I was spelling. 

Bonus: LUNCH

When the cafeteria monitors decided to put the students on silent lunch due to noise level, my class got creative and began communicating to each other in sign language. My colleagues and I thought it was hilarious and couldn't decide if we should put a stop to it or not, because although the kids were communicating, they were technically being silent! 

Please don't be mad at me! (Soap Box)

I have seen some complaints from some angry people in the past about how ASL is a language that is a tool for people with disabilities to use out of necessity. I've read comments saying that it shouldn't be used for "fun" or for "convenience" in a classroom setting. Maybe the ways I use sign language in my classroom are for fun and for convenience, but isn't sign language also an important life skill?

I have to admit, I got this idea from my mom. My mom taught me the ASL alphabet when I was a kid, but I never felt the need or desire to learn it. It wasn't until a trip to a random museum during the summer that I learned of its importance. 

My mom and I entered a restroom where a custodian was cleaning. We knew that she was deaf by her response when my mom said, "hello." As my mom realized this, she began signing to the deaf woman. Given, my mom is not fluent in ASL, but she does know the alphabet, so she communicated by spelling words. 

You should have seen this woman's face. I, for one, will never forget it. She lit up, smiled the biggest smile I've ever seen, and immediately began communicating with my mom. By the end of the short conversation, she was crying tears of joy and hugged us goodbye.

All that being said, YES, sign language is a form of communication usually used out of necessity. But why not teach the basics to the next generation so that they might make someone's day sometime down the road? 

As long as it's done correctly, it's worth doing. 

Please follow along on InstagramFacebookPinterest, and TPT for more ideas to make your life easier!


  1. Kristin, I love this post!! I use the r and w for restroom and water signals in my room! I have a couple of sign language books in our class library. I actually had a sign language class in middle school! I remember loving it! This makes me want to use more sign language this year! I love the idea of spelling words with a partner! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you so much, Rachel! The kids really love it, and it's functional. Have a great start to the new year!

  2. I took sign language throughout high school, and one day hope to be an educational interpreter for deaf and hard of hearing. I love this idea of teaching your students the alphabet! Not only does it help them in their academics, it opens their eyes to a whole different community. The Deaf community almost always loves it when hearing people know at least a little ASL.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Casey! I love that you aspire to be an educational interpreter. Good luck to you!

  3. As a Special Ed teacher and mom, I can assure you that Sign Language has lots of benefits. It gives my struggling kids one more kinetic thing to link to a letter. Studies have shown that learning sign language helps young children. I suspect that as long as we aren't disrespectful to the deaf community they won't mind sharing their remarkable and beautiful language with us.

  4. I love this! I'm an infant teacher and I am showing my babies how to do certain signs while we are at school!


Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate your input!