I remember the first time I saw American Sign Language (ASL) being used: I thought it was such an interesting, appealing language, especially since I am naturally quite prone to talking with my hands. I took a class in graduate school out of curiosity (my foreign language requirement already having been fulfilled), which led to a second course and eventually a third. I could not get enough! ASL is a witty, fun and beautiful language with both complexities and uncomplicated interpretations.

So how can you use this resource with your students, even if you have little or no background with it? One resource to start with, SymbolStix PRIME, has over 800 ASL symbols in its library that will allow you to better communicate with your students and help them better communicate with each other.

Increase Skill Acquisition

Not everyone learns just by listening or seeing—often it is the “doing” or assigning of muscle repetition that increases learning; i.e., tactile learning strengthens muscle memory and therefore solidifies the learning. When teaching a communication strategy or language sound, pairing a sign or symbol to go along with it will increase acquisition of the skill and provide a prompt that is both visual and tactile. For example, when teaching a student the letter K has a “kuh” sound that comes from your throat, pair the ASL K symbol with the sound while gesturing at your throat in order to prompt the correct pronunciation.

Sign Language can be used to communicate basic needs as a primary means or as a backup in the event that a picture exchange system or other Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is not readily available.

I suggest addressing the following basic needs:

  • Help
  • Stop
  • More
  • Bathroom
  • Eat
  • Drink
  • Yes
  • No

These can eventually be expanded to label feelings, emotions, names, locations and more individualized needs.

ASL Is an Access Point

If you and/or your students are learning ASL for the first time, it’s an amazing inclusion opportunity for teaching, learning and practicing with peers. If one of your students already knows ASL, then perhaps they can be the teacher, with the support of the SymbolStix PRIME visuals, for the rest of the class. You may be surprised to see just how much kids love to learn ASL for its own sake, but it also gives them an access point to communicate with their nonverbal peers. This is an opportunity to teach open-mindedness, tolerance, empathy and caring in an all-inclusive way.

I was reminded of this many years ago when I was asked to tutor a second-grade girl at her home in some ASL basics. Her parents reached out to me because their daughter had a hearing-impaired classmate and she wanted nothing more than to be able to talk with him. She was so excited to learn the language that she inspired her younger brother to join our sessions.

We, as teachers, are constantly trying to give our students as many tools and resources as possible to foster their independence. ASL may very well help bridge a gap for one or more individuals in your life, inside or outside of school.

Role of Symbols in Communication White Paper

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About the Author
Cara Luce is an intervention specialist who has spent 10 years working with students who have specialized learning needs at the elementary, middle school and high school levels. Her training is in the areas of speech and hearing as well as curriculum and instruction. She believes in presuming intellect, supporting advocacy, promoting laughter and creating a supportive community for all. Cara earned a Master of Education degree from Cleveland State University.