Using simple sign language to promote learning and literacy


Katie, a student with Down’s syndrome, was having a difficult time in class. She had trouble speaking and being understood, which led to her frustration and tantrums. To solve the problem, the teacher incorporated basic sign language in class. Not only did this enable Katie to make her wants known, it improved classroom management as a whole, as students became more attentive to instructions and learned to deal with each other in a more peaceful manner.

Carol Garboden Murray

“Using sign langugae in class makes learning more inclusive,” said Carol Garboden Murray, MSEd, in a recent webinar entitled “Sign Language, Songs and Felt Stories: Literacy Learning in Early Childhood”.

Signing commands attention while requiring less talk. It is engaging for students and allows them to “speak” without disturbing the class as a whole. Murray’s presentation included tips to help with classroom management, how to teach sign language, and how to use signing to make story time more multi-sensory and engaging.
Here are some basic signs and how they can help:

MeaningSignUseful when
Tap fingers together
Student wants to ask for more of something
All done

Flip open hand(s) out
Student doesn't want anymore of anything
"Chop" the upper hand onto the lower hand
Asking a student to stop a behavior. This works between students as well, and helps promote kindness, respecting limits, and gentle assertiveness.
Wiggle fingers with palm up
Asking someone to wait, for example to wait a turn
My turn
L-shaped hand over heart
Taking turns
Your turn
L-shaped hand pointing out
Taking turns

Palms up flat, then claw shaped
Asking for things, taking turns
Gentle touch
Gently pet the top of one hand with the other hand
Instruction on handling objects or touching others
Put "thumbs up" sign on palm and lift up
Asking for or offering help
Circle open hand over heart
Expressing politeness
Thank you
Hand over lips, then move out, like blowing kisses
Expressing gratitude
Place first two fingers of hand over first two fingers of other hand
Asking students to sit down

Murray also displayed signs for “together”, “happy,” “friends,” and “clock” (showing time ticking down). She suggested teaching the signs through familiar songs such as “This is the way we sign (thank you/help/please) so early in the morning” and “The more we get together, the happier we’ll be.”

In the second half of the webinar, Murray showed how to make story time interactive by incorporating signs for things and animals, as well as using a felt board and felt characters, with stories such as “Goodnight Moon,” “Brown Bear Brown Bear” and “Mr. Gumpy’s Outing.”

There are several sources for simple sign language. Here are a few sources:


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