Teaching Thomas: Practicing Spelling through American Sign Language

So Thomas’ mom has requested that I put more time into practicing spelling, which seems to me the most tedious thing you can ask a first grader to do. No one wants to sit there and spell words for no particular reason. Even I don’t. But if there is a reason, a “fun” reason, such as a game, then maybe I can trick him into practicing his spelling. So I thought of a little “game” we can play every time to improve spelling. First, we collect words from the picture books we read and make flashcards out of them, anywhere from 6-10 cards. Then I tell him to pick a card without looking at it, as a magician would to his/her audience. He picks one and I read the word to him – we’ll use “shade” as an example. I tell Thomas that he has to spell “shade” for me. Most of the time, he can’t spell it off the top of his head. So we have a sheet of scratch paper nearby  and I tell him to write it down on paper first. Often times, he’s just guessing his way through the word so he’ll spell “shade” as “shaid”. I tell him that it’s wrong and that he’s using the wrong vowel combinations. Eventually, he’ll figure out the correct spelling. The catch to this whole game is that after he figures out the spelling, he’s supposed to fingerspell the word, or spell out each letter of the word using ASL.

But how does Thomas know ASL? I stumbled upon a children’s ASL dictionary at the library one time and borrowed it. Apparently, Thomas has been exposed to sign language before but he knows it as hand language so we call it that. Anyway, by making him fingerspell each word, it makes practicing spelling a much more active and fun thing to do. It’s worked so far, though I’ve found that figuring out fingerspelling takes Thomas a while to do so we don’t really get to go over many words. I guess we have to sacrifice something…

By the way, I thought I would include an interesting clip from a PBS documentary called “Through Deaf Eyes”:

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