In the early stages, teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing children to write is similar to the techniques for hearing children. The manual alphabet and the written alphabet work together well -- there is a manual equivalent for all 26 letters. However, hearing children, and to some extent hard-of-hearing children, can learn parts of words through sound, a technique that is not accessible for deaf children. English grammar is ordinarily learned by hearing it. The traditional approach has been to teach deaf students general rules of grammar, such as subject-verb-object word order. This can be confusing for students when they encounter the numerous deviations from general rules.
For someone who already knows the manual alphabet, the teaching activity is simple -- point to the printed letter, show the sign for the letter. Deaf children normally learn this at the same pace as their hearing peers. Supplemental materials such as children's alphabet books, are helpful because colors and images aid memorization. For both deaf and hard-of-hearing students, the learning process for writing letters is a motor activity and proceeds as it does with hearing children -- a lot of scribbling, followed by attempts that vaguely resemble letters. With encouragement and standard connect-the-dots guides, children refine their technique and letters come into focus.
Using American Sign Language as a linguistic base also helps hard-of-hearing children because they are likely missing some percentage of speech. That gap can be filled in by ASL. For both deaf and hard-of-hearing students, ASL makes it possible to discuss the meaning of printed English words. A simple activity for vocabulary is a stack of flash cards with printed words. Show the word, share the ASL equivalent and discuss the meaning of the word in ASL. As a child's vocabulary grows, have him write the word and meaning to reinforce memorization of spelling and definition. In English, many words -- called homonyms -- have multiple meanings. You can show the word in both sign and print, then discuss the different meanings. For example, “bat” could mean a flying animal or an object to hit a baseball. Have him write the word, then draw images of different meanings of the word.
Sentences are where grammar enters, and where the sequence and hierarchy of instruction diverges from techniques for hearing children. A useful visual tool for teaching grammar are grammar mind maps. These serve as grammar flow charts, showing how meaning changes depending on how a sentence is structured. Because it's visual, it's best to see examples to understand how to create these (see Resources). Progressive English instructors in deaf classrooms are working with other ways to make it easier to visualize English grammar. An example is called manipulative visual language, a system that uses colored shapes to help identify and recognize grammatical patterns. A good home activity that makes learning grammar accessible at an early age is the use of word magnets on refrigerators. Encourage children to create their own sentences, then show how their sentences are structured in English. This gives them a basis to compare, contrast and ask questions.
During these activities, your ongoing encouragement and warm praise for students as they learn is their greatest reward. Patience and persistence is important too, for both instructor and student. When a student gains the conviction that they can write well, it can happen. Your effort and support are essential ingredients.
- Visual Language and Visual Learning Lab Lecture: I See What You Mean: Teaching Deaf Students to Visualize English Grammar, Kristin DiPerri,
- Van Asch Deaf Education Centre: Manipulative Visual Language — A Tool to Help Crack the Code of English
- Gallaudet University Press: Literacy and Your Deaf Child
- Butte Publications: Workbooks for Teaching English Grammar Rules Visually
- Rochester Institute of Technology: Supporting English Acquisition
- Word Magnets
- Education.com: Writing Activity Worksheets
- SLP Lesson Plans: Homonyms -- Words with Multiple Meanings
- Tertopics.com: Fingerspelling Alphabet Chart
- Literacy and Your Deaf Child; David A. Stewart and Bryan R. ClarkeWriting
- Grammar Mind Maps: How to Draw Grammar Mind Maps
- Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images