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Educate your students about sign language with this lesson plan. They will study two text lessons, take two related quizzes to follow up, and participate in two fun hands-on activities.

Learning Objectives

After studying this lesson your students will be able to:

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  • Identify contributions to deaf culture of Gallaudet and Stokoe.

  • Recap major events in the history of deaf education.
  • Use the 26 hand gestures in the ASL alphabet.


1 – 1.

5 Hours


  • Copies of the American Sign Language (ASL) alphabet, one per group
  • Copies of the text lesson The History of American Sign Language along with the related lesson quiz
  • Copies of the text lesson American Sign Language Alphabet along with the related lesson quiz
  • Internet access

Key Vocabulary

  • Alexander Graham Bell
  • American Sign Language (ASL)
  • ASL manual alphabet
  • Fingerspelling
  • National Association of the Deaf (NAD)
  • Thomas Gallaudet
  • William Stokoe

Curriculum Standards



Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.



Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).


  • Inform your students they are going to be learning about sign language, specifically American Sign Language (ASL).
  • Display an image of the ASL alphabet.

  • Ask them if anyone is familiar with ASL or can sign.
  • Review the key vocabulary terms with them.

Lesson One

  • Pass out copies of the text lesson The History of American Sign Language.

  • Read the introduction and the first section ‘The 1800s – The Evolution of ASL.’
    • How many deaf schools are in the United States?
    • Who was Dr. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet?
    • Who did he try unsuccessfully to teach how to read?
    • Why did he travel to Paris?
    • What language did he bring back to the United States?
    • Who returned with him from Paris?
    • What school did they open? When?
    • What was the first deaf college?
    • What was it renamed?
  • Next read the section ‘The 1800s – The Setback of ASL.’
    • Which famous inventor also taught deaf students?’
    • What teaching method for the deaf did he invent? Why?
    • Who in his family was deaf?
    • In what year did he get sign language banned?
    • In response, what organization was founded by deaf people?
  • Now read the section ’90 Years of Oral Education and the Hidden ASL.’
    • Despite the ban, did many schools secretly teach ASL?
  • Next read the section ‘1960s – 1990s – The Restoration of ASL.

    • Which deaf educator was instrumental in restoring ASL?
    • What methods did he utilize to accomplish this goal?
    • What are teletypewriters?
  • Now read the section ‘ASL Today.’
    • Can deaf children attend public schools?
    • To what other sign language is ASL similar?
    • What law ensures ASL users have access to government resources?
  • Lastly, read the section ‘Lesson Summary,’ recap the entire completed lesson, and answer any questions.
  • Have your students take the lesson quiz to demonstrate their grasp of this text lesson.

Lesson Two

  • Pass out copies of the text lesson American Sign Language Alphabet.
  • Read the introduction and the first section ‘American Sign Language and the Manual Alphabet.

    • What movie contains a scene of a couple using sign language?
    • To convey meaning, what three things are used by ASL?
  • Now read the section ‘The ASL Manual Alphabet.’
    • How many hands are utilized in ASL?
    • What is fingerspelling?
    • For most of the letters, where does the signer’s palm face?
    • What are four fingerspelling tips?
  • Next, read the section ‘Using the Manual Alphabet.’
    • How many words are there in the English language?
    • How many signs are there in American Sign Language?
  • Finally, read the section ‘Lesson Summary,’ answer all pertinent questions, and review the whole lesson.

  • Have your students take the lesson quiz to demonstrate understanding.


ASL Alphabet

  1. Explain to your students they are going to be practicing the ASL alphabet.
  2. Divide your students up into small groups of four to six.
  3. Pass out copies of the ASL alphabet, one per group.

  4. Allow your students to practice the alphabet in their groups. As they are working ask them:
    • Do any letters involve movements of the hand? (the letters ‘j’ and ‘z’ both do)
    • Do you utilize both hands in the ASL alphabet? (no)
    • Which way does your palm face for most of the letters? (toward the listener)
    • Do you mouth the complete word as you sign? (yes)
    • Do you pause between each word? (yes)
  5. Finally ask them: do you have any final questions or comments?


  • Let your students know they will be participating in a debate.
  • Divide them up into two large groups. Tell them:
  1. Thomas Gallaudet and William Stokoe were two of the most influential people in history as far as improving the lives of deaf people. Also tell them:
    • Group One, you will be Team Gallaudet.
    • Group Two, you will be Team Stokoe.

  2. Now research each person and find out as many informative facts as you can to build your case in the debate. For example, Gallaudet basically created ASL using the French system as a model. On the other hand, Stokoe brought back ASL after it was banned for 90 years.
  3. Next, allow each group to nominate a spokesperson to give presentations about each person.
  4. Allow the two groups to debate about which person was more influential. At this point, any of the students from either group can raise their hand and make a statement.

  5. At the end of the debate, tell your students: there is no real winner to the debate, as both persons did incredible things to improve the deaf community.


Close captioning, teletypewriting, and cochlear implants have changed the lives of many deaf persons. Write a 3-page paper detailing how these inventions have been transformative.

Related Lessons

  • The History of Sign Language
  • Using Sign Language in the Classroom

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