How to Introduce Sign Language into a Non-Verbal Classroom

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1. Choose a core set of words to start with.  Choose words that are common in typically-developing children’s first words.  Choose about 10 words to start with.  Choose the ones that will be most helpful in the classroom.  Here’s a list of my preferred 60 (or so):

Nouns: dog, cat, bird, shoe, shirt, pants, cookie, cracker, apple, bed, table, chair, potty, sink, bathtub, car, bike, truck, cup, spoon, bowl, boy, girl, baby, ball, bubble, block, slide, marker, glue

Social Words: no, stop, all done, all gone, away, more, again, this, that, my, your

Action Words: go, up, down, eat, throw, sit, open, get, put, help

Descriptors: big, little, dirty, clean, wet, dry, here, there, on, in

2. Teach every adult in the classroom those 10 signs.  Have everyone demonstrate to you that they know how to make the sign.

3. Instruct every adult in the classroom to sign those signs every time they say those 10 words.  They don’t need to sign any other words, just those 10.  Do this for about a week.  Every adult should be modeling those words every time the child hears them so there is a chance they will start signing those words on their own.

4. After a week, have every adult start to encourage the child to make those 10 signs as well.  Use hand-over-hand to help the children make the signs if they will tolerate it.  If not, just encourage the child to try verbally.

5. As the children become more familiar with using the signs, have the adults start to fade back their support.  Use less hand-over-hand and encouragement and more wait time to see if the children will make the signs on their own.

6. Once the children have mastered a majority of the signs, add a few more into the mix using the same steps.