American Sign Language: Poetry
Teaching Note: Don’t fret! You do not have to be fluent in ASL to do this part of the lesson with your students. We provide resources and guidance. The most important thing is to play. Poetry is a play on language. Have fun!
Background Activity: Dandelion
One of the most notable poets in the Deaf signing community was Clayton Valli (1953-2003). Students don’t have to be fluent in ASL to understand and appreciate his original ASL poem “Dandelion”. Have students watch an ASL poem: Dandelion and discuss the poem as a group. Answer the following questions:
- How is this poem different from the ones you have seen before?
- Can you tell me if there was a rhyme? If yes, what?
- What does the poem talk about?
- Do you think you could write an English poem based on this one? Is it possible? Why or why not?
Activity 1: Rhyme in ASL Poetry
Hands Land is geared towards children from birth to six years old, but their introductory video provides a good explanation of rhyme in ASL. It is recommended that the teacher watch the entire video before showing it to the students. Students will benefit most from watching a clip, starting at 1:36 – 3:17.
English-based poems use words that sound the same to make a rhyme. In ASL, poetry is created by using repeated motions, classifiers, or handshapes. Students can learn about ASL poetry by watching this video from Hands Land.
From Hands Land: How does rhyming work in ASL? ASL has five parameters, including: hand shape, location, movement, palm orientation, and non-manual markers, or facial grammar. When the parameters are repeated while signing, the signs can create rhymes.
Activity 2: What are Classifiers in ASL?
Teaching Note: The Classifiers presentation introduces students to classifiers in ASL. It is recommended that you study the presentation beforehand to review the notes and practice some of the signs yourself. The purpose of this activity is to expose students to classifiers and provide them with another way to sign an ASL poem. After going through the presentation together, have the students view the video, “Snare of the Arrow."
Classifiers PowerPoint, Adobe PDF
Video: ASL Poem "Snare of the Arrow"
Activity 3: What are Handshapes in ASL?
Teaching Note: The Handshapes presentation introduces students to handshapes in ASL. It is recommended that you study the presentation beforehand to review the notes and practice some of the signs yourself. The purpose of this activity is to expose students to handshapes and provide them with another way to sign an ASL poem. After going through the presentation together, have the students view the video, “Let’s Go for a Walk.”
Handshapes PowerPoint, Adobe PDF
Video: ASL Handshape and Motion rhyme poem: “Let’s Go for a Walk”
Activity 4: Other types of ASL Poems
Students watch the following videos to learn about other types of ASL poems: numbers, ABC, and visual vernacular poetry.
ASL Number Poem 1-5: "Spider" by Valencia-Biskupiak 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lte4f2HS8VI
“ABC Story: ASL” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJWUedN8Pgc
Visual Vernacular Poem: "The Pilot and the Eagle” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cCM0Ykre58
*This is highly complex but fun to watch!*
Activity 5: Create Your Own
After watching the videos in Activities 2, 3, and 4, students create their own ASL poetry about a topic of their choosing. Encourage the students to choose an ASL rhyming pattern. Will they use one classifier or a set of classifiers? Will they do a number or an ABC poem? Will they use handshapes or choose to just establish their own motions with some repeated signs?
Teaching Note: Grading your students’ work may be challenging as language is subjective. It is recommended to find a deaf individual who is fluent in American Sign Language as an evaluator. Make it a fun day where that guest could present to the class and perhaps set up the day as a public speaking opportunity. We recommend creating a rubric to assess your students' work.