StarTeaching Feature Writer



Kim Taylor-DiLeva is an educational trainer and owner of Kim’s Signing Solutions ( .  

She conducts parent and teacher workshops throughout New York State and conducts sign language enrichment classes for daycares and preschools in the Albany, NY area. 

You can contact Kim at:

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Past Articles from Kim Taylor-DiLeva::

Building A Positive Classroom Environment: Using Sign Language Signs
Signing Sight Words for Success
Using Sign Language In Your Classroom: Getting Started


Addressing Different Learning Styles (With American Sign Language)
Using Sign Language to Help the Hearing ADD or ADHD Child 
Using American Sign Language Signs to Help Your Struggling Learners in Social Studies and Science

Building A Positive Classroom Environment:
Using Sign Language Signs

By: Kim Taylor-DiLeva

Classroom teachers are always looking for strategies to help the students in their class to get along with each other. Their ideal classroom has students who are all friendly toward each other and can problem solve on their own. Here are a few ideas, using American Sign Language signs, to help build your peaceful and positive classroom environment.

Students can problem solve easier when using American Sign Language signs, especially if they are younger or have a hard time with communication. It is easy for most all children to sign the words share, my turn, your turn, yes, no or wait, and can use these signs when conversing and problem solving with each other.

This strategy also comes into play when the need to express feelings arrives. Students can sign angry and mad, which allows them to show their negative feelings in a positive physical way (instead of in an aggressive way toward others). Students can even sign sorry, which is sometimes the hardest word for many children to say.

When you use signs to give directions (like sit, stand, line up, go, or start) you’ll find that your class becomes a quieter, more calm classroom. Because you are only signing directions, students not only need to pay better attention, but you are also creating a quieter atmosphere (which they will adhere to).

A more positive atmosphere can also be created by giving praise and encouragement more often. From across the room you can silently give praise (using signs like great, proud, beautiful or silent applause) and your students can give praise to each other in the same way. Extra encouragement can be given and received by all students, just by using a few simple signs.

If you want to start using some signs with your class, you’ll need to first look up the sign in an American Sign Language Dictionary, either in print or online.  Learn it, practice it, and then teach it to your students.  Once you’ve mastered one, try another one.  To make it easier, I’ve created two classroom posters which will help you and your students to learn the signs and use them with each other more often.  You can find them at http://www. productsshop/posters.html.

Don’t be overwhelmed by all of the above mentioned signs if you don’t know them. Just try one sign and then the next week add a new one. Start with the positive and encouraging signs. Just one or two signs can start your class on the way toward creating your ideal peaceful and positive classroom. 

Signing Sight Words for Success

By Kim Taylor-DiLeva

      When children know sight words, they can read more fluently and better retain what they read.  Struggling readers often struggle learning their sight words.  You can help your child/student retain more sight words by incorporating sign language signs along with each word.

        Jan Hafer and Robert Wilson present a study in their booklet called Signing for Reading Success (p.12) where a 14 week study took place on 10 1st grade children who were struggling readers.  The children were purposefully chosen for this study because of their difficulty in retaining new sight words.  During regular instruction, these 10 students averaged sight word retention of 69%.  However, when a sign language sign was used in conjunction with the sight word, the students averaged 93% retention.  

      On page 85 in the book Dancing With Words by Dr. Marilyn Daniels, she shares a story from Dr. Robert Wilson about a boy named Oscar who was in 2nd grade and because of poor behavior was seated away from the other students.  He had no sight word vocabulary.  Dr. Wilson started showing Oscar the sign for each sight word in the lesson – 10 words each day.  After the first lesson with the addition of sign, Oscar remembered ALL TEN.  After the second day he remembered 19 of the 20 words, and after the third day Oscar was seated back with the class.  He was motivated, excited, and became a teacher for the rest of the class (by teaching them the signs).

        Incorporating sign language into your sight word instruction is very easy to do.  Just look up the ASL signs for the sight words that you want your students to learn in an American Sign Language Dictionary (you can also use an online dictionary that shows a video of how to do the sign.)  Show your students the sight word and the sign.  Say it and sign it.  Ask the students to look at the word, and say it and sign it with you.  Repeat this a few times.  Every time you are discussing, practicing, or reading this new sight word, you and your students will sign it when it is read. To make it easier on yourself and your students, you may want to look into purchasing “My 1st 50 Sight Words in Sign”, where frequently used sight words are on a card alongside their sign for easy learning/recalling.  You can find them at http://www. productsshop/sightwordcards. html.


Using Sign Language In Your Classroom - Getting Started

You’ve heard of the benefits of using American Sign Language in your classroom with your hearing students and you’re interested in giving it a try, but you don’t know where to begin.  Here are 7 tips to get you started:

  1. Most importantly, enjoy the fun that comes with incorporating American Sign Language into your classroom routine. Simply begin with only one or two words that relate to your curriculum or that would benefit the entire class.  Every day/week/month try to add one or two more signs; whatever will work best for you. This does not mean you have to learn the entire language, just add more signs as you are familiar enough with the ones you have already learned.

  2. Always remember to say and sign a word together when you introduce a new sign. Once your students know a sign, you can start using it more regularly by giving them directions only using that sign, without speaking. This is a sure way to maintain a quiet classroom.  The less talking you do, the less talking your students will do.  {Plus they’ll have to pay better attention to you or they might miss a direction.)

  3. You do not need to teach ASL as a separate course. Simply incorporate signs into your current daily routine. Do not make more work for yourself by making it something extra. You only need to teach the signs for words you already say and use in the classroom.

  4. Try to stay ahead of your students with your sign knowledge.  Your students will enjoy learning new signs and will often request the sign for words you have not taught yet. I would advise you to have an American Sign Language Dictionary available for this reason. For those who work with elementary age children and younger, I suggest you read another article I wrote called “American Sign Language Dictionaries for Kids Online,” which can be seen here:  This article is a review of online American Sign Language dictionaries that would be appropriate for your students to search in order to learn new signs (these would be sites that do not include inappropriate signs for their age).

  5. There are also games online to help learn new signs. This is a great way for children to practice signs during their free time, either at school or in the home.  They are both educational and fun!  I have reviewed these as well in an article  called “Educational Sign Language Games to Play on the Web” that can be read here:  For Part 2, click here: 

  6. If you are interested, a course in American Sign Language may be helpful, but it is not necessary to get started.  Again, this can be done at a slower pace. Once you do know a lot of signs and would like to become more advanced, I do recommend taking a course.  You can take good ASL courses online from your own home at your preferred pace for a reasonable price at

  7. Lastly, begin with the most important keywords.  While I do suggest learning the manual alphabet, there is no need to be overwhelmed at the start by trying to learn these 26 letters. Simply begin with a few words that will be most useful in your classroom and continue from there.

Should you need help during your sign language journey, please visit my website at You may find some other helpful information on the site and can find my contact information there as well (in case my site doesn’t answer your question.)  Good luck and I commend you on your efforts to help your students to succeed!


Addressing Different Learning Styles (with American Sign Language)

All teachers must present their lessons in a format that will be most beneficial for their students, as each student differs in how they process information. This is particularly true in a special education classroom, where children with varying disabilities learn new information most easily when it is presented to them in different formats. Some students must see the material (visual), others learn best by using their bodies to show information (kinesthetic), while others must hear and say the new information to best understand it (auditory).  Unfortunately, it can be challenging for teachers to incorporate all of these strategies in only one lesson. American Sign Language can be used in your curriculum to address all of these.

Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience, revised by Bruce Hyland (Click here to view the PDF), states that:

“We Learn . . .
10% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see
50% of what we hear and see
70% of what we say
90% of what we both say and do.” 

 Edgar Dale also states that “It often follows, then, that the more numerous and varied the media we employ, the richer and more secure will be the concepts we develop.  Well-chosen instructional materials of various kinds can provide a variety of experiences that enhance the learning of a given subject for any student at any given point in his continuing development.”    (, 9, Possible Misconceptions about the Cone7 Conclusions) 

Therefore, we can conclude that the more children use sign language in their daily lessons, the more they will retain the material they learn. By speaking and signing words to your students, and having them repeat it and sign it back to you; they are hearing it, seeing it, saying it, and doing it (90% recall according to the Cone of Experience).  You will also address many different methods of instruction at once which helps auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners.

Let’s look at an example to see how this can work. To teach a student the word “house,” show the written word, say “house” aloud, and teach the sign for “house”. (To sign the word house you use both hands to show the roof and the walls of the house). Have the student repeat it and sign it back to you. Continue this every time the new word is shown to them in a text or when you show them the new word. They will be able to easily recall words not only because of the movement required, but also because many signs are iconic, meaning they look like the actual object. This will enable students to visualize the word, therefore helping them better remember the information.

American Sign Language can be incorporated into your lessons by adding signs for new vocabulary or sight words. Students will be presented the material in visual, kinesthetic, and auditory forms.  As the teacher, this helps you to utilize various teaching methods to accommodate students who have different styles of learning. Your classroom will benefit, being able to understand new lessons more quickly and easily.


Using Sign Language to Help the Hearing ADD or ADHD Child

As a teacher, you are challenged with students who have a difficult time focusing in class. They often seem to be busy and constantly on-the-go. Often times, these children are labeled with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Regardless of diagnosis, or lack thereof, you have been given the responsibility of educating this child. When it seems too difficult, it is important to remember that there are alternative methods of teaching these children, and one of them is to use American Sign Language signs. This approach does not need to be taught as a separate lesson, but rather incorporated into your current curriculum.

Dr. Marilyn Daniels states in her book, Dancing with Words, that children who have been diagnosed with ADD are more likely to retain information and new words when they are presented with the material visually.  “The point is clearly articulated by Freed and Parsons in Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World:  Unlocking the Potential of Your ADD Child: ‘It is a given that these youngsters (ADD) must visualize in order to learn and that they process exclusively in pictures’” (1997, p.61).  Therefore, in order to strengthen an ADD or ADHD child’s ability to learn and understand new words, you must help them to visualize an image of that word in their mind, or develop a mental picture. Sign language signs are typically iconic, meaning that the sign often represents an image of that actual word (like in the word house you sign the roof and the two walls). This can be very useful to help a child create a mental image. Even those signs that are not iconic, can still represent the word visually.

In addition to the visual elements of sign language, the ADHD child can also benefit because it is a language that requires movement. When you teach your student a sign and they repeat it the sign back to you, they are using their hands, bodies, and facial expressions to demonstrate the new word. Kinesthetic learners especially benefit from this because they are able to use their bodies in order to learn new information.

When you incorporate sign language into your regular curriculum, it is easier for your students to actively participate in their learning, rather than remaining a passive listener.  The use of this visual and physical language will allow your students to be more engaged in what they are learning. Sign language instruction will not only help the hearing children in your class, but also specifically help ADD and ADHD children to learn more easily.


Using American Sign Language Signs to Help Your Struggling Learners in Social Studies and Science

Science and Social Studies vocabulary are essential to the students’ understanding of that subject. If unfamiliar words hinder their understanding of sentences, they will not be able to learn anything about that specific topic. Therefore, learning new vocabulary is the most important step to learning the material in its entirety. Unfortunately, many students struggle with learning vocabulary, usually because they learn best visually or kinesthetically.  These struggling learners, as well as more advanced students, can better recall key Social Studies and Science terms more easily, if they are introduced to the American Sign Language signs that match those vocabulary words. 

Many American Sign Language signs are iconic in nature, meaning that the signs are a visual representation of their meaning. For example, the word “independence” is used often in Social Studies and History courses. In American Sign Language, you would use the sign for “free.”  To show this sign, begin with both hands in fists facing toward you, crossed, and locked at the wrists.  Then unlock your wrists, turn your fists around so they are out to the open and continue to open your arms so that they no longer touch and are separated from each other.  Visually, your hands appear tied or bound and when your arms open, it represents freedom because your hands are no longer locked as before. For those who learn best visually, this representation is helpful because they are physically presented with the word’s meaning.  For students who are kinesthetic learners, they are able to use their bodies to express the definition of a new vocabulary word.  Therefore, especially for these students, new words will be easier to understand than if you were to only say the new word and tell them what it means.  This method of incorporating American Sign Language signs into vocabulary lessons will help all of your learners, but will especially benefit your struggling learners. 

This example shows that as the teacher, you can create a more effective means of teaching to formulate better recall and recognition of new vocabulary words in your Social Studies and Science units, specifically among your visual and kinesthetic learners.  By simply teaching sign language signs in conjunction with your daily routine and curriculum, struggling learners will become more confident in their knowledge of the material, leading to further success.






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