Using ASL in the EFL classroom to practice speaking

Z. Zvi, Kansai University of Foreign Studies

Quick guide

  • Key words: Speaking, Sign Language
  • Learner English level: Lower intermediate to advanced
  • Learner maturity: Junior high school and above
  • Preparation time: The time it takes to copy the handouts and practice a few basic signs
  • Activity time: 45 minutes (variable)
  • Materials: Handouts


This single lesson is part of a series of lessons that I constructed to get students more engaged and interactive in the EFL speaking class. It introduces American Sign Language (ASL) as a tool for non-verbal communication, but instructs students to use both signs and spoken English to express ideas and to negotiate meaning.



Step 1: Copy the worksheets. (Appendix A)

Step 2: Before class, practice signing a simple greeting such as "Hi" or “Hello."



Step 1: As students assemble in class, greet them in sign language. Then explain what the signs mean and encourage them to sign back to you and to each other.

Step 2: Introduce the use of Fingerspelling and the purpose of Sign Language. (Brief introductions are included in Appendix B.)

Step 3: Distribute the worksheet, Using Sign Language. With students looking at the worksheet, go through the alphabet starting with the letter A. Review the signs and help students form the letters correctly according to the drawings on the worksheet.

Step 4: Ask one student to come to the front of the class and sign any letter he or she chooses.

The other students search through their worksheets to identify the correct letter. Select one student to call out the letter to the rest of the class and confirm that everyone agrees. Repeat a few more times.

Step 5: Ask all students to write down and practice signing a word. You could suggest using a favourite food or colour activity.

Step 6: Invite several students to sign their words in front of the entire class. The other students read the sign and say the word aloud.

Step 7: Next, ask all students to write down and practice signing a short sentence.

Step 8: Again, invite one or two students to sign their sentences in front of the entire class.

The other students read the signs and decode the sentence.

Step 9: Put the students into pairs.

Step 10: Distribute the worksheet, Translate.Working together, students should be able to translate the message, which says: "Congratulations. You can read Sign Language." The second message says: "Now, say something to your partner using Sign Language." Under each sign are spaces for students to write the corresponding letters.

Step 11: Students think out a short message of their own and secretly write it down. Without showing their partners, students take turns signing. The student receiving the message should translate and read back the message aloud.

Step 12: (optional): You can assign students specific vocabulary or phrases to research online. In the next class, each student will be responsible for teaching their sign to the class.



Students enjoy this activity because they actively work together to communicate in an unusual and enjoyable way. In my experience, this lesson can be a springboard for discussion of other topics ranging from disabilities and social issues for the deaf, to body language and other forms of non-verbal communication.



Signanguage. (2010) The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.). Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Retrieved from <>, < language>.

Fingerspelling. (2010). Unabridged. Random House, Inc. Retrieved from <>, <>.


Appendix A

Appendix A is available below.

Appendix B


Instructor’s Notes: Sign Language and Fingerspelling

Sign Language is a language that uses a system of manual, facial, and other body movements as the means of communication, especially among deaf people. It is also a method of communication, as between speakers of different languages, such as English and Japanese.

Fingerspelling, as used in Sign Language, is the representation of the letters of the alphabet and numbers using the hands. Furthermore, it is a system of non-verbal communication used by the deaf and/or hard of hearing. It can be used to communicate not only with second language learners, but also with infants and toddlers of English speaking parents.