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Lesson Plan

Using American Sign Language to Improve Comprehension and Vocabulary

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Using American Sign Language to Improve Comprehension and Vocabulary

Grades 1 – 3
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time One 60-minute session (or two 30-minute sessions)
Lesson Author

Dr. Judith Sherman, Ed.D

Frederick, Maryland

Ellen G. Koitz, Ed.D.

Ellen G. Koitz, Ed.D.

Frederick, Maryland


International Literacy Association



Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice



Eight vocabulary words, all of which appear in the humorous picture book Sam's Sandwich, are introduced through American Sign Language (ASL). First the sign for each word is presented, emphasizing the connection between the word's meaning and the visual depiction of the concept. Then the text is read aloud, and students sign the vocabulary words when they hear them in the text. Students continue to practice the signs as they engage in a choral reading activity, which reinforces both comprehension and vocabulary. Extension activities increase students' understanding of the vocabulary words and encourage them to learn additional ASL signs.

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  • Vocabulary Sign Sheet—Sam’s Sandwich: This printout provides a visual depiction of the signs for the vocabulary for the flap book Sam’s Sandwich. Students learn these signs to help them understand and remember the meaning of the words in the book.
  • Signing Savvy: This link is for an online ASL signing video dictionary that includes over 5000 words and phrases. There are many special features that work well in the classroom, including pause and speed controls, the ability to print signs for flash cards, and so on. Some features require a paid membership, but basic access requires only free registration.

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Wurm, T. (1986). Teaching sight words with sign language. The Reading Teacher, 39(7), 744–745.

  • Sign language increases sight word acquisition because it involves multiple modalities: kinesthetic, visual, and auditory.

  • Sign language links abstract concepts with pictorial symbols to increase schema for vocabulary acquisition.

  • Sign language is highly motivational, engaging, and interactive.


Hafer, J., & Wilson, R. (1986). Signing for reading success. Washington, DC: Kendall Green.

Learning vocabulary, especially sight vocabulary, can be enhanced by using sign language as part of the reading process.


Gardner, Howard. 1993. Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. Basic Books.

Learning is enhanced when more than one modality is incorporated in the learning task.

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