Deaf Culture in the Classroom

By Jean F. Andrews

Guardian U.K.
Guardian U.K.

Is Deaf culture an important tool in the literacy classroom in Deaf education? Many who work closely with Deaf colleagues – and many reading teachers – say “Yes.” These people utilize this tool, when building their practical instructional models. Deaf culture serves as a strong support mechanism in teaching both ASL and English literacy, because Deaf adults can offer real-world experience in becoming bilingual. Deaf children can benefit greatly from this support, as it is tuned to their visual – and auditory – methods of learning about spoken language, reading and writing.

With such modern developments as genetic engineering, cochlear implants and other emerging auditory technologies, as well as access to mainstream public education, many are now dismissing Deaf culture and its visual and auditory ways of experiencing the world, as irrelevant. However, Deaf culture itself, is evolving and incorporating new ways of communicating, socializing, educating, and working, through the use of digital technologies, social media and networks of people who share their experiences learning the two languages.


Here are 12 ways Deaf culture can be utilized in the literacy classroom.

  1. Invite Deaf adults to your classroom to talk about how they use spoken language, reading and writing in their everyday life.
  2. Invite ASL storytellers to the classroom to sign poems and stories that play on the linguistic features of ASL (ASL literature) then have the children create their own ASL stories.
  3. Utilize shared or guided book reading and use quality children’s literature that is translated by ASL storytellers followed by student discussions.
  4. Have children do book reports in ASL and share with them with peers, then translate their book reports into English to make their own ASL/English bilingual portfolio.
  5. Utilize Deaf mothers and Deaf teachers as ASL storytellers in the classroom to modeling the using eye gaze, visual and joint attention as means to regulate the child’s attention to the teacher.
  6. Use rhythmic movements, exaggerated facial expressions, increased signed space, and exaggerated sign size during shared book reading.
  7. Stock your classroom with copies of children’s books that feature Deaf heroes and heroines. Check out Dr. Sharon Pajka’s blog ( for children and youth books with Deaf characters and interviews with authors.
  8. Build on the connections between signed meanings of words and the language of written texts enabling comprehension for literacy using techniques such as “chaining” at the word (Humphries & MacDougall, 1999),  sentence and story levels.
  9. Create a DeafSpace in the classroom by using a crescent-shaped table in the ASL classroom, allowing children to have more face to face interactions, which increases their socialization, collaboration, and stimulates metacognition and conceptualization. DeafSpace is a cultural tradition that recognizes basic elements of an architectural expression unique to deaf experiences and offers valuable insight about the interrelationship between the senses, the ways Deaf persons built environments that reflect their cultural identity (
  10. Decorate the classroom with culturally relevant ASL posters, the ABCs in sign language, books on the shelves with ASL vocabulary, word walls using English words categorized by the English alphabet and by ASL handshapes.
  11. Make electronic ASL/English books available to your students.
  12. Equip the teacher with bilingual and literacy teaching knowledge and techniques through school in-services.

Sources for ASL/English bilingual books.


Jean F. Andrews is a Distinguished Professor Emerita of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education at Lamar University.

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