Why Include Poetry in the ASL Classroom?

Learning literature and poetry in the ASL classroom is so important for students to understand the rich history and culture of ASL. It also allows our students to see the playful side of the language. In our curriculum, we are often limited to this topic and what we do with it.  Maybe we create an ABC story or analyze a number story but did you know there is so much more we can have our students do with poetry?  

Mark Holcomb shows us in his Prezi presentation on how to help students master the language by using poems, stories, and folklore. Although his presentation is focusing on teaching deaf students, we can compare our students to deaf language learners and use a lot of the same ideas and strategies.  

Thematic Units

In my last post, I told you about creating thematic units that support our students in communication. I want to continue that conversation by introducing you to ideas on how you incorporate poetry into your upper-level curriculum that will help students communicate and create language.  

Elena Aguilar talks about five reasons we need poetry in schools in her Edutopia blog post and I think it is equally important to use in the ASL language classroom. Here are my five reasons why:

  1. Shows the creative use of ASL.
  2. Increases visual analysis and learning at a higher level.
  3. Connects students to past and present ideas in the culture.
  4. Offers communication opportunities that are not available in a textbook.
  5. Allows personal connection to the artistic expression of the human experience.

What Can You Do to Incorporate Poetry?

So what can you do to incorporate more poetry into the classroom? Start by asking your English department what they do and connect that with your teaching. Use the resources available through DawnSign and Harris Communications to create a thematic unit based on what you have learned. Use activities that encourage communication and analysis and allow students to create and innovate. No time to create a whole unit? No problem I have a two-week thematic unit you can get here.  

Here is an idea that I came up with. It is part of a poetry station activity I have created.  This activity uses written text from culture books or culture articles online.  Students analyze the text and create a poem. Students choose strong words in the text and black out the rest of the writing with a marker. This is known as “Blackout Poetry.”  You can get the FREE download to this activity here. Please tell me how you used it and what your students thought about it by rating the product. If you like the activity, you can find all four station activities and detailed explanation of how to use them in the classroom here. This is what the final product looks like: 

I focused on ASL culture but you can take this idea and have them create a blackout poem about themselves, a sport, their family or anything that pops into their head. I also had students create a visual representing the poem. It is a great piece of student work to post on the wall at back to school night. The poems make a great conversation piece for your upper-level classes. When students discuss the language or oppression of deaf people in a new way, it is really validating to what we do. 

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