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ASL Classifiers for Monster Trucks, Cars, and People

What if we told you you could learn a new language without ever having to utter a word? American Sign Language (ASL) offers a unique opportunity to communicate using only your hands and facial expressions. In this blog post, we will explore one of the fundamental elements of ASL - the classifier. By the end of this article, you'll have a better understanding of classifiers and have fun practicing signing them!


What is a Classifier in American Sign Language (ASL)?

A classifier is a handshape that represents a particular object. Classifiers visually illustrate the size, shape, location, and movement of objects or people. Using classifiers efficiently conveys information with intricate details, making the concept easy to understand. There are many classifiers a signer can use to describe the size or shape of an object. ASL learning materials use abbreviations for classifiers such as CL:1, CL:2, CL:3, CL: B, and CL: D.


How to Use Classifiers in ASL

Let’s use ASL Classifier 3 as an example. It is identified as CL:3. Now, let’s demonstrate how to form the CL:3 handshape. With your thumb pointing up and fingers horizontal, your vehicle is ready to drive, park, race, stop, and go! ASL storytellers and signers can use Classifier 3 (CL:3) for most vehicles, such as cars, trucks, buses, bikes, tricycles, and even some boats. 


T-R-U-C-K fingerspell truck and then use CL:3. Three CL:3's handshape above three monster trucks.
ASL Classifier CL:3 - T-R-U-C-K, fingerspell truck and then use CL:3.

In our story, My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me, we introduce the reader to fingerspelling and a classifier on the first page. A fingerspelled word Identifying a fingerspelled word looks like this : “M-O-N-S-T-E-R T-R-U-C-K.” Note that the letters are capitalized and separated by dashes. First, the signer identifies the “monster truck” by fingerspelling M-O-N-S-T-E-R T-R-U-C-K. The use of the CL:3 follows this. 


Classifiers can be so much fun. Imagine you were signing the story and needed to fingerspell “monster truck” each time the page said monster truck. That would be a lot of work—and very boring. Once you identify an object by fingerspelling, you can attach a classifier and use that classifier as a stand-in for the word while you tell the rest of the story! 


Use the classifier CL:1 to represent a person walking. CL:1 can represent relatively long things, such as a pencil, stick, or person. To produce CL:1, hold up the index finger or the number one. It can then move in a straight line, show a person going quickly, strolling down a winding path—or standing next to a giant monster truck!


Identify your character, then use the CL:! to show his movements. A happy child moving quickly. A hand showing the handshape for the CL:1.
Identify your character, then use the CL:! to show his movements. A happy child moving quickly. A hand showing the handshape for the CL:1.

After you make the handshape, you need to establish the location of the object or person. Establishing the location can be done by using your signing space, the area in front of your body where you sign. You can use your signing space to represent different locations, such as in front of you, to the side, behind you, or another object.


Here are some examples to show you the syntax: 

  • The M-O-N-S-T-E-R T-R-U-C-K (CL:3) is next to the giant (who could be represented by CL:1).

  • The M-O-N-S-T-E-R T-R-U-C-K (CL:3) is driving up the ramp. (Show the CL:3 hand driving over the back of your other hand, representing a ramp.)


Once you have established the location of the object or person, you assign an appropriate classifier to represent the object's size, shape, and movement. For example, if you want to show a monster truck driving quickly, use the CL:3 classifier to represent this specific truck and move it quickly through your signing space. It can race another vehicle, go up ramps, and spin in a cloud of dust. 


Time to Practice!

To review, the steps to using a classifier in ASL are: 

  • identify the object or person you want to represent, 

  • determine the appropriate classifier, 

  • establish the location of the object or person, 

  • and use the classifier to describe the object's size, shape, and movement. 


With practice, using classifiers can become second nature, and you'll be able to use them to convey complex concepts in your ASL conversations and storytelling.


Try using your hand to have fun driving an imaginary T-R-U-C-K in a monster truck show of your own!


Interested in Learning More? 

Click here for free downloads of ASL Picture Books supplemental pages about ASL Classifiers for monster trucks, cars, people, and other key information on the basics of American Sign Language. 




ASL Classifiers Craft Idea for Kids 

As you talk about CL:3 with your child, find and cut out pictures of vehicles from old magazines and glue them to a blank piece of cardstock or file folder. See how many different kinds of trucks, cars, vans, and buses they can find. Do the same for the CL:1 and have them find pictures of people. 


We Hope you enjoyed learning about ASL classifiers for monster trucks, cars and people.

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Dylan, reading My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me, There is Grandmas signing house, Mom and Dylan stand in front. the next page shows the blond boy character holding half a sandwich infront of his purple monster truck while b=looking at his Grandmother.
Dylan, reading My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me, There is Grandmas signing house, Mom and Dylan stand in front. the next page shows the blond boy character holding half a sandwich infront of his purple monster truck while b=looking at his Grandmother.

American Sign Language is a beautiful and powerful language, an untapped resource with limitless potential.


Every child has a gift to give ASL can help them discover and express it.





Thank You!





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