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“The Language Zone” & Making Writing an Interactive Process.

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

As we previously discussed in Challenges Faced by Deaf and Hard of Hearing Learners, deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) students face significant challenges when it comes to learning to write. Teachers and researchers have been successful in using the SIWI method to increase writing proficiency in DHH students.

One crucial aspect of the SIWI method is “the Language Zone.” When a student is having trouble expressing themselves, in English or in ASL, the teacher and student “hold” the concept in the Language Zone. There, they explore the meaning and ensure comprehension before assigning signs and words to express those thoughts. This increases the student’s proficiency in both ASL and in English, increasing their overall command of language and expression.

In the language zone, the teacher and students work together to establish meaning in many different ways. They can draw pictures, share photographs, watch video clips, demonstrate with props, and use gestures or role-play to convey their ideas. They can use a “two-surface” approach to represent the idea in both ASL with glosses and sketches and use words and phrases simultaneously in English. Using the Language Zone may be planned as part of a teacher’s lesson, or opportunities may pop up organically when there is a need.

This interactive approach is not only highly beneficial to students; it makes the learning process more fun for them as well. The importance of having students eager to learn cannot be overlooked, especially with students who face academic challenges. Let’s look at how some teachers have incorporated activities into the learning environment.

An excellent example comes from Dr. Kelsey Spurgin, a K-12 teacher and SIWI researcher. She chronicles one lesson plan from beginning to end on her Instagram to show exactly how she applies the SIWI principles to a real-life classroom scenario.

In this example, Dr. Kelsey and her students made slime! If you have school-age children, you’re probably familiar with this sticky, gooey craze. Right from the beginning, Dr. Kelsey chose a topic that not only piqued the children’s interest but also included an actual physical activity.

First, she introduced the items and ingredients necessary for the task in the Language Zone. The children practiced spelling the words in English on worksheets and in ASL by signing and fingerspelling. It was important to establish the vocabulary words beforehand so students would be able to use them throughout the project to further reinforce their meaning.

Then, they went outside and actually made the slime. With their newfound vocabulary, they were able to have great, detailed discussions about the slime. Dr. Kelsey documented the activity for later use. Next, the students would create an instructional video to teach other students how to make slime.

Over several days, the students returned to the language zone to discuss the process of making slime. They used ASL to discuss a “draft” of what the text would say and then worked together to translate these ideas to English. Together, they wrote a script for their video and recorded step-by-step instructions in ASL and English. Excerpts from the video, as well as a detailed account of the project, can be found here <> on Dr. Kelsey’s Instagram.

Finally, they shared the finished product with the students from other classes. To their delight, Dr. Kelsey’s students received some handwritten notes from these other students, further encouraging and supporting their communication skills.

Did you enjoy this interactive classroom idea? You can follow Dr. Kelsey for more teaching tips at @dr.kelsey_deaf.ed.

We hope you are enjoying this mini-series and learned something you can use.


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American Sign Language is a beautiful and powerful language,

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