ABC Stories Using the Alphabet in Sign Language

A Is Not Just For Apple

A fun thing to do with the sign language alphabet is to make up an "ABC story." ABC stories use each letter of the sign alphabet to represent something. For example, the "A" handshape can be used to "knock" on a door. It's a common assignment in ASL classes and one that you can have a lot of fun with.

Beautiful woman teaching preschooler sign language
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The Value of ABC Stories

ABC stories are also called "A-to-Z stories." They are both entertainment and an educational tool used to help develop sign language skills. They offer the opportunity to be expressive and use your imagination to create a unique story while practicing ASL.

Because it's an expressive form of sign language, there is no real way to interpret it and write it down. An ABC story must be viewed and you need to understand ASL in order to follow along. This gives the viewer an opportunity to learn as they watch as well.

This form of ASL storytelling is very popular. Outside of ASL classes, you will find a variety of videos online and on DVD. Sometimes, you can even catch an ABC story at a deaf poetry event.

How They're Created

An ABC story is just like any other story. It involves a topic and has a beginning, middle, and end to create a cohesive story that viewers can follow. Many of the best ABC stories have a problem or conflict in the beginning and finish up with a resolution.

The story can run through the alphabet from A to Z or from Z to A. ABC stories should be kept in order, so don't skip from B to F to D. You can choose to go through the alphabet just once or expand the story and go through it two, three, or more times. In competitions like the Utah ASL Competition, stories must be limited to one trip through the alphabet.

Expression is also an important aspect of an ABC story and this reflects day-to-day interactions with other deaf people. As you learn more ASL, you will understand that it goes beyond correct handshapes. You'll also use your facial and eye expressions and body language to add to the storytelling experience. The pace at which you sign and the places where you pause also add to ASL and ABC stories.

Quizlet has a fantastic set of flashcards for ASL ABC stories. These can act as reminders for key elements to include in your ABC story.

The book Linguistics of American Sign Language includes an example of how you might begin an ABC story. This one is about driving a car and begins with "A" for a driver gripping the wheel, running through "E" for the sound of tires screeching.

ABC Stories Online

YouTube is one of the best places to view ABC stories that other people have created. Some ASL teachers even have their students create videos and post them as part of the class. Be aware that not everyone is highly skilled in ASL, so you might catch a few mistakes while browsing ABC stories.

  • Cody Francisco for MasterWord Services — This short video features a certified Deaf Interpreter who does a great job of explaining why ABC stories are important. He also runs through a quick ABC story and it includes a spoken interpretation so you don't have to be fluent in ASL to understand it.
  • Checkmate! - An ASL 'ABC Story — Rob Nielson created a story for a friend about chess. The video is nicely produced so you can clearly see how he incorporates each letter's handshape into the story.
  • "The Creator" An ABC-Story — A very expressive ABC story about "The Story of Creation and the Fall of Man," this video demonstrates a really creative approach to deaf storytelling.

Don't get stuck on YouTube when you should be creating your own ABC story! There are thousands available to watch and you can easily get stuck. View a few videos as inspiration, then start writing yours.

ABC Stories on Video

If you're looking for a DVD or other online video for even more ABC story inspiration, we have a few ideas.

  • A To Z: ABC Stories in ASL is a great DVD filled with 26 ABC stories. The topics include Frankenstein, NASCAR, class reunions, "No Free Gas," and much more. The performers are very gifted and animated, so it's endless fun.
  • Sign Media has a video dedicated to ABC Stories called American Sign Language ABC Stories. This video features performances by six individuals including Bob Cook, Bill Ennis, Patrick Graybill, and Dennis Webster. Stories cover topics such as going west, skiing, and good morning.
  • Color of Language offers a Family Sign Language Video Series that includes ABC Stories. It can be borrowed from the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP). In it, you will find ten lessons in total: three include ABC stories and one is a number story.
  • Sign Enhancers created "Beginning ASL Videocourse #6: Read Any Good Fingers Lately?" that can also be borrowed from DCMP. It is partially captioned and includes an ABC story.

Try an ASL Number Story

A close cousin of the ABC Story is the ASL number story. It's set up in much the same way, the story is simply told with the numbers in sign language. It typically ranges from 1 through 15, but you can go higher if you like.

1 Source
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  1. Valli C, Lucas C, Mulrooney KJ, Rankin MNP. Linguistics of American Sign Language: An Introduction. 5th ed. Washington DC: Gallaudet University Press; 2011.

By Jamie Berke
 Jamie Berke is a deafness and hard of hearing expert.