Sign Language - Signing Games

Games for Learning Sign Language

Caucasian father and sons signing at dinner table
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A forum member had a question about using sign games to teach sign language to hearing children, and forum members responded, as follows:

  • "I'm helping organize an integrated summer day camp for deaf, HOH, and hearing kids aged 5-12. One of the aims of the camp is to teach some sign to the hearing campers. Does anyone have any fun games/activities that incorporate sign language? I'd appreciate all suggestions or links to other resources." — JBEDDINGTON

"You know the old telephone game? Where you whispered something in the next person's ear and see how the message has changed by the end? That's fun to play only you sign it to the next person in line. "
"I am a 19-year-old student currently studying Sign Language in Western Australia. We have played a few games in class that have helped us with learning signs. Hope you understand how I have explained them.

Everyone gets given an animal in sign language. You go round the circle to know who has what animal and the sign for that animal. Person 1 Dog Person 2 cat person 3 frog person 4 rabbit and so on. Person 1 starts by doing another person's sign, that person replies with someone else's sign. Not only do you have to look for your sign but also remember who is left in the game and what animal they are. The other game is like Chinese whispers. Everyone is facing the back wall in a line. The first person is told a little sentence in sign. They have to tap the person on the shoulder and repeat it to them and so on. Hoping the sentence reaches the back person correctly."
"I am a hearing person, studying ASL, who has attended "Silent Games" in our area. We recently played a variation of Fruit Basket Upset. Start with chairs in a circle, one less than the number of people playing. The standing person will try to get to an empty seat as the game progresses. Going around the circle, each person (including the one standing) in alternately given the name of one of three fruits--apple, banana, orange, apple, banana, orange, etc.--and shown the sign if they don't know it. The standing person signs one of the three fruits and each person in the chairs with that fruit name assigned to them must stand and try to get to another of the now-vacant chairs. The standing person tries to steal a chair also. Occasionally, the new standing person might sign "fruit" and tumble his hands for "mix up" and then everyone must stand and try to get to an empty chair. If more than 20 people are playing, it is probably better to have two smaller circles.

Another game is called "Who has...?" The setup is the same as the previous game, but the standing person signs "Who has______________ ?" filling in the blank with signs for things like "blue pants" or "brown hair" or "necklace" etc. This can be extended to "Who lives ____________ ?" with names of surrounding towns fingerspelled. Or make up your own introduction question depending on the signing ability of the players. If someone notices that a seated player didn't move that should have, that person goes to the center as the standing person who signs a question."
"I've played show and tell with my students. Each person has their own small chalk board (or paper). Review newly taught vocabulary by signing a word or phrase and each person writes down what they think you signed. Everyone turns their answer over (so no one peeks) until everyone is done. Then everyone holds up their answer and you get to say who has it. The kids tend to like to keep score. Great for introducing words with more than one sign and signs with more than one word.

Also, use two sets of "Tinker Toys" Have one person build a shape with various parts behind a screen (a folder, standing open can work). Then using signs only--that person must describe one step at a time what they built and the other person must duplicate the shape. This is great for beginners since the pieces are different colors and it helps teach how to use descriptors such as small, large, long, short, thin, fat, round etc. A whole set of toys can be split up so a person only gets a few pieces as long as the other person has the same pieces available. Then they can work in pairs or have one person describe what they built to a group of people who work together to try and build it."
"I'd like to recommend a book that I have used when seeking creative play situations for my deaf daughter. Kid-Friendly Parenting with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children written by Daria J Medwid and Denise Chapman Weston (Gallaudet University Press, Washington, DC), has been very reader-friendly to this hearing parent of a deaf child. I use it both at home and as a reference at my office (a large pediatric office)."
"There are only two that I can think of at the moment. One is bingo for the older kids, it's good because it's basic letters, the numbers can be difficult if not taught in advance. The other is easier because it deals with showing shape and how an object looks.

Everyone is in a circle, one person starts by pretending they have a piece of clay. They then mold it into any tangible object, using as much description and detail as possible. They can also show what it is used for by pantomiming. When everyone understands the object being described, the describer passes the imaginary clay in the form of the described object to anyone they choose. (ex. a hat would go on someone's head, roller skate pushed across the floor). The next person then makes another object with the imaginary clay. Keep going until everyone in the circle has had a turn. You might want to make a list of things to describe at the beginning, and have the kids draw them out of a bag, so the game can get going quickly. You could add by showing the kids the sign for each object after they understand it being described."
"I teach ASL to my k class and I am hearing. We learn foods, colors, numbers 1-100+, animals, etc. Then, we make silly phrases/sentences and have each set of partners practice receptive skills. As time progresses and ASL skills increase with everyday usage in directions and conversations, we often divide in teams A and B. The ground rules are always the same! Ground rules are always reviewed and understood by everyone and NEVER CHANGED ONCE THE GAME BEGINS!!!!!Ground rules are: 1) if another K gives the answer to a fellow team-mate, then the point goes to the other team. 2) if the team mate does not know the answer, it is the opposite team's chance to answer the question. 3)if writing the answer is involved if the written letter/number is backward/mirror-imaged, the try goes to the other team. Using these ground rules, then I can "flip a coin" or let one from each team pick a letter/number closest to one that I have to see which team goes first. Things get pretty intense when phrases/short sentences (silly or normal) are used for interpretations for points. Keep the games short, concise, and varied with vocabulary. This keeps attention spans focused on vocabulary reviews. Sometimes, I will have the Ks get a piece of blank paper, then I will sign a picture that I want them to draw, ie: 1 blue house, 2 green turtles, and 5 yellow butterflies on a brown table.What is the most fun is having family involvement in learning ASL, also. Please share some ideas that you have for games, also."
"I was thinking of adapting some games I know. Have you ever played one where a name or picture of someone famous, an animal, or some other kind of object is taped to your back? Everyone gets one and then they have to give clues as to what the other people are without exactly telling them what it is. I thought this could be fun if it were signed. Just a question about your rule no 3. Aren't number reversals normal for the kindergarten age group. It is my understanding that the concept is more important at this age than calling something wrong if it is backward? I'm not a teacher but I am a mother of a reading and writing five-year-old."
"Do the game telephone but with a signed sentence one of my ASL teachers did that and it was a blast especially to see what was signed at the end of the line"
"I have played a game with beginning ASL students that is pretty fun. Everyone is in a circle and one person starts by saying, "I'm going on a trip and I'm taking...." and names an object. The next person says the same thing, signing the object the 1st person said and then signing another object. It goes on around with everyone signing the objects in order then adding their own. Of course, the farther it goes around, the more you have to remember, so if you miss - you're out! End by the first person having to sign the whole circle. This can be adapted to several categories: "I went to the zoo..." - animals, "I saw a rainbow...." colors, " I went to the grocery store...." food, etc. Another one - everyone is in a circle. One person starts by fingerspelling a word. The next person must fingerspell a word that begins with the last letter of the first person's word. The next person fs a word that begins with the last letter of the 2nd person's word. (ex: cat, town, neck, keep, pie...) No word can be used twice and if you're too slow - You're Out!"
"Theresa M. Crowder, a real-time stenocaptioner (i.e., a CART Provider-CART meaning Communication Access Realtime Translation), teaches sign language to court reporters who are considering taking up real-time for deaf/hard-of-hearing people. In her seminars, she uses a board game that is great fun. She designed it herself"
"Here are some games you might use: SPELLING BEE Use the ASL alphabet. Teach each one to fingerspell the alphabet. Have a spelling bee. Use three letter words at first as they practice use words with more letters. You can have boys against girls.

PAPER WORD SPELLING BEE Make several copies of the fingerspelling alphabet. Cut the letters apart. Put the letters together

to form words on index cards. Give out to two teams. Have the first person fingerspell the word and the first one to say the word wins a point. Small words can be used such as key, boy, bee, vine, girl, tree.

MATCH-UP SIGNS Purchase Deaf Children's Playing Cards. The cards are in pairs with the same sign on two cards. Distribute cards among your players. Have the players do the sign without speaking. Those doing the same sign must find their match.

BIRTHDAY BUDDIES: Have all the players use their ingenuity. Ask players not to talk but in the same way find other people who are born in the same month.

CHARADES: Play a game of charades by miming only. No talking. The subjects may be machines such as vacuum cleaner, washing machine, hedge trimmer, or household chores such as using a broom, drying dishes, washing windows or animals using mime or the signs. Hope you have fun with these. Also there is the game of "Horse" It is difficult to explain, but I will try. The players form a circle with one person in the middle. The person points to someone on the edge of the circle, the two players on either side of the pointed one make horse ears on that person with their fist below the top hand that forms ears. Sometimes the person on the side is right-handed and has to do it left handed and can't do it well. I think the person in the center counts to 3 or so, and if they haven't made horse ears by then, then that person goes in the middle. Lots of laughter accompanies this fun game. It is played much among the deaf in my area of Ohio"
"I play this with my son and daughter often. My son is deaf so my daughter came up with the game.

Things you need: people, markers, and paper So here's how you play: First tell everyone to sit in a circle. You pick someone to be it. The person that is it will pick a letter and do the sign language. The person that writes down the letter first and puts the paper up in the air and is it and you start from the top. Once you start getting the hang of it you can go to words."
"Maybe there are few ideas/suggestions that I have for you. New signers or hard of hearing students can have more thinking concept skills with the list of words to memorize signing. Then, you sign back and one to respond what that word is! That would be a challenge experience for them! I provide the Alcohol and Drug prevention education for my Deaf youth groups in the summer camps for the past 2 years. I have cards, DUI goggles and some games. To start a signing exercise in the group, perhaps they can start basic words and take turns but use visually gestures and try to develop new communication. I hope it is helpful!"
"Sign language games - you can play go fish with the students. Make cards or buy cards with the words on them that you want them to learn then play go fish.

Another fun game to teach them visualization is call snapshot. You have them tell a story such as a fairy tale or nursery rhyme by using their bodies. No signing or talking and no movement. It's a lot of fun! Another game: Stand in a circle. Have one person either fingerspell their name or use their name sign and then pick an animal that starts with the first letter of their name. The person the right then fingerspells that person's name (or sign their name sign) then the animal then his/her own name and animal and so on. So if you're at the end of the line you will have to have a very good memory! But it's a lot of fun!!!"
"A good way to teach children signs, is by playing the game Memory using flash cards. This can be done in two ways. You may play a game using pictures may it be food, animals, etc., and if the child matches the two cards right they have to give the sign before the child is awarded the point. Or you may do it the opposite by having each card have a different sign. And if the child matches up the sign, the child then has to tell what that sign means. That way the child learns to identify different signs and then applies the knowledge by describing what each sign means."
"When I started to learn Sign Language, my teacher taught us to play "Guesstures". We acted out the words, but, we had to sign the answers. We also played a game called "Favorite Signs". We all sat in a circle, and each person signed Their favorite signs. Then, the first person signed someone else's sign, that person then signed that person's sign, and another's sign. It goes on until someone makes a mistake, then that person is out. The game goes on, until there's only one person left."
"A neat game to play for a vocab review is to write vocabulary words on index cards - one per card. One person turns the cards over one at a time and holds them up for the players to see. Everyone else sits in a circle facing toward the center. One person is selected to begin. This person goes and stands behind another person so that both can see the card that is being held up.

These two people sign what is on the card - whoever is the quickest to make the correct sign goes clockwise to stand behind the next person. The other person sits in that chair. (if the seated person loses he or she just remains seated there and the standing person goes on to stand behind the next player). We only had 6 in our group so the first person to make it all around the circle won. Maybe bigger classes would like to divide into groups of 6 or 8 or maybe the first person to win so many in a row could be the winner. (Of course, EVERYONE wins because you have the opportunity to review and it is a fun game!!!!!)"

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