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Unit 2:  Life on the Playground


  • To introduce students to the use of classifier predicates
  • To provide vocabulary and language for independent communication on the playground.

The importance of time on the playground cannot be overestimated in the lives of elementary students. Particularly in the Fall when school is just starting and the weather is still nice, students long to be out on the playground. This makes this topic ideal for beginning an integrated approach to teaching sign language in an elementary setting. Furthermore, interpreting on the playground is a difficult challenge which makes the possibility of direct communication between hearing and deaf students all the desired. Finally, the nature of playground equipment and activities provides all sorts of examples for including features of depiction such as classifier predicates and constructed action that is such a significant part of American Sign Language. Because of this, it is critical that this Unit be the initial one name signs for the class are established.

Unit Vocabulary

The video slider below has video examples of unit vocabulary. It is best if you can use pictures of the actual items from your school or classroom to make it as relevant as possible to the students.  This vocabulary is designed to be introduced during the first lesson of the unit.

Unit 2: The Playground
View individual lessons below by clicking on each toggle.
Lesson 1: The Playground Equipment

Lesson 1:  The Playground Equipment

Introduction of Vocabulary

Using pictures (either hand-drawn, photos of actual equipment or from the Appendix from the PDF or the photos below) introduce students to sign vocabulary for each piece of equipment. As much as possible, it is helpful to have the pictures match the actual equipment at the school. When introducing vocabulary, be sure to give both individual item, and then show its use in the context of a sentence. After you introduce an item, put it up where students can see—either taped to the board or on the blackboard shelf.
After you introduce about 5 items, point to different pictures and ask students to name each item.

For vocabulary review, bring a student to the front: Ask: “Where is the _______?

Have them find the appropriate picture and then select the next person to come to the front.

Lesson 2: What do you want to play? (Individual Dialogue)

Lesson 2: What do you want to play?

Individual Dialogue

At the front of the room, demonstrate this dialogue, either using yourself for both roles or asking the Deaf student to be a model. Here’s an example of giving the directions.

A: What do you want to play?
B: Respond with playground equipment or game
A: Point to correct picture
B: Tell them right or wrong.

Example Dialogue

Once you model this with you as A: and the Deaf student as B:, have the Deaf student take on the role of A, and select another student to be B. Allow this rotation to continue for about 5 minutes, allowing each student who was just A to pick the next student. Be ready to guide the students through the dialogue if needed.

My experience has been that you can’t take the time to let everyone take a turn for the dialogue and still maintain the attention of the class. When I sense that the class is getting restless, I break into the group activity.

Lesson 3: A Group Activity

Lesson 3: What do you want to play? A Group Activity

Give directions in the same way explained in the introduction (or in Unit I).

Have students walk around and ask each other “What do you want to play?” If they both want to play the different things, they should separate and ask other people. If their choices are the same, they should walk around together, both asking the question of other people. The goal is to find everyone who wants to do the same activity and have them group themselves.

When they are all finished, about 3-5 minutes, have them sit down in their groups. Ask the question: “Who wants to play _______?”

Each group should raise their hand. At this point, I include counting practice to see how many are in each group. Some groups may get competitive . (“Our group is better because we have the most people.”) So, you will need to decide whether that is a positive contribution to learning or not and manage it accordingly.

Lesson 4: Simon Signs

Lesson 4: Simon Signs

Start with all students seated in front of you. Using bodypart classifiers, sign simple directions for the students to follow that they can accomplish without moving from their space:

  • Sit
  • Stand up
  • Sit cross-legged (and cross legs)
  • Kneel
  • Jump
  • Stand on one leg (and then the other)
  • Walk in place (at different paces)

Initially, it is important to model this activity for a long time, without any of the rules of Simon Says. (That is, introducing some name
sign for Simon and SIGN as the marker for the actual rule to follow.) In primary grades, the “Simon Says” competition isn’t needed.
Students can simply take turns being the leader.  (Students feel a great sense of empowerment in getting to influence the behavior of other students like this.)   With older students, you can introduce the Simon Signs competition aspect.

Lesson 5: Storytime

Lesson 5:  Storytime

By this time, students are prepared for watching a short narrative about some adventure on the playground. Be sure to incorporate some of the names of children in the class. Click on the video below for an examples of a story idea. After the story, do some sort of comprehension check with the group.  It is easiest to show a certain action and then ask “Who did that?”

Lesson 6: Playground Behavior: Right or Wrong?

Lesson 6: Playground Behavior: Right or Wrong?

Formally introduce the vocabulary for RIGHT ,WRONG and MAYBE.

(Students should be familiar with these from previous dialogues.) Then explain you will give them a series of examples of behaviors on the playground. Their task is to tell you whether such behavior is acceptable or not.

Some example situations of incorrect or suspect behavior: Click on the video below the label to see example of how to sign that.

Jumping off a swing

Throwing stones

Playing soccer and pushing another kid

Climbing on the outside of a covered slide

Climbing up the swing poles and jumping from the top

Cutting in line for going on the monkey bars

Depending on your playground setting and rules, you can create other sentences that both follow the rules, bend them, and totally
shatter them. Try to include actual violations that you see happen on the playground.

As an extension, you can ask individual students to come up and sign an example of behavior for the other students to judge. Each
leader than gets to pick the next volunteer.

Lesson 7: Where's Your Manners? Individual Dialogue

Lesson 7 Where’s your manners? Individual Dialogues

Warning: With this activity, you need to be very clear that if students get out of hand, they won’t be allowed to participate.

Place two chairs in front of the classroom. Sit in one chair and have a student sit in another. Ask the student to bump into you with a shoulder. (At this point, it’s helpful to do a bit of acting to make it look like the student hit you very hard. Students love that kind of
stuff.) After the bump comes the dialogue:
Person A (the one who was bumped) can either say “That hurt!” or “Be careful!” Then depending on which is said, the “Bumper” says either “Sorry” or “Excuse me.”  Person A should then respond with “OK” or “ALL-RIGHT.”

So, dialogues look like this. You can click on the video below to see some samples:
A: That hurt! (include location)
B: Sorry

A: Be careful!
B: Excuse me
A: That’s all right.

After the dialogue is complete, follow the established procedures for choosing the next person to come up to take part in the dialogue.

Lesson 8: Where's Your Manners? Group Activity

Lesson 8: “Where’s Your Manners? Group Activity

Warning: With this activity, you need to be very clear that if students get out of hand, the group activity will immediately cease. All of
the bumping needs to be play, rather than really hard knocks.

Introduce this in a similar manner as other group activities. Students walk around and bump into each other. The person who is bumped initiates the dialogue with either “That hurt!” or “Be careful!” Once the dialogue is completed, then students move on to another collision/dialogue.

The motivation for interaction comes more from the desire to bump each other than to communicate, so you need to be vigilant in making sure that students are communicating and using sign language, rather than just knocking into each other.

Lesson 9: The Telephone Game

Lesson 9: The Telephone Game

This is an excellent game for review and can be used with any Units. The complexity of the source message can be increased as students develop competency.

Have students form lines of 4 or 5 students. All of the students face away from you except for the person in the front of each line. Sign a simple sentence and then repeat it. You may even just start with a facial expression combined with one sign.

The first person in each line then taps the second person—and passes along the message. In this way, they pass the message down the line. Once the message has reached the end of each line, ask the last person to give their version of the message. Copy sign this so that everyone can see it. Then re-sign your original message for all to see.

Once you have completed this process, have the first person go to the end of the line and start over with the next line leader.

Lesson 10: Storytime

Lesson 10:  Storytime

By this time, students are prepared for watching a short narrative about some adventure on the playground. Be sure to incorporate some of the names of children in the class. Click on the video below for an examples of a story idea. After the story, do some sort of comprehension check with the group.  It is easiest to show a certain action and then ask “Who did that?”


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Originally created in 2002.
Updated and moved online in 2016.