Signing is Expression

By Colleen Brunetti, M.Ed.

Colleen BrunettiOne of my favorite things to do when introducing children to sign language is to talk about the value of expression while signing. It really helps the language begin to come alive, and it also taps into a child’s natural exuberance.

Last year I had the pleasure of being a guest of the PTA Cultural Committee at my son’s school and I taught a lesson on “Feelings” to four Kindergarten classes and one preschool class. It was a blast, and I thought I’d share the lesson and some of the supplies I used. Feel free to borrow, tweak, and use as you find helpful!

I always start these lessons by asking the students, “When someone is communicating to us, how do we understand what they are saying?” They always respond by saying “Their words!” and “We use our ears!” And so begins the conversation… I then lead them to think about what else helps with communication, namely facial expressions and body language.


Have fun with this conversation! I show them the sign for HAPPY and ask them in a grouchy voice, with slouchy shoulders, “When I say and sign ‘I feel happy’, do you believe me?” Of course I get a chorus of  “NO!!!” Then I show them a really happy bouncy face and body language and say/sign “I feel happy!! Now do you believe me?” Laughter and lots of YES!! Follow.
During my lesson at the school, I had a little more fun with the prep. I conned my son (then age 5) to make all sorts of faces with different emotions showing. I put them on a poster board and went over each emotion with the kids, teaching them the sign as we went.In this simple way I begin to teach the kids the value of using your expressions and body language when you sign.

To get the kids involved, we do a rousing rendition of the “Feelings” song from the DVD “Family, Feelings, and Fun”. I also like to read “Today I Feel Silly, and Other Moods that Make my Day”, by Jamie Lee Curtis (note: I find it necessary to make a few edits as I read!)

To close the lesson, it’s one more run through of “Feelings”, and I borrow from Rachel Concerts here and bring up a few kids to demonstrate each feeling. Students come away with a nice understanding of how expression plays into signing, as well as some social emotional lessons on the values of different feelings, with lots of laughs and fun along the way.

And in closing, here’s a great video from one of our own STA instructors! Watch as her little guy shows great emotion while signing “SCARED”! (Thanks, Alyson Franceschi-Darvis from Little Smarty Hands for posting this on YouTube – we love it!)







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