Use Sign Language to Teach

When I teach sign language to kids, I am teaching more than sign language.  The sign language usually helps the kids learn the material.  The knowledge of sign language is a bonus to the information being taught.  Sign language is added to songs (hymns or other) and other memory work (verses, science fact, poems, geography, history sentences, etc).

The sign language helps to:

  •  promote memory.
  • promote understanding of the content.

Use of Sign Language in Teaching Hymns

This week I am teaching Pre-K – 2nd grade Sunday school and we will be learning the words to “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”   Many of the kids have heard the song before, but I like to slow it down and talk about the meaning of the words.  Adding sign language helps us slow down and think about the words of the song and what they mean.  Adding a physical component engages other areas of the brain.  The motions help to give synonyms to the words in the song, building vocabulary and comprehension.

I have a few videos explaining the words to two verses. Take time to teach Christmas hymns to your children!

A few notes about the sign language and meaning for “Hark the Herald Angels Sing:”

Christ, Prince, King, and Lord all have the same symbol, but with a different letter of the alphabet.  All these words (and others like Emperor) have the same hand motion going across the body like a royal sash.  The hand is in the letter position for whichever word it is referring to: C – Christ, P – Prince, K – King, L-Lord.  In this way, they say that all the royal titles have the same basic motion.

Another observation is that reconcile means coming together of something that was separate.  We make the word ‘reconcile’ come to life for the kids with the visual of the hand motions.

I also do the same motions for ‘joyful’ and ‘triumphs’.  The same motion is also used for ‘rise’ and ‘skies’. It fits the pattern of the song to do a repetitive motion and its sort of a parallel construction in the song.

I did the videos in 5 short segments.  Check them out on youTube or below.

Add Sign Language to Other Subjects

The technique of using sign language (either official American Sign Language or just made up motions or a combination) can be applied to other subjects.


For Timeline, in Classical Conversations, we learn motions for each piece of the Timeline.  The motions “teach” or intentionally create connections for the student.  The student (or parent – the lead learner) may not know much about Benedict and Monasticism or about the Olmecs or about the Council of Nicea.  The sign language hints at the meaning of these pieces of the Timeline.

  • The symbol for ‘monasticism’ is to act like you are putting a cloak over your head – like a monk.
  • The symbol for Olmecs is make an ‘O’ around your face because this civilization is known for its large head scuptures.
  • The symbol for Council of Nicea is the symbol for Trinity (3 in 1) because this council discussed the doctrine of the Trinity.

As you can see, the sign language is a teaching tool that builds vocabulary (make connections) with little time, explanation, visuals or textbooks.


For geography, moving your hand (or whole body) can help a student remember where places are in relation to one another.  We love CC Happy Mom’s Geography videos that add song and motion to make geography easy to learn.


The same principles above can be applied to science or history (or any subject).  We point at body parts when learning our life science facts this year.  Anything that is in an ordered list can be learned by starting up high and going lower.

  • Classification of Living Things
  • Parts of the Atmosphere
  • Circles of Latitude

Raise your hands high for the first item in the list, a little lower for the next and by the end of the list, you are touching the floor.

Sign Language Resources

When learning/memorizing new information, add some sign language!  Look up the sign language.  If you can’t find the word you are looking for, use synonyms.  This is vocabulary building already.  Then, decide if you want to use official sign language or if you want to just make up your own.

Check out my Sign Language Spanish Lesson!

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