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Deaf and Diverse The Science of Sound

Heather Overview:
People who are deaf may have special needs, but that does not prevent them from leading successful lives at home, work or school. Students will be introduced to children who are deaf to understand their special communications needs. Students will come to appreciate deaf culture and the role that American Sign Language plays in forging a sense of community.

Grade Level: 6–8

Subject Matter:
  • Social Studies: Multiculturalism, Diversity
  • Science: The Five Senses

    Learning Standards:
    • The student writes reflective compositions (e.g., uses personal experience as a basis for reflection on some aspect of life, draws abstract comparisons between specific incidents and abstract concepts, maintains a balance between describing incidents and relating them to more general abstract ideas that illustrate personal beliefs, moves from specific examples to generalizations about life)

    • The student writes compositions that are focused for different audiences (e.g., includes explanations and definitions according to the audience's knowledge of the topic, adjusts formality of style, considers interests of potential readers)

      Source: Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning

    Learning Objectives:

    • Students will understand some of the beliefs, values, attitudes and language of deaf culture
    • Students will learn respect for differences in language and values
    • Students will gain an understanding of others by identifying similar responses and behaviors from individuals that have similar experiences

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    Procedures for Teachers:

      Student Prerequisites:

    • Students should be familiar with hearing as one of the body's five senses
    • Students should be aware that diverse cultures make up U.S. society


    • Headphones for each group of students (a set that covers the entire ear)
    • Radio
    • Paper
    • Colored pens, pencils or crayons

      Recommended Resources:

    • Communication Tactics — Communication Tactics for Hearing People
      The Web site offers a good list of tips for communicating with deaf people

    • Senior De Viva Art Display at CSD/Fremont
      A retrospective art project using expressive masks, from high school seniors on the subject of deafness

    • Cindy's Homepage on ASL and Deaf Culture
      Presents a nice, personal reference for understanding deaf culture and ASL

    • — OWL123's ASL Alphabet Page
      One way to learn sign language is on the Web! This sixth grader's page shows you how

    • SignHear Communication Center
      Learn how to count and fingersign in ASL, or look up words in an online dictionary

      Related Books on Deafness and Diversity:

    • "People," Peter Spiers
    • "The Land of Many Colors," Klamath County YMCA Family Preschool,
    • "Helen Keller," Jane Polcovar
    • "Anna's Silent World," Bernard Wolf


      1. Tune the radio to a music station, but without getting a clear, strong signal. Play the radio at a low volume. Discuss with the students what they hear, the loudness and clarity of the music. Explain that this is how most deaf and hard-of-hearing students hear the world around them, with the use of hearing aids.

      There are many factors that affect hearing loss. Mainly, the loss can be either sensorineural (nerve damage; this is a permanent loss of hearing) or conductive (middle ear; the hearing loss may fluctuate with ear infections, colds).
      • The age at which a person becomes deaf affects the way a deaf person speaks and understands language. (The key period for linguistic development occurs at around the age of two.)
      • The range of decibel loss varies from 0–20 decibels (normal range), 20-40 db (moderate loss), 40-60db (severe), 60-80db (profound) 80-120+ (deaf).
      • Then there are frequencies involved: is the loss move severe in the higher frequncies (sounds of s, f, th) or the lower ones (m. b, vowels)? Also, is the loss unilateral (one ear) or bilateral (both ears)?
      • A hearing aid may amplify sound, making everything equally loud, but the sounds will be fuzzy, not clear at all.

    2. Find out what students know about the deaf. Do they know any deaf children or adults? Do they know what language deaf people use to communicate?

    3. List languages that students know. Why do different languages exist? Why don't we all speak one language? How do we respect other cultures' languages?

    4. Explain that Americans who are deaf have their own language, American Sign Language, which consists of a manual alphabet and specific handshapes for words and phrases. Teach the manual alphabet and some sentences from American Sign Language.

    5. Brainstorm ways that people from different cultures may introduce themselves.
    • Find examples of people form various countries
    • Talk about the ways in which hearing people introduce themselves
    • Explore ways in which deaf people may introduce themselves - to hearing people and to other deaf people

    6. List ways to best communicate with a deaf person:

      1. Always face each other
      2. Do not cover your mouth when you talk
      3. Speak normally. Do not shout
      4. Do not exaggerate movements of the mouth
      5. Use facial expressions naturally

    7. If you can, ask a deaf person from your community to come and visit the class. He or she can share some methods of communication and how he/she greets others. The community member should also share aspects of his/her daily life to show that they are very similar to hearing persons.

    8. Share with the class that many deaf people have nicknames, called sign names. It is usually one hand gesture, using the initial letter of the first name, placed in a location unique to the individual. For example, a bearded man, named Vincent, could sweep the "V" handshape along his cheek to his chin, outlining the beard. A woman named Sally, who has long hair, could make the "S" handshape and move it from the crown of the head, along the side of the head, to the shoulder.

    9. Have the students choose a sign name for themselves. Each student should illustrate her/his chosen sign names and write a brief explanation for their choice. Students should then present their names and illustrations to the rest of the class.

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      Social Studies:
    • Compare deaf culture with your own culture: history, language, values
    • Students can work in cooperative groups to design awareness posters about ways to best communicate with a deaf person: always face each other, do not cover your mouth when you talk, speak normally, do not shout, do not exaggerate movements of the mouth, use facial expressions naturally
    • Students can also create a poster to show the differences and similarities of deaf people (who can accomplish the same as hearing people, they just don't hear as well)
    • Students can research careers that are prohibited to deaf people who do not speak English: Read books about Helen Keller, Annie Sullivan and other deaf leaders

    • Study American Sign Language

    Organizers for Students:
    • What languages do you know? How many languages are there? Share your answers with the rest of the class.

    • Check out ( or the Flash animation "Introduction to Sign Language" on this Web site to see how people communicate in sign. Study the animations. Can you come up with simple phrases in sign language based on what you see?

    • What is your sign name? Draw a picture of it.

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    This lesson plan was developed by Angela Guiffreda, a teacher of the deaf at P.S. 204 in Brooklyn, New York.
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