Teach a Song using ASL!


I love to occasionally teach a primary song using ASL!  I received several “technical” questions on how to use sign or ASL to teach a song.  I don’t claim to be an interpreter, but I’ve written up a few things that have helped me teach ASL in singing time.

I like to occasionally use simplified sign language to teach songs in primary.  It’s also termed CASE: Conceptually Accurate Signed English.
Junior primary loves the large muscle movements and seems to retain the words better when they can put an action to it. Senior primary seems to enjoy the challenge of remembering what hand motions go with what words.
Since I don’t know sign language – AT ALL, I just kind of “wing it” every time I teach it.  I’ve actually had a few teachers tell me that they didn’t know I knew sign language – ha!  Fooled them!!  Is it always correct? No.  But that’s not my intention.
I couldn’t teach the correct ASL to those little kids – especially where I don’t “speak” it, myself.  It would also be really overwhelming to me and the kids.  So I omit most of the signs and usually only teach signs for the key words.

To learn those key word signs, I use SEVERAL resources combined.  Below are some of my favorite ASL websites:

  • My first go-to website is the church’s Primary songs in ASL HERE (this is SO complicated for me but it’s a start!)
  • The church also has a list of simple ASL videos of the more unusual vocabulary we use in the Church HERE (I LOVE this resource!)
  • This link is an ASL dictionary HERE (for any words that aren’t on the church’s site)
  • And another ASL dictionary HERE (I’m more familiar with this link)
  • Singing Savvy HERE
  • Primary Choristers on YouTube has several of the current year’s primary songs in simplified ASL HERE also check out the website HERE
  • Then there are several who post videos of their own.  There are a few samples HERE or HERE

I’m never afraid to ask others to help out where I lack the talent 🙂

I like to create my own ASL notes to help me teach.

You can find some examples of my notes HERE (scroll through all of the posts).  I personally wouldn’t take a video into primary to teach from but that’s just my preference.
If you have any children in your primary who know ASL, a great suggestion may be to have them help you teach the song.  I’ve never experienced this – if you have, I’d love some feedback!
In order to teach the signs, you MUST know them beforehand – both the words to the song and the signs.  I like to bring my notes because sometimes I get stuck and need a reference but I don’t want to be stopping to read my notes throughout my entire lesson plan – BORING!!

To review ASL after teaching the signs, I love to bring in scarves:

I bought mine from Amazon.  I have more details about them in my shop HERE.
I have found scarves to be a very valuable tool in primary – I have also been able to use them for TONS of other activities in primary.
I just have the kids tie one on their pointer finger and we do our actions with the scarves.  They provide a fun visual!  I only bring these out AFTER the signs have been learned.  They can be a distraction from learning the actual signs.

Once you have your signs and song learned, you need to teach them to the primary kids.

To introduce the song, I have the kids watch me sign the entire song while it is played on CD.  This doubles nicely as my attention getter!  Usually by the end of my demonstration, they are all trying to sign with me anyway ;).
Then I like to quiz them to see if they recognized any of the signs I did that correlated with some of the words.  I’m always surprised by what they are able to pick out!

Which hand do you use?

Check out this video with a tip!
When I learn the signs, I usually learn them backwards (or with the wrong hand – I mirror what I see in the videos).  Then when I start signing in primary, I practice with the kids mirroring some simple actions.
I’ll wave with my left hand and ask them to pretend we are looking in a mirror – what hand would they use?  Then we practice with the other hand by patting our heads or something.  So when I move my left hand, they move their right and vice versa.
Once we’ve established which hands should be used, I just add one sign and phrase at a time, usually beginning with the chorus.  I sing the phrase (sometimes posting that phrase on the board) and sign it.  
Then I discuss the sign (maybe give them a silly way of remembering it), show them the action, they repeat it without singing, then we sing the phrase while we sign it.  Then add on – next phrase with the next sign.  We’ll sing that phrase while signing it.  Then we’ll sign and sing everything we’ve learned so far.  Clear as mud? 🙂

I like to try to have one song learned in ASL for the program.

In the past, we’ve performed a song by only signing it, then repeating it with singing and signing.  It’s pretty neat!
I’ve created a “Sign Language” label that is on my “Lesson Plan” page at the top for quick reference.  It includes any of my lesson plans I’ve taught using this method of teaching songs.  A direct link can also be found HERE.
What are tips that you use when teaching sign language in primary?  Leave a comment with suggestions!

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5 thoughts on “Teach a Song using ASL!”

  1. Hi! I'm a little late to the game here 🙂 I am the music leader in a designated deaf ward, which means we have hearing and d/Deaf members. I like to teach at least a couple of songs in ASL; this year, over half of our songs will be singing/signing. A couple notes:
    These are all great resources, thank you! I have been trying to find the church's ASL library with difficulty for a while now.
    If any music leader has a d/Deaf member in their ward, I would urge using them as a resource first out of respect for Deaf culture (and to maintain language integrity). This includes having them teach the signs to the children in singing time. One of our Deaf members teaches the songs in ASL; she is great at teaching simplified sign language and the kids love having her.
    With the songs we know in ASL, we use them as a reverent activity to help invite the spirit if it's too rowdy. I have everyone sign the song with no piano, singing, humming or saying the words. They have to be reverent because it takes all of their attention!
    Thanks so much for all you do!

  2. I have a 9 year old with Downs Syndrome. She is non-verbal as of yet, but she has a communication tablet and she knows a few basic signs (yes, no, ice cream, chicken, BK, you know, the important ones. 😀 ) In the last couple of years, I’d been called to teach the sunbeams, and Rosie loves sitting by Mommy in singing time. She tries to vocally sing the songs, but I have been trying to encourage her to learn how to sign some of them. But since I don’t know much ASL, it’s hit and miss.

    THANK YOU SO MUCH for putting the links to resources. I feel confident I may be able to help her learn the church songs in ASL and more fully participate in primary now.

    1. Hi Sheryl!

      Your comment made my day today! I’m so happy you’ve found some helpful content here to help with your daughter. She’s lucky to have you! I’ve always said that parents of special needs children have a saved spot in heaven!


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