How Can Adapted Books help my Deaf Students Learn Sign Language AND English?


My deaf and hard of hearing students love to learn sign language with adapted books.  In our classroom, we communicate using American Sign Language and English.  But most of my students enter my classroom without a good foundation in either language.  The state and education system expect us to dive right in and learn to read, but students without language are just not ready for that. We need to learn sign language before we can learn to read English, but how do we find the time to do both? What do we do? We build a bridge.  We learn vocabulary so that we can use American Sign Language to build our English reading and writing skills.
My students absolutely love them! From students with very little vocabulary  (English or ASL) to my beginning readers, these books are always a first choice.
 I first found adapted books being created by special education teachers and SLPs. The books would require students to match a picture to a picture or an English word to a picture.  While those books are highly engaging for my deaf students they were missing the signed vocabulary piece.  So, when a clip artist came out with ASL clip art, I got to work right away, creating these books with an American Sign Language component.

Working with Students who have experienced Language Deprivation 

For the past 14 years, I have worked with young Deaf and Hard of Hearing students at a residential Deaf School. Most students that come into my classroom have experienced language deprivation and therefore are not ready to begin reading and writing at a kindergarten level.  We need to start more basic and build language skills. My classroom is often the first introduction students have to formally learn language, both sign language and English. Using adapted books is a great gateway to providing essential language vocabulary building AND basic concepts about print simultaneously.
 With this set of adapted books, students are required to match a sign to a picture of a food.  As students advance and learn the target vocabulary, they are then asked to complete an English sentence.  The target sentence is repeated on each page, allowing the student to master the sentence with the target vocabulary.

How students learn sign language and English with adapted books


I typically start with introducing the vocabulary in a whole group. This could be a guided reading group or selected students based on vocabulary or however you like to group your students.
  Begin with introducing the title and probing to see if students are familiar with the category. In this case, the category is FOOD. Ask questions to see if students are able to name any foods.  I am never surprised when students are unable name even one food.  While they may eat a variety of foods, and they may not have a sign or label for that item, or the category.  Being able to categorize words is an ESSENTIAL skill for young D/HH students.


After determining the students level of understanding with listing foods, I show them the cover of the book and probe to see if they are able to label any of the foods on the cover of the book.
Following that task, we begin a picture walk of the book. We look at each picture in the book and discuss. Do you know what it is? Have you eaten if before?  Do you like it? Did you eat it at home, at a friend’s house, at school?  If you are able, bring in the real food, or demonstrate with plastic food.  I really do WHATEVER I CAN to be sure the students become familiar with the vocabulary.


Finally, we are ready to start reading the book.  I demonstrate each sign as I pull it off the velcro and put it in a pocket chart, visible to all the students.  I ask the students to come up one at at time and choose the correct sign to match. This helps students to associate the 2D static picture with correct 3D parameters of the actual sign. We continue to practice as a whole group until students have a good grasp on the vocabulary. Here is the part where we learn sign language. The vocabulary must be mastered before we put any emphasis on English print. 
Some ideas for whole group practice include
  •  students holding the book and asking peers for the target sign.
  •  students choosing a sign card out of a box or pocket chart and finding the page to place it
  •  hiding the cards around the room, letting them search and find then coming back together and finding the correct page to place the sign.



Start with the single word book. Go through the book and allow the student to choose the correct sign for each picture ensure the student is signing the item correctly. When your student is ready he/she can move up to the sentence book. Follow the same procedure teaching the the new signs included in the sentence.  Each book contains one repetitive sentence.  For example for the Food books the sentence is, “I eat …..”. The same sentence is repeated for each food.  One sentence per page. 

Individual student books

Once I am confident students are comfortable with the vocabulary, I hand out the cut and paste books.  The students will work on these books during independent time.  If needed, I keep the adapted books for reference for students that need support.  Students then read their books to me or a friend.  This book stays at school in their book box and the reader with the written sentences is sent home to read with family members.

Supplemental Materials

There are MANY supplemental materials to be used for a wide variety of practice.  Students can match signs to pictures, “Read” a combination of signs, English print and pictures. These supplemental materials are perfect for quick reviews at the beginning of  guided reading session and can be done with a paraprofessional, or peer in the classroom.


Three assessments that I believe to be ESSENTIAL for DATA collection are included with each Adapted book set. Each form provides MEANINGFUL data for teachers


I assess each item on this list.
Can the student MATCH the sign to picture.
IF I SIGN the word, can the student demonstrate understanding of the sign by pointing to the picture, touching an object etc.
I show a picture or item to the student and he/she demonstrates the sign.  Students could also touch the picture of the sign, but here I am really looking for the student’s accuracy with the movement.


The running record is important when I am assessing a student’s skill with English Print.  Students may read the word verbally or sign the word (whatever is their preference). The skill being assessed here is reading English.  Is the student reading every word? I use checkmarks over each word to show the words the student got correct.  If there was a mistake I then I evaluate the reason for the error.
M- meaning (was the error a mistake that would make sense)
ex. looking at the picture of chicken and signing turkey
S- structure (the error occurred because the SIGN OR THE WORD was similar to another known word but still makes sense.  ex. Signing I /voicing me.  Signing I LIKE chicken instead of I EAT chicken
V- Visual the error looks visually similar to another known word ex. chicken and cheese.
I calculate the score as demonstrated on the form and determine a Fluency and Independence score.


What is this book about?  Has your student developed an understanding of the category involved in this book. For this level of book, the category and the title are the same, but the answer here should include the category and not a list of the items.  That’s next.
List 5 items FROM THE STORY  of course.  This seems obvious, but not always to our students.  Now with the level of students I work with, I fill out this form for them, but I introduce the 5 hand shape list format so that the students can begin learning how to list what they know.  I also, do not require them to list the items in order. I am teaching the skill of recall, an important skill in assisting students in moving their vocabulary from short to long term memory.
Using the adapted books helps the students gain the practice with vocabulary they need as well as develop Concepts of Print skills and begin the literacy process.  So, we end up with students who are excited about books and LOVE reading. We are able to easily document  progress for teachers and parents. This is why we love to  learn sign language with adapted books. 
View the HUGE SELECTION of ASL adapted books for available purchase by clicking THIS LINK.
So many options to choose from. You are able to select just a single book, a group of 6 books or the ENTIRE collection of 25 books. 
Want to try before you buy? 
Check out these Adapted Books of Colors in our Free Resource Library.
asl-colors adapted-books-for-special-education
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Read more about Adapted Books HERE
Learn more about Language Deprivation HERE
Download the FREE teaching guide for Teaching students with Language Deprivation by filling in the form at the bottom of this page. 
Happy Teaching!
Mrs. Burgen
Mrs Burgen

teacher of the deaf

Hi, I'm Heather Burgen!

I am a hearing teacher of the deaf dedicated to working with both deaf and hearing colleagues in providing the best education for deaf and hard of hearing children.

Learn more about me and how I can help you here

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Grab my free guide, Teaching students with Language Deprivation: A Guide for Teachers of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children