Saturday, 18 August 2012

Fingerspellathon with the National Deaf Children's Society

We moved house last month, if you follow me on twitter you'll have seen me go through the emotional highs & lows (lots of lows) of the whole house move saga.  Well, moving tends to mean clearing out a lot of old stuff.  Amongst the "stuff" I found was a set of OHP sheets and handouts I created as part of a "train the trainer" course I did in my last job, quite a few years ago.  We had to deliver a 20 minute training session on any subject, to our fellow course students, and I chose to teach fingerspelling.

I've blogged a little bit before about my deafness, and that was a motivating factor in choosing to teach the other students to spell their names using fingerspelling.  At the time, I'd had a few lessons in BSL, but dropped out because of other commitments, but I'd learned fingerspelling long before that, in fact long before I even lost my own hearing.  I remember finding the fingerspelling alphabet in an activity pack from a hotel, airline or something, when I was about 7, and being fascinated by this whole way of being able to communicate without speaking.  I tried to interest my friends in learning so we could talk in class without being told off, but they weren't quite as keen as me to learn something that involved spelling. Ho hum.

Since I delivered that course, I went on to complete 3 years of BSL, and I've got an Intermediate Level 2 certificate, which I'm quite proud of.  I'm probably a little bit rusty today, but given time & practise, who knows?  I wanted to go back and learn properly when I had the time & money to commit to it, as I don't know what the future holds for my hearing, but the thought of not being able to communicate scares me silly.

The National Deaf Children's Society want to encourage primary school children to, well, be a bit geeky like me.  They're organising their fifth annual Fingerspellathon in October 2012, aimed at teaching primary school children the BSL Fingerspelling alphabet, and breaking down the communication barriers between d/Deaf* and hearing children, while raising money to help NDCS's work.

As well as promoting understanding between d/Deaf and hearing children, the Fingerspellathon is a great way to encourage children's spelling abilities, in an interactive way.  It just strikes a chord with some children, as it did me.  d/Deafness can be incredibly isolating, NCDS recently published a study showing that 77% of hearing children didn't know how to communicate with their d/Deaf classmates.  Learning just one way to communicate can break down those barriers, open up friendships, and make school a slightly less lonely place.

Teachers who sign up to take part in the Fingerspellathon receive a resource pack containing posters, activities, lesson plans & worksheets.  And a warm fuzzy feeling.  Some of the ideas that have been used in the past include:

  • Fingerspelling children's names during morning registration
  • Eye Spy: fingerspelling clues & guesses
  • Simon Says: fingerspelling instructions
  • Level Challenges: Learning new words throughout the month, with increasing difficulty.
My students only had 20 minutes to learn, but they all managed to spell their names by the end of the session.  Children are far better at learning than adults, think how much they could learn in a month, and what a difference that could make to their d/Deaf classmate.

Teachers wanting to sign up can do so online at

Free fingerspelling chart courtesy of
Oh, and if you're wondering, Justin Fletcher & Mr Tumble use Makaton, a variation of BSL designed for use  by those with other impairments to their communication abilities, such as cognitive impairments, Downs Syndrome, autism & multi-sensory impairments.  It shares a number of signs, but is not the same language.  You might recognise some of the above letters though.

*d/Deaf is a way of describing both those who were born without hearing, and those who lost hearing later in life. Deaf indicates a hearing loss from birth, and deaf indicates a later hearing loss.  These are terms that are recognised and accepted throughout the d/Deaf community, as there are different experiences and issues faced by each group.  As NDCS aims to help both groups, I am using this term to include all.


  1. Little known fact was J learn't this as he couldn't speak till 3 1/2.

  2. Thanks for covering this story and I am going to highlight it in the BritMums charity round-up.


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