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(Note: This is a continuing series of articles about Special Needs Deaf (SND) — Deaf people who, for one reason or another, need special methods to teach them.)

  1. Story Actions – Mime, etc.

    Story actions (some use other names for this) are part of the language, which is shown, not signed. You do not sign “open the umbrella,” you act it out. You open the umbrella with your actions.
    This part of sign language is one that some hearing people have trouble understanding. Hearing people are looking for words in the language. When the deaf sign and switch to story actions, hearing people often do not understand, or they become confused. These actions are part of picture thinking and deaf sign language. I often measure how skilled an interpreter is by how easily they do or do not understand the story actions of the deaf.

    A young SND deaf man was telling us how he was attacked by a dog and then escaped from the dog. It was typical SND communication. He only signed “dog” and acted out the rest. One interpreter shouted out, “I do not understand anything he said.” That showed me she was looking for words in the story, not the action. Become used to thinking in pictures, and then converting that to actions. The reverse is also true. The deaf use story actions as a normal part of their conversation. Look for actions instead of words in the conversation. The actions (throw the ball, open the umbrella) are sign language. When you accept this and begin to adapt your mind to it, you will begin to really understand much more of the deaf conversation. And they will understand you better, too.

    Here is a short story to practice:

    A boy has a jar of candy. He wants to put the candy up on the shelves. He tries and tries to put the candy jar on the shelves, but there is no room. He tries it again and again. Finally, out of frustration, he takes off the jar lid, eats the candy and leaves the room.

    Use only the signs, “boy”, and “candy.” Act out everything else. Remember to use your facial expressions.

    Story actions can be used in Bible stories. Think of the actions and apply them. For example, I use a picture of the wise men following the star. I show the distance they travel but signing “follow” with the picture in my hand. I then walk around the room, still signing “follow.” You can act out many stories completely with few or no formal signs. You can use actions to tell the story.

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