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Teach and learn NZSL

Getting started

For many students, and possibly for you as well, this will be a first close encounter with a signed language. Enjoy the challenges of learning a new language and culture.

Be open to opportunities for you and your students to use the language you are learning for genuine communicative purposes.

Value the languages and cultures that your students bring with them to their classroom learning. Help them to make connections with their prior knowledge, understandings, and experiences as well as to identify significant differences between spoken and signed languages.

Invite NZSL users in your local community to share their language and culture with your students. Find out what local Deaf community events are happening so that you and your students can participate.

Tips for bringing NZSL to the classroom

Your students are going to need to process information visually. They will need to look with their eyes and get used to "turning off" their voices.

Set homework to reinforce school learning. Challenge the students to investigate a topic or idea that may involve them in some kind of inquiry or research. Homework can be motivating when students show off their learning to their families, even teaching them what they have been learning in class. Communication is the aim of a language teaching and learning programme.

Signers need lots of space. Your students will be moving their hands as they make handshapes to communicate.

Learning a sign means knowing how to:

  • sign it
  • distinguish it from other signs that may be similar
  • use it in appropriate ways
  • respond when someone else signs.

With your students, make up your own sign dictionary to have as a class resource. Use the worksheet illustrations from Thumbs Up! and arrange them in alphabetical order.

Keep the focus on NZSL wherever possible by, for example, using pictures, visuals, and video clips to minimise the use of English. This will help the students to appreciate the uniqueness of the language and culture of Deaf people and the values that are important to NZSL users. However, you will need to use voice and English to progress your lessons.

It is natural for your students to make mistakes as they learn to communicate in NZSL and to cope with cultural differences that may make them feel insecure about their own identity and their ability to succeed. Give them lots of encouragement and positive reinforcement.

Thumbs Up! progress chart

To motivate your students, provide feedback on their NZSL achievement that identifies their next-steps learning.

Use the Thumbs Up! progress chart to celebrate their achievement. When the students have achieved the learning outcomes specified for each unit, they colour in the band with the matching number on their progress chart to record their progress.

NZSL guidelines: Further information

You can read more in the NZSL guidelines (NZSLiNZC) about:

  • what you’ll need to consider when teaching NZSL in your school
  • the approaches you’ll need to take
  • planning learning and assessment activities for levels 1 and 2.

The links below lead to local navigation of Te Kete Ipurangi.

Scroll down to the subheading listed to read information related to the topic.

Considerations for teachers of New Zealand Sign Language – has information for requirements of teaching NZSL, how to consult with the Deaf community, inclusive programmes, and providing opportunities to learn.

Approaches for teaching New Zealand Sign Language – approaches include learning through communication, strategies and techniques, working together, and learning partnership

Planning learning activities – guidance and links to appropriate learning activities you may want to use in your programmes

Get started using these Thumbs Up! teaching and learning resources.

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