The 15 Principles for Reading to Deaf Children - Reading to Deaf Children; Learning from Deaf Adults

Manual: Reading to Deaf Children: Learning from Deaf AdultsRead to students every day and at all grade levels. Reading to students daily improves students' visual skills, builds vocabulary, and increases reading comprehension.

The Role of the Educator is:

  • to establish a literacy-rich environment,
  • to share good books,
  • to demonstrate appropriate reading behavior,
  • to engage students by reading fiction books, non-fiction books, magazines, comics, and newspapers, and
  • to read materials related to themes.

Observers Will See:

  • the educator engaging students in learning how to read,
  • students making predictions and discussing what is read,
  • students demonstrating comprehension, and
  • the educator noticing and commenting on what students are doing well.

15 Principles for Reading to Deaf Children (Schleper, 1997)

(15 Principles for Reading to Deaf Children in ASL)

David R. Schleper outlines 15 principles for adults to use when reading to deaf and hard of hearing children. The research is based on what deaf parents do when reading to their deaf and hard of hearing children. The deaf parents:

  1. Translate stories using American Sign Language. Focus on concepts and use lots of fingerspelling.

  2. Keep both languages (ASL and English) visible. Make sure children see both the signing and the words and pictures.

  3. Elaborate on the text. Add explanations about the text to make it more understandable.

  4. Reread stories on a "story telling" to a "story reading" continuum. The first few times, make sure the student understands the story. Then, slowly, focus more and more on the text.

  5. Follow the child's lead. What does the child wants to read? What if the child wants to read just one part of a book, then move to another? Follow the child.

  6. Make what is implied explicit. Make the hidden meaning clear.

  7. Adjust sign placement to fit the story. Sometimes sign on the page. Sometimes sign on the child. And sometimes sign in the usual place.

  8. Adjust the signing style to fit the story. Be dramatic. Play with the signs and exaggerate facial expressions to show different characters.

  9. Connect concepts in the story to the real world. Relate the characters to real events.

  10. Use attention maintenance strategies. Tap lightly on your child's shoulder, or give a gentle nudge to keep his or her attention.

  11. Use eye gaze to elicit participation. Look at the child while reading.

  12. Engage in role playing to extend concepts. Act out the story after you have read it.

  13. Use ASL variations to sign repetitive English phrases. If you are using the same phrase over and over, vary the signs.

  14. Provide a positive and reinforcing environment. Encourage the child to share ideas about the story and support the child's ideas.

  15. Expect the child to become literate. Believe in the child's success and read, read, read!

Used with permission from:
Schleper, D. R. (1997). Reading to Deaf Children: Learning from Deaf Adults. Washington, DC: Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center at Gallaudet University. (ISBN 0-88095-212-1)

Classroom Applications

Aside from incorporating the fifteen principles in reading to deaf and hard of hearing children, the following steps may be helpful:

  • Introduce the cover of the book. Show and fingerspell and sign the title, author, and illustrator. Talk a bit about what the book might be about.
  • Show the children the pictures and print.
  • Follow the child's lead. If the child wants to touch the book, point to a picture, or turn the pages back or ahead, let your child do it. In fact, children should be encouraged to talk about the book while reading is going on.
  • The child may want the same book over and over. This is a normal process in child development. Do it!
  • When finished reading, connect the concepts to the world.

Good Places to Get Started

Many great books are out there for reading to children. As a sampling, we suggest the following books when studying Martin Luther King, Jr.:

  • Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport
  • I Have a Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.: Man of Peace by Patricia and Fredrick McKissack
  • Martin Luther King Jr.: Minister and Civil Rights Activist by Brendan January
  • My Brother Martin by Christine King Farris

The following sites list good databases of children's literature:

DVD and Manual

The Clerc Center offers a comprehensive listing of educational products and services available from the Clerc Center, including the manual and DVD of Reading to Deaf Children: Learning from Deaf Adults. The manual has been translated into six other languages; the accompanying DVD is dubbed in that language and has captions in English. For more information about ordering or other products, visit the Clerc Center Products Catalog.

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The manual (PDF)


The Clerc Center offers Reading to Deaf Children: Learning from Deaf Adults workshops. For more information about this or other workshops, how to host or participate in a Clerc Center training program, and the Clerc Center training schedule, visit the Technical Assistance and Workshops page.

Supportive Research and Descriptive Literature

Campbell, R. (2001). Read-Alouds With Young Children. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. (ISBN 0-87207-289-4)

Fox, M. (2001). Reading Magic. New York: Harcourt, Inc. (ISBN 1-15-601076-3)

Schleper, D. R. (1997). Reading to Deaf Children: Learning from Deaf Adults. Washington, DC: Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center at Gallaudet University. (ISBN 0-88095-212-1)

Trelease, J. (2001). The Read-Aloud Handbook. New York: Penguin Books. (ISBN 0-14100294-8) Jim Trelease Home Page


Bialostok, S. (1992). Raising Readers: Helping Your Child to Literacy. Winnipeg, MB: Peguis Publishers.

Campbell, R. (2001). Read-Alouds with Young Children. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Cullinan, B. E. (2000). Read to Me: Raising Kids Who Love to Read. (Rev. ed.). New York: Scholastic.

Fisher, B. (2003). For Reading Out Loud: Planning and Practice. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fox, M. (2001). Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever. New York: Harcourt.

Hahn, M. L. (2002). Reconsidering Read-Aloud. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Richardson, J. S. (2000). Read It Aloud!: Using Literature in the Secondary Content Classroom. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Schleper, D. R. (1997). Reading to Deaf Children: Learning from Deaf Adults. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University. Trelease, J. (2001). The Read-Aloud Handbook. (5th ed.). New York: Penguin Books.

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