Teaching English To Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students

By Naomi Epstein

Lights and ACTION

No, no camera here. But most certainly “lights” and lots of “action”!

In our English (as a foreign language) classroom for deaf and hard of hearing students, you will always find the lights on, even on sunny days, so that the students can see my face and hands clearly. In fact, if the day is particularly sunny (which it often is here in Israel!) we close the curtains so that the light won’t cause distorting reflections!

The “action” you will find when you open the door to our classroom might not be what you would expect. This, first of all, has to do with the diversity of the students. The high-school where we are located is a regular school, but the students with a hearing loss come from a very large geographical radius (some leave the house an hour and a half before school starts!) and from the full diversity of different sectors and religions that exist in this country.

The level of English of our students is as diverse as their backgrounds. Remember one-room-schoolhouses? In our classroom you will find students struggling with the difference between “am / is / are” sitting next to students working on 120 word essays in English on the dangers of radiation from Cellular antennas. There is, of course, every possible level in between…

The classroom is set up as a learning centre. Lessons are for 8 – 10 students a time. Every student has their own work plan and we have work stations. There are regular desks where students work in their course books. There is a special table for pair-work with vocabulary flashcards. There is a computer which this year was finally hooked up to the Internet. The whiteboard is also often used as a workstation for one or two students practicing their writing. Each of the 60 students in the program have their own “bag” in large binders to keep their work.

In a learning center there is, naturally, a lot more movement than in a regular lesson. And talk! The modes of communication are as diverse as everything else in our class – some students speak clearly, some are unintelligible. Some students use Israeli Sign Language, other prefer lip reading. We work on reading and writing in English, these students are exempt from listening comprehension and oral sections on exams.

So, if you come our way, please follow the lights and come and see the action in our learning center!

About this Blog Series

At ESL-Library, we’re interested in sharing stories about language teachers who teach in untraditional settings. We also love learning about special challenges, such as Naomi’s experience. I’ve been tweeting with Naomi for a while, but it wasn’t until a recent #ELTChat that I noticed her twitter bio. Then I visited her blog, and found this fascinating description of why she named it “Visualizing Ideas”. When I asked her to write a guest post for ESL-Library she agreed, despite her very busy schedule!  Do you have a story to share? We are looking for guest posts for this series of reflections. Check out our previous post Teaching English at the Circus. Thanks, Naomi! ~Tara


Leave a Comment ↓

  1. Russell Aldersson says:

    Feb 15, 2017 at 11:07 am

    Hello Naomi,
    Came across your blog. I teach English to Deaf adult learners, all have a signed language as a first or preferred language and some are British born (I teach in London) and some are from other countries. The classes are called functional skills / literacy classes and yet many are perfectly literate in the written language of the home countries. It’s difficult to call it ESOL, Literacy or Functional Skills because the context contains elements of all of these and difficult to put it into a definitive category entirely. I’m also a doctorate students and investigating the use of sign language as a scaffolding language is my research focus. I’m interested to know, what do you call your classes? English as a second language?

  2. diana says:

    Jan 11, 2017 at 11:06 pm

    do you have any idea to teach deafs in inclusive school? inclusive means normal public school…thanks

  3. AGNESS says:

    Mar 19, 2016 at 12:26 am


  4. Jack@MyHearGear says:

    Dec 18, 2015 at 3:59 am

    Hearing and deaf people can benefit from learning just enough sign language to be able to communicate.

  5. Naomi Epstein (@naomishema) says:

    Jul 08, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    Have replied to your email.

  6. Naomi Epstein (@naomishema) says:

    Jul 04, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    Glad to hear you are so motivated!
    This site is an excellent site. There are many researchers that claim that deaf students learn English (in an English speaking country) as a second language.
    I also recommend using the following system for vocab. work. It has proved to be very helpful in my clases. You can read about it here:
    All the best!

    • Robert says:

      Jul 06, 2013 at 7:17 pm

      Hi Naomi!

      Thanks for responding so quickly. I know every student would be different, and I’m trying to figure out how to help them bridge that gap between ASL and English. I may be overthinking it. It’s vitally important for them to know as many vocabulary words as possible, but I think in communicating with hearing people, a deaf person would have a great advantage in having basic knowledge of how sentences are structured in written/spoken English.

      I’m a 54-year-old CPA who is easing out of the accounting world (although probably never completely!) and into a new world. I have all sorts of ideas bouncing around in my head, which is exciting, but I know I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I want to respect the individual person but at the same time I want to give them all the help and training they need.

      Anyway, thanks again! I look forward to communicating with you.


    • Tracey says:

      Sep 04, 2016 at 2:19 am

      Hi Naomi,

      I teach deaf and hoh high school students English in Los Angeles. I too have students from a wide range of English mastery. One program I was introduced to by a colleague who has been teaching DHH students for 42 years is the Apple Tree Language Program. It was specifically designed to teach language arts to drag students. I really like it.

  7. Robert says:

    Jul 03, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    Hello. I am just getting involved with working with deaf people to help them find employment. I am learning ASL. I am finding that one obstacle they have to finding a job is their lack of reading and writing skills in English. I would love to be able to teach them basic written English. Is this a good place to start, as far as getting materials and help?


  8. Brandon McBride says:

    Nov 12, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    It looks like everyone has a lot of fun in your class! :)

    • Naomi Epstein (@naomishema) says:

      Nov 12, 2012 at 8:14 pm

      Thank you for writing, Brandon!
      Believe me, every bed of roses has thorns, but some days are really great!

  9. Naomi Epstein (@naomishema) says:

    Oct 30, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Dear Sacha,
    My sincere apologies for not replying sooner. I’m not subscribed to comments on this blog and didn’t see your question.
    I would be happy to be in touch with you but I must point out that I’m not familiar with the C1 exam. We don’t have these exams here.
    It would be best to correspond directly.
    I’m on twitter @naomishema

  10. sacha brady says:

    Oct 09, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    Dear Naomi,

    We are an EFL institute, which has been approached by a local school for the deaf about the possibility of running courses to prepare their students for the CAE exam (C1). We have absolutely no experience of teaching the deaf or hard of hearing, but would certainly try to oblige if at all feasible. I was wondering if you could shed any light on what the requirements might need to be both for the learners and for us.

    For instance, would the learners need to be able to lipread and speak in L2, especially in relation to a native speaker teacher, or alternatively would any teacher need to be able to sign?

    Due to previous learning environments and methods of teaching, are their particular approaches and stimuli that such a class might respond to better? And are there others that should best be avoided?

    I’m really at a loss as to where to start and what to consider so if you can offer any help whatsoever I’d be extremely grateful.

    Kind regards,

    Sacha Brady

  11. Naomi Epstein (@naomishema) says:

    Jun 19, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Thank you so much for having me, Tara!

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