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Learn Fingerspelling (You May Need it One Day)

American Manual Alphabet


Article and video are followed by a fun search-a-word puzzle!


Are the kids stuck indoors, in the car, or just plain bored?  Are you just plain bored?

That’s a great time to learn “fingerspelling”–the one-handed American Manual Alphabet.  It’s an important part of American Sign Language.

manual alphabet snip 1


It’s lots of fun, and it keeps kids of all ages occupied.

You will also learn something useful that you may need someday, to communicate with someone who is deaf.

Isn’t it great to learn something that you could later use to help a stranger?  Or to help you chat with a deaf friend?

And it’s always fun to learn a special new code. 

What is Fingerspelling?


The one-handed American Manual Alphabet–“fingerspelling”–grew out of the French manual alphabet in the eighteenth century.

Some other versions require two hands.

victorian sign language snip

Here is how it works.  You form your hand into a shape that represents a single letter.   Two of the letters, J and Z, require a little hand motion.

Probably the most famous fingerspelling scene is in the movie The Miracle Worker, where Annie Sullivan finally gets her blind and deaf student Helen Keller to understand that the finger letters aren’t just a game.

Helen finally figures out that the hand motions represent the water rushing out of the pump–and a whole new world opens up to Helen.

How to Teach Fingerspelling and the American Manual Alphabet


Give each student a chart showing each letter and numeral, like the one above.  I have added a few more below, so take your pick.


manual alphabet snip 2


Kids (of all ages) can take turns spelling out words to each other.  Beginners can write down each letter as they go.

In time, they won’t have to use their chart.  It’s a great memory builder, too!


manual alphabet snip 3


You can also turn each finger letter into a flash card.

If you have a separate set of cards with no printed letters on them–just the hand signs–kids can use them to spell out words, or make up silly new words by lining up the cards.

Here is an example of a fingerspelling game you can make up.  Use your imagination!

fingerspell game

Make up your own games to help learn fingerspelling!  It could open up a whole new world.



Feature photo by Sharon McCutcheon

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