Ten Great ASL Games You can Use in Your Deaf Ministry

A while back I received a phone call from a friend who teaches sign language. He was organizing an activity with his class, and he asked me if I knew of any good games to practice sign language. I gave him a couple of ideas, but I immediately realized that there must be many more. I started keeping an eye out.

Minion Sign Language

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Shortly thereafter, I came across a brief column in The Silent Word by Jon Barr entitled Learning with GamesJon highlighted three fun activities developing signers can use to enhance their sign language vocabulary.

1. The Handshape Game

Two teams compete to find as many signs as they can that use a specified handshape within five or ten minutes.

2. A-B-C Stories

Create a story as a group, taking turns adding signs one by one to the tale. The catch? The signs in the story must be formed with the handshapes A-Z, in order.

3. Handshape Poetry

Tell a Bible story in several sections, but within each section, use one handshape as the basis for all the signs in that section.

Now we’re going to look at some more great ideas for ASL games. Most of these activities can be enjoyed by deaf and hearing alike. These can be great icebreakers in sign language classes, youth meetings, parties and informal fellowships. Have fun! Be sure to let me know your favorite ASL games in the comments at the end of this article.

4. Sign Name Challenge

Before starting this game, make sure everyone playing has been properly introduced with their sign name. Create two teams and place two chairs facing each other in between the teams. Have someone help you hold up a sheet between the groups so that no one can see who is standing and who is sitting.

Each team chooses a member to sit in the chair, and then you drop the sheet. The first player to sign their opponent’s sign name wins!

5. The Handshape Game, Redux

This game is similar to the Handshape Game mentioned in Jon’s post above. Instead of creating teams, have everyone sit in a circle and take turns recalling signs that use a specified handshape. If someone can’t think of a sign, or if they use a sign that was already used, they have one strike and game starts over with a new handshape.

When someone gets three strikes, they have to stand and sing a short chorus in ASL. (You could practice a chorus together at the beginning of the game.)

6. Charades

Prepare a list of Bible characters, animals, or professions and have the group take turns acting them out, with one important rule – no sign language! This forces your signers to creatively use 3d space, role-shifting and expressions to tell their stories.

While one person is acting, the others are guessing, so award points to those who guess correctly and name a winner once someone has three or five points.

7. Animal Impersonations

Similar to charades, this activity removes the guessing component and instead creates interest by helping people overcome their reservations and use clear expressions, sometimes with hilarious results. Tell everyone to think of their favorite animal, and then have each of them impersonate that animal using only their faces. (Everyone can participate at once.)

Then, have them continue the impersonation, this time with their heads, necks and torsos as well as their faces, but still without involving their arms or legs. Once that is catching on, tell them that they can now use their faces, bodies and arms, but not their legs.

Finally, have them impersonate their animals with their entire bodies. You should end up with a lot of laughs!

8. Fingerspelling Chain

This game is great fingerspelling practice. Sit in a circle and take turns signing different words based on a theme (such as fruits, vegetables, places or Bible characters). The trick is that each new word must start with the last letter of the previous word.

9. ASL Telephone

This is the traditional game of telephone with a sign language twist. Have everyone stand in a row facing forward, and tap the first participant on his shoulder. When he turns around, sign a sentence in ASL. Sorry, if he wants to see it again, that train is gone! He then has to turn and tap the next player on the shoulder and pass the phrase along up the chain.

When the sentence gets to the end of the line, have the last person step forward and sign the message where everyone can see it. If the message has changed, tell everyone what you really said.

10. Lost in Translation

A great practice game for a group of interpreters, this variant of the ASL telephone can be hilarious and eye-opening all at the same time. Have your group sit in a circle facing out, so that they can’t see each other without turning. The first interpreter listens via headphones to a two or three sentence message recorded on an mp3 player, and signs it to the second interpreter.

The second interpreter watches and writes down the message in English, then passes it to the third interpreter. The third interpreter reads the written message and signs it to the fourth interpreter, who interprets it back into spoken English.

Compare the final message to the original and see what’s left. A lot can get lost in translation!


Do you have a sign language game you love that I haven’t mentioned? Did one of the games in this article work for an activity you organized? Comment below and tell us about it!

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