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Why I started Creating Resources for Deaf and Hard of hearing students.

Where to start?

I teach deaf and hard of hearing students at a school for the deaf.  I teach in the elementary department.  We are small school have just 4 teachers for Kindergarten through 5th grade.  I typically teach the youngest group and have students in my class working at the kindergarten through 2nd grade level. 

Unfortunately,  many of our students arrive at our school with minimal exposure to language. Not just English, but language.  Many don't even know their own names or the names of their family members.  They are unable to label common things in their environment, like chairs, doors, cars, toys etc. I have met 6 year old students with as few as 5 signs.  I know, it seems impossible, but when a child has little or no access to sound and his/her family members have not yet learned signed language, the ability to access the world is extremely limited.  

A typical student entering kindergarten has a spoken vocabulary of approximately 13,000-22,000 words.  When students enter school, teachers begin to help them organize that vocabulary into a spoken and written language. 

Deaf students are also expected to begin learning grade level content. They are expected to read, and write, count and do science experiments. They are expected to follow directions in a language they have never even been exposed to before.  Some of the first words taught in a typical kindergarten classroom are from the pre-primer dolch list ( in, is, it, the, to, and). The rest of the 40 words are comprised of mostly verbs and adjectives.  What do these words mean to someone with little to no language?  Not a whole lot.  

Now, it would be AMAZING if we could get a few academic free years to work on language development only, but that is not the reality.  So, the game of catch up begins.  Is it possible for students who are 4-6 years behind in language development to "catch up" to their hearing peers.  Yes it is.. sometimes....and no it's not....sometimes.  Every student is an individual and some kids absorb every bit of language and academia that you present, while others struggle with learning so much new information after missing critical years   Regardless, it is my job and the job of many other deaf educators to teach language and academic concepts at the same time, to bridge the gaps and make learning MEANINGFUL.

Make learning Meaningful

How to teach communication and academics at the same time?  First, we need labels. Think of every three year old you have ever known.. Dat? Dat?  Dat? Dat? Dat?  they say as they point to EVERYTHING in their environment.  Of course you give them a label for each thing, that's the sky, that's a table, She is your aunt - mommy's sister.  They will then move on to the question  Doing?  Doing?  Doing?  or the ever popular  why? why?  why?  Again, we explain our actions and our reason by giving those actions a label.  I'm swimming.  I'm eating.   I like swimming when it's hot. I eat potatoes because they are my favorite food.  etc etc.  

While I would enjoy taking my deaf students on journeys every day to let them discover language naturally, that is just not possible.  So now we have the task of combining natural acquisition with curriculum.  Here in lies the problem of  teaching limited language students to read and write.  We begin to read and write words that are familiar to us. So using the pre-primer dolch list of  pronouns and adjectives really doesn't make much sense. 

In search of ASL resources

In the search for a mainstream curriculum that met the needs of these students, I came up empty. Nearly every curriculum can be adapted and I searched and searched for one that needed the least amount of adaptations.  I finally landed with the Reading Milestones program.  It is not a complete system and I use it strictly for reading and writing instruction. However it has key elements that are designed for Deaf /English Language Learning students.  It is nice introduction to bridge the gap between language and learning to read. 

Unfortunately, it is a bit boring for little learners. The simplicity is good and structure is good, but , it definitely lacked in fun resources.  I searched for things that included similar words and simplified language structure and I found.......that's right..... NOTHING. So, I decided to start supplementing on my own.  I bought clip art to provide pictures for each word, and started using those in my classroom. They worked well with my students but again I ran into a few problems.  I wanted to be able to send homework for my students, but I found their families to be struggling with keeping up in the signing abilities and thus were not able to help their students. I contacted several companies who make sign language clip art and asked them if I could use their clip art to create products.  They ALL said no.  BIG GIANT SAD FACE!  

I had to seek out my own resources.  I put in a request on TPT for an artist willing to make ASL graphics and I found Kate Pullen of Away With the Pixels . Kate began creating signs for me to coordinate with the pictures of each sign.  Her graphics are AMAZING!!!! I started creating right away!  I couldn't wait to share these resources with my students!  I continued to creating and recently found another ASL artist on TPT creating more amazing clipart, 35 Corks Art Studio.

Now that I have what I need, I do what I love... I teach, I create, and make my resources available to other teachers who are in need of products specifically designed for deaf students.
If you'd like to see what I have been busy creating, please use this link to my store.

Thank you for listening and I would LOVE to hear about you. 
Do you teach deaf/hard of hearing students? Have you faced similar challenges?  
Where do you go for resources?


How to Build ASL and English Vocabulary with Word Cards


The majority of my students come to me without a full first language base. All of my students have some kind of hearing loss.  Some are deaf and have no access to sound and depend completely on visual language, while others have two working cochlear implants and are learning to hear and understand verbal language. I'm pretty sure I have encountered every child in between as well.  Needless to say, their language needs are diverse!

However, they all have one thing in common.  They come to school to LEARN.  What are they learning, and how do I teach it? That  requires a complex answer but today, we will discuss using American Sign Language to teach English.

First and foremost my students must learn to sign.  This is important in a Deaf school because it is necessary to communicate with peers and adults at school.  We start with basic signs used to communicate and this largely consists of Nouns and Verbs. Basically, we are giving labels to the people, things and actions in our environment.
I use these word cards to reinforce that there are labels (signs) to describe our environment.  Once students are independently using two to three word phrases to communicate, we begin attaching the labels to English words.

(as a side note.... I wish I had several years to develop ASL proficiency before teaching English, but unfortunately that is never the case... but that is an entirely different topic)

These word cards have 3 essential parts:

A picture representation of the word.
The English word
An ASL representation of the word.

Now we all know that aside from the English word, the sign and the picture will not always be the same... these are both representative of the "real thing" and used as a reminder of what that item really is.  A 2D picture will never be an adequate description of a moving, directional sign, but it IS a starting point and a brain trigger.  The same concept goes for the picture.  The picture of a cow for example is just one representation of a cow. The color, the size, the smell.... all of these vary greatly, but we use a picture as a starting point to help our brains remember the concept.

We typically begin by using these cards to identify the sign or the picture.
We play many games with these words to gain familiarity with them.


Read the room - students are given pictures or words (differentiated for individual needs) and sent around the room to find the matching card.

War- students are given a pile of cards and they flip over cards rapidly, the first student to sign their card gets to keep both cards.

Go Fish- I make two sets(or sometimes more) of cards and the students play "Go Fish" trying to find a match for the cards in their hands.

Match- make two copies of the cards and play match... try to find a pair among cards turned face down

Realia- We label things... I bring in toy whatevers and we stick the card to the real item.  Also, we watch videos and pause them.... again sticking the card to the correct  item.
For action words, we stick cards to the students and they have to perform the action...

One of our favorites (and I don't really know the name of this game) but here's how it is played.
Place all the cards in a pocket chart and hide an item ( picture, coin, sticker etc.) behind one card. The students have to sign the word of the card they want to look behind it. When they reveal the item,  let that student hide the item and continue playing.  SO MUCH FUN! Also, the student who hid the item is now "the teacher"  and is required to find the card that the other students are requesting.  (sneaky teacher imbedding learning in a fun game)

When students are ready, we begin sorting words into categories.  ( this is also an endless activity....so many categories.) But for this particular post, I want to discuss how we begin to bridge labels to sentences.

We start by sorting two categories.

Who/What  and   What Doing

This is just sorting.  As you can see in the picture below, this little guy still has some work to do, but that's okay, this is another great point for discussion.... and THE BEST assessment for me to see where they are at with the understanding of words, label, signs etc.
This is the link between just saying/signing a word (because you have memorized it) and actually understanding the concept behind the word.

For example when I asked this student why he put the word (fish) in the "doing" category, he told me it was because he goes fishing with his dad.  What?! discussing multiple meaning words with young learners?  Yes! After much discussion we moved that card to the "what" side, and we drew a picture of fishing, and put it under the "doing" category.  #teachablemoment



When students are able to sort efficiently and demonstrate clear understanding of the topics we begin sentence building with the cards. All of the cards here are set up with the correct grammar to make simple noun + verb sentences.  We choose a word from the Who/What category, and then a word from the What Doing category and we make an English sentence. We read the sentence, sign the sentence, act out the sentence etc, then we return the cards to the correct category and choose cards for another sentence.

When we are not using the picture cards, I keep them stored in containers labeled  with the contents so we can keep them organized. This picture has several other related items as well, so when we are working with this particular group of words, we have many options.

The vocabulary for these cards are derived from theReading Milestones  curriculum.  You do not have to use this curriculum to use these cards but the progression of the vocabulary included in these card sets follow that curriculum.  
To find the Wh question word cards CLICK HERE
You can find all the word cards for RED books in the RM Curriculum below.  Just click on the caption below the picture.  The first set is FREE.

ASL Word Cards Set 3 and 4
ASL Word Cards Set 5 and 6
ASL Word Cards Set 7 and 8
ASL Word Cards Set 9 and 10

What do you do to bridge the gap with your early learners?  I would love to hear your ideas!  Please leave your  questions or comments below.

Bulletin Board Hack #1 USE FABRIC!

I am so happy to link up with Angie at Lucky Little Learners 

This month we are all talking about Bulletin Boards.  I want to tell you that as a beginning teacher, I used to LOVE changing my bulletin boards.  You could frequently find me at school after hours cutting paper and changing borders.  Well, this will be my TENTH year teaching (how did that happen?!?!?!) Anyways, about 2 years ago, I discovered the beauty of Fabric.  I chose my favorite fabric colors, and put them up in my room. Those fabric backgrounds stayed up all year.
I didn't break the bank either, cheap, cotton, solid color fabric highlighted with fun borders.

because changing paper AND borders AND bulletin board content,


 The pictures above are from 2013.  This is the first year I added the fabric. Some boards stayed the same all year.  For example the monkeys, we made as a class on the first day of school, stayed up all year and we added bananas for achievements  (I can count to 10. I read 5 books etc.) The school behavior board stayed up as well.  The rest of the boards had content that changed with lots of student work and learning targets. As you can tell, I was pretty big into the Safari theme that year!


 Last year, I kept THE SAME backgrounds!!! YES I SAID THE SAME!!!  But, I cleaned up the content and added these adorable banners!  These were my boards at the beginning of the year.  The same fabric... the same borders, but a totally different look!  I also made classroom decor to match my bulletin board colors. It gave my room much cleaner look.  As you can see, I am not a type A model classroom girl, and I haven't spent thousands of $$$$ to make everything match and look like a show room ( you know, all the classrooms you drool about on pinterest).  But there IS a method to my madness.

ASL word wall
ASL Calendar


Classroom Decor


Classroom Banners

This bulletin board is from 2014 it stayed up in the hallway ALL YEAR and students were able to put up their achievements and student pride work next to their favorite superhero.
They LOVED doing this.. so each month it would look a little different (if only I had taken pictures) but the main board (and all the work) stayed the same.

I am changing it up a bit for 2015, so STAY TUNED for my classroom reveal happening September 2nd.  Thank you for joining me and don't forget to check out all the other amazing bloggers on this link up!

Make Your Masterpiece: My ASL SUPERHERO Alphabet posters

I am linking up again with Third in Hollywood for week Three of the TPT sellers challenge.  This is a product I have actually been working on for while and this challenge gave me get the push to finish it.   It is part 2 in a series of 3 ASL SUPERHERO Classroom posters.
American Sign Language Alphabet Classroom Decor

I am so thrilled to be able to combine two of my favorite themes American Sign Language and SuperHeroes! The students in my classroom use American Sign Language to communicate.  For many of them this is their first language and they are using it to learn written English.  They LOVE having visual supports that include both languages. (and so do I) 
Cute, bright, functional visual supports?????? YES PLEASE!!!

You can click on the link to MY ASL SUPERHERO ALPHABET POSTERS.  What's inside? 
26  A-Z  8.5 x 11 posters
American Sign Language Alphabet  Classroom Decor

American Sign Language Alphabet Classroom Decor

Each letter has 3 coordinating cards with a picture, primary lined printed word and the ASL sign.  Just a note, many words in ASL do not have a specific sign and instead are fingerspelled.  This fingerspelling IS the sign for that word.  Deaf children learn to spell (or often when learning, approximate the shapes of the letters) these words and often describe the word using classifiers (handshapes that represent the shape or movement of the object)

American Sign Language Alphabet Classroom Decor

American Sign Language Alphabet Classroom Decor
These cards are LARGE, 3 on an 8.5x11 page.  I prefer them to be large so they can be easily seen in  the classroom, however, if you do not have that kind of space, or you would like them smaller to be used in interactive vocabulary journals, you could print them 2-4 to a page and thus use the smaller versions. 

Finally, this set includes 4x4 letter cards to be used as headers on your word wall 
(or any other way you see fit). 
American Sign Language Alphabet Classroom Decor

I am loving the bright fun colors in this set and I can't wait to put them up in my classroom. 
If you'd like to check out the coordinating MY SUPERHERO ASL CALENDAR you can do that by clicking the link above.

Coming soon are the SUPERHERO collection is 

As always, thank you for Signing Up With Mrs. Burgen!

Thanks for hosting this linky!

Dare to Dream

TPT  Seller Challenge  Week 2:  Dare to Dream 

Share quality resources with other SPED teachers

We all have dreams.  Why did I become a TPT seller and blogger in the first place?  I teach Deaf and Hard of Hearing students.  Some of the students I encounter  are typically developing and have no difficulty learning. Most of the time this is not the case.  The majority of the students I teach have special needs, language delays, learning disabilities, autism, low executive functions the list goes on... I work in a school where EVERY student is on an IEP.   For this reason, I am CONSTANTLY creating resources to meet their individual needs.  I KNOW that many, many other special education teachers are doing the same thing.

When I discovered TPT about 4 years ago, I was THRILLED with the products I found that I could use in my classroom.  However, very few products were able to meet the specific needs of my signing deaf students.  Thus, my TPT store was born! Mrs. Burgen's Sign Me Up
American Sign Language Numbers Classroom Decor

Save Money for Retirement

I'm not sure what happens to someone in their 40's but the realization that "Life is Short" comes popping up to the surface!  There are SO many things I want to pack into this short lil life!  Travel, have the house I've always wanted in THAT location, go places, do things.... etc. etc.  Most importantly, I want to have the health and time and money to do these things.  I would like to retire, sooner in my life rather than later.  My dream retirement location definitely includes sun, a beach and a maid.  (think all inclusive resort) LOL. I am happy that TPT  is helping me everyday to get a little closer to living my dreams. 

Our Health

At the age of 22, my husband was in a catastrophic motorcycle accident.  He spent months in the hospital and years learning how to walk again. His left leg had most of the damage and while the doctors and therapists did a great job making it functional again, the years have taken their toll.  The time for a knee replacement is here.  This means taking 6-8 weeks off work, not to mention paying for the surgery and the therapy... YIKES!   
Troy need this to happen soon and so it definitely takes financial priority. I don't"need" lasik surgery,  but it sure would be nice!  

We all need a little "extra" in our lives.  Extra money for whatever it is we need or want it for.  Money can't buy happiness, but a little peace of mind never hurt anyone :)

Dare to Dream.
What's your Dream?

Check out all the Dare to Dream posts at 

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