Every school year, I teach a unit called “Ability Awareness.” Making students aware of each other’s different abilities helps us to be better citizens and leads to a more positive and inclusive school climate. This awareness leads to empathy and a deeper understanding of our peers’ individual learning needs resulting in a sense of belonging, community, and value within our school community. This unit is also an opportunity to address misconceptions around various disabilities. In the words of Winston Churchill, “Diversity is the only thing we all have in common. Celebrate it every day.”
Sight Reading Braille
This year, I want to introduce my students to the basics of the Braille alphabet. First, my student teacher, Tyler Villez, and I provided students with background information on Louis Braille and how he invented a form of written language for people with visual impairments, called Braille. We explained to them that Braille is a written language in which characters are represented by a pattern of raised dots felt with the fingertips. Our students know that Braille, as well as augmented print and audio, are the ways students with visual impairments access subject matter at school.
We first teach our students how to read the Braille alphabet by looking through a fun Braille scavenger hunt game. The “Fitness Braille Alphabet” poster I used in the game can be found here. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Braille-Alphabet-Fitness-9261345. We placed all 26 Braille alphabet posters on a cone and spread them around the gym.
We then gave students index cards with the words, written in Braille. The students had to race around the gym trying to identify each Braille letter in the word, referring to Alphabet Fitness’s Braille poster. Once they find a suitable letter, they will do an exercise on the poster that corresponds to that letter. For example, if they know that the first letter of their word is L then they must do 5 lunges before continuing. When they find all the letters of the word and do all the exercises, they have to race with me and tell me the word that the letters spell (each word is the name of a vegetable). If they are right, they will get another word. The pair with the most complete words “wins” the game but the real win is in students experiencing a different way of reading using Braille. Students learn that having a visual impairment doesn’t mean they can’t read, they just do it differently. Just as the word ‘disabled’ does not mean incapable. My intention for this activity is not to teach the entire braille code but rather to raise awareness at the introductory level.
Write in Braille
Another game we played focused on introducing students to Braille writing. Students use this blank alphabet template, with the Braille Alphabet Fitness card on top, and run around the room trying to find and fill in every cell in the alphabet. Once they find the next letter in the alphabet, they must do the exercise on the poster before moving on to the next letter. It is a great assessment tool and students should take it home with them.
Many students report to me that they use the pre-configured Braille alphabet keys to write letters to their friends. They love using it because their siblings and parents can’t read the letters because they don’t know the Braille alphabet!
Read Braille by Feeling
My favorite game is when my student teacher and I cut egg cartons in half and use them as blank cells to make letters in Braille.
We use ping pong balls as embossed Braille dots. A partner will run to the right side of the gym and create Braille using an egg carton and a ping pong ball. They can choose any letter they want. Their partners would do the same across the gym. After they both finished writing the letter with the ping pong balls, they both had to cover the egg carton with a yoga mat so their partner couldn’t see it. They would then race and switch sides with each other, slip their hands under the yoga mat, and by feeling for a ping pong ball, decipher what letter it was. (Leave the key next to the egg carton for students to use as reference). When they thought they had found which letter, the two of them had to meet in the middle of the gym. Each pair will take turns guessing their letter. If correct, they can do 3 sit-ups to celebrate. If they get it wrong, give your partner a high five and tell them “Nice try!” Then the partner will guess. When finished, they can play again.
We also play the site said relay race. Teams of two people will be given a word of 4-5 letters. The goal is for students to be able to make each letter of the word Braille using an egg carton and a ping pong ball. On ‘go’, they had to slide to the other side of the gym and make the first letter of the word, then slide back. Next, their partner will go down and make 2t letters in the word and scooter back. They will continue this pattern until they have finished all the words. After each team has finished their words, they must perform synchronized team crunches until all other teams have finished making their words. Teams earn one point per synchronized sit-up they perform in each round.
My students really enjoy learning about Braille and playing games that expose it to them. By increasing students’ awareness of different abilities, we provide opportunities for students to learn from one another. They develop understanding, acceptance and empathy and help create a positive and inclusive school environment for all.
This is a great resource to help teach students Braille. https://hadley.edu/workshops/learn-basic-braille-by-sight-reading-series/braille-reading-by-sight-letters-aj