- Review the five senses with a focus on hearing
- Learn about the human body, specifically the ear and the hearing process
- Learn elements of American Sign Language
- Discuss methods of communication in the novel
- Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
- Paper plate
- Print or online research materials for student use
- Computers for student use or computer and projector for class instruction
- Websites about ASL, such as Signing Savvy, ASL Pro, Handspeak, and the National Institute of Health
- Learn to Fingerspell activity
- Optional: Visual aids depicting the hearing system and causes of deafness
Part I: Causes of Deafness
Step 1: Discuss how Rose and Ben, the two main characters in Wonderstruck, are both deaf: Rose was born deaf and Ben becomes deaf after an accident. How does being deaf change the way the characters interact with each other and the world?
Step 2: Talk about the scientific causes of deafness, conductive and neural hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss happens when something is blocking the sound vibrations coming in the ear, such as fluid or calcium deposits. Neural hearing loss happens when the auditory nerve in your inner ear fails to deliver information to the brain.
Step 3: Demonstrate the hearing process by snapping your fingers into a microphone. Talk about how snapping causes vibrations in the air that register on the microphone, which here represents your auditory nerve.
Step 4: Illustrate conductive hearing loss by holding a paper plate between your fingers and the microphone and speaking into the microphone. How does the sound registered by the microphone change?
Step 5: Demonstrate neural hearing loss by turning off the microphone completely. Does the snapping register at all?
Step 6: Explain that oftentimes people experience a mixture of conductive and neural hearing loss. Encourage students to research the different types of hearing loss experienced by people who are born deaf, such as Rose, and those who become deaf later in life, such as Ben.
Optional: Have students explore how the other senses, such as sight, smell, and taste, develop in the absence of hearing.
Part II: Learning to Sign
Step 1: After reading Wonderstruck with your students, ask them: How is the deafness of the two major characters important to Wonderstruck, a story told in words and pictures? How do Ben and Rose communicate?
Step 2: Share with your students some information about American Sign Language. ASL is a complete and complex language with a rich history. It uses signs made by moving one's hands along with facial expressions to communicate.
Step 3: Encourage students to learn the sign language alphabet. Teach students the signs for basic words such as hello, goodbye, boy, girl, etc. Students can spell their names and other words with the Learn to Fingerspell online activity. The Signing Savvy website provides a video ASL dictionary.
Step 4: Challenge your students to choose a sentence from Wonderstruck they find particularly meaningful and translate it into sign language.
If you know someone who is fluent in ASL, invite him or her to your classroom to give a demonstration.