Tips for Promoting Braille in the Classroom
Since children are fascinated with braille, it has become a useful tool in helping sighted students understand and feel more comfortable with their peers who are blind. In order to help you utilize this tool to its fullest advantage, we, at the American Foundation for the Blind, have compiled a wide variety of games, projects, and activities for children of all ages. These suggestions came from a number of sources, including members of the AFB Literacy team and from teachers who contributed ideas to the 1996 Public Education Project (PEP) packet. They are intended to be fun, while giving students the opportunity to explore the wonderful world of braille.
Braille Bulletin Boards. Easy-to-do, yet striking, bulletin-board displays can set the stage in the classroom for an introduction to braille. Apply solid background paper and "write" braille words using 12-inch balloons of a contrasting color for braille dots. Refer to the braille alphabet key at the end for how to form braille letters.
Play "Braille-O Lotto." Duplicate a lotto sheet containing 5 rows of 5 squares for each student. Players print the letters of the alphabet in random order in the empty squares. Round pieces of cereal can be used for markers. This game can be played with varying levels of complexity:
- The teacher writes a braille letter on the chalkboard. Children consult their personal Braille Alphabet Key from A to Z and then place marker on the correct print letter. The first child to have five in a row-down, across, or diagonally calls out "Braille-o" and becomes the next game leader to write braille letters on the board. At the end of the game, the children may eat the markers.
- The teacher calls out the dot numbers that constitute a braille letter. Children scan the braille key, identify the letter, and place a marker on the corresponding print letter. Play continues until winner calls out "Braille-o."
- For variety, play "Braille Bingo." Students print numbers in random order: 1-15 under B, 16-30 under I, 31-45 under N, 46-60 under G, and 61-75 under O. The caller writes braille numbers on the board and players locate the corresponding print number.
Play "Braille Muffin Mania." This game can be played with a six-hole muffin tin or an egg carton cut in half. Round crackers or cereal pieces can be used to represent braille dots. The teacher calls a letter. Children consult the braille key, appropriately place the cereal in the corresponding locations to represent the braille letter, and then immediately raise their hands. The first accurate responder gets to call the next letter.
Getting Personal. Students can "write" their names in braille on items such as plastic cups, binders, diary covers, and so on. Split peas are arranged to form the braille letters of the child's name and glued onto a strip of paper or cardboard. This is then glued in place on the item the child wishes to personalize.
Name Game. Write the name of each child in Grade 1 braille on a strip of heavy paper or cardboard. Randomly distribute the strips, so that each child has the name of another student. Ask the children to find the rightful owner of the name he/she received. Students may then stick their braille names on their desks under the print versions. For a variation, use the names of objects in the classroom. Ask the children to find the item and attach its braille name.
The Riddler. Give each student a simple riddle printed on a slip of paper. Write the answers in Grade 1 braille on strips of heavy paper or cardboard and distribute them randomly so that each child has the answer to someone else's riddle. Then have each student read his/her riddle and ask "Who has my answer?"
Happy Birthday, Louis Braille. Have a celebration in honor of the inventor of braille on January 4. Decorate cookies, cupcakes, or a cake with braille characters made of gum drops, M&Ms, red-hots, chocolate chips, or other candy. Decorate with a braille banner or posters, and/or balloons arranged to form braille letters. And, of course, play braille games.
Poster Contest. Have a school-wide poster contest with the theme of braille and what it means to those who use it. Award prizes for the most creative poster in each designated age group. Display posters throughout the building.
The Braille Trail. Write a simple message in Grade 1 braille and cut between the words. Mount each word on a sheet of colored paper and post them randomly throughout the school (above the water fountain, on the office door etc.). The first student to figure out the message wins. You can do one each week for a month, gradually increasing the complexity of the messages. You may wish to challenge the students even further by using Grade 2 braille for the last week's message.
Environmental Management. Divide class into groups and assign each an environment (the kitchen, a movie theater, an office, etc.). Ask each group to discuss how braille would make their assigned environment accessible to people who use braille. Each group would designate one member to share its findings with the rest of the class.
Subject Matters. Choose a subject the students are studying during the month of January and ask the class to create a game that would help a braille reader learn the information required to pass a test in that subject.
For the Books. Braille a number from 1 to 10 in the top right-hand corner of blank cards. Make a set of ten cards for each child with the numbers in random order. Ask the children to identify each number in his/her set and stamp or draw the corresponding number of items on the cards. When completed, the children may make the cards into a number book by punching holes at the top and bottom of the left side of their set and fastening with colored string or ribbon. Alphabet books can be made in the same way.
Braille on Display. Fill a glass display case with braille-related items such as braille books, a brailler, abacus, clothing tags, ruler, compass and protractor, maps, Braille 'n Speak(r), slate and stylus, and so on. You may also wish to place a hands-on display in the media center, where students can try out reading and writing braille.
Reaching Out. Make presentations about braille and blindness to groups of students who have other disabilities and/or children who are being home schooled. If possible, invite them to visit and interact with blind students at your school.
Play "Spot the Dots." Explain the six dot configuration of a braille cell. Have players speculate how many different combinations/patterns can be made using the six-dot format. Then sensitize children and adults to the complexity of the tactile system by having them play "Spot the Dots." Issue each player a blank piece of paper and a pencil. Players are to diagram as many of the possible combinations of 1-6 dots in varying locations they can figure out. To do so, player draws a small rectangle and then draws one combination of dot configurations. Play continues until time is called. Cross out both rectangles of duplicate dot patterns; they do not count. Maximum score is 63.
Show and Tell. Invite braille readers (children and adults) to contact local elementary principals asking if they can make five minute whistle stop presentations about the method they use to write braille. Observers enjoy seeing their own name produced in braille, which they can take home to share with their family. Other ideas for classroom presentations include: games in braille, print/braille books, abacus skills, and technology used by persons with visual impairments. Encourage students also to contact their scout leader, and others, to make similar presentations in the groups to which they belong.
Pen Pals or Braille/Print Letter Exchange. Contact the state residential school for the blind or perhaps a city school district that has a self-contained classroom of visually impaired students. Arrange a one-time exchange of letters to children of the same age. Suggested letter topics could be related to literacy sharing: students teamed to read, favorite books, and so on.
Secret Code Delivery. Itinerant teachers of children who are visually impaired might enjoy sharing a braille alphabet card with classrooms in the buildings they serve. Each weekday the teacher and/or braille student could write and deliver a secret sentence written in Grade 1 braille. Secret messages could be passed from person to person with each student transcribing the sentence into print. The message on day five could be written in Grade 2 braille with the challenge to guess what it says and why it was more difficult to unscramble. Messages could include statements such as, "However you do it, reading is fun!"
Now That's Worth Taking a Look At. Older students will enjoy studying about Louis Braille, alternate tactile codes (i.e., Moon writing, Fishburne), and technology used by people who are blind or visually impaired. Working together in groups of three or four, they can investigate a topic in the library and then prepare five-minute reports to present to the class.
Survey the Community. Groups such as scout troops may enjoy surveying their small town or the local mall to see: how many restaurants provide braille menus, how many stores carry braille price lists, or how many hotels provide emergency directions and telephone numbers written in braille. A real service to the business would be to provide the name and address of a local agency of the blind which could direct them to a source that can produce braille and make their business more accessible.
Develop a Braille Access Package. Divide the class into teams of 4 children. Give each team two sheets of paper, one labeled "Need" and the other "Want." Tell the children to make believe that Planet Earth has developed an allergy to any source of light and will no longer tolerate its existence. Braille will be the only source of written communication. Groups have 10 minutes to brainstorm all the kinds of things they would "need" to have in braille and all the kinds of things they would "want" to read or write. When time is up, teams are called in rotation to come to the chalkboard to write an idea in each category and explain why it made their list. Teams score one point for each idea only their team had and three points for ideas that appeared on other teams' lists. High score wins, just like all people who are blind do when they have access to the things they need and want in braille--braille access.
Braille Hall of Fame. On Monday of any given week, challenge students to learn the braille alphabet by Friday. Quiz students daily either with a recognition quiz or by writing out dot patterns, correctly positioned in 26 rectangles. As a student achieves 100% accuracy, award a "Braille Super Star" certificate and post it on the bulletin board to take home on Friday.
Contest: Write Right! Using a pushpin and a piece of paper taped to a corrugated cardboard pad, how long does it take to figure out and correctly produce the braille alphabet with the bumps up? (Hint: write from right to left with dot number 1 in the top right corner because you are actually writing from the back side of the paper as is done with a braille slate and stylus!)
And in the Community: Storyteller Hour at the Local Library. Invite your local library to host a story hour narrated by a proficient braille reader. You can assist by providing enjoyable braille and print/braille books and by arranging the reader. Encourage the library to publicize the event in regular bulletins, the local newspaper calendar, and on the radio. Send each participant home with a braille alphabet book mark. A photo of the event would be great follow-up in the next edition of the local paper.
Radio Broadcasting Braille Literacy. Contact the local radio station to investigate the feasibility of a student presentation either by phone or at the studio about use of braille. Possible forums include educational news programming, local talk shows, or call-in programs.
Contest: "I Spy." Contestants can be individuals, teams, or classrooms. The object is to discover as many existing uses of braille as possible in the community. Contest begins on the first Monday of any given month. Students receive an "I Spy Braille" scorecard with entry spaces for date, place, adult signature, and message communicated (e.g., elevators in specific buildings, floor number, ATM at a specific bank, access code/amount of money, lid of a McDonald soft drink - diet or regular). Cumulative running team scores are announced weekly, with the winner proclaimed on the last Friday of the month.
For AFB Press titles of related interest, see the AFB Bookstore.