Signing tips for assignments and presentations

Oh no! One of my level-200 ASL students seriously considered dropping the ASL course on the first day of class when she learned that everyone was assigned to give a short presentation at the near end of the semester. It wasn't due until three months later, one could already feel the sweat dripping down one's back and the heart was racing.

Well, at the end of the semester, the student confessed that she was glad that she decided to take courage and overcome fear. Giving a presentation in front of a class or a camera can be terrifying. Here are some tips and ideas that may be helpful on how to improve your signing (expressive) skill for your video assignments or in-class presentation.

Your ASL instructor may have some different expectations from this. So get to know your ASL instructor and follow her/his guidelines! This post is intended to be an entertainment value.

Preperation and practice

Asking my students in beginner-level ASL, (translated as) "How many times have you repeated signing an assignment in front of your camera?", I could tell who is lying from honest/diligent ones. The honest ones would reply, "Many, many times!" "About 10-20 times!" Poor souls, I commented. We all laughed.

Self-corrections for errors

In reality, practice many times. Explaining to my students, after you practice many times and when you're ready to record a video, it's perfectly okay to self-correct a small mistake in your video. Just correct it and move on. It won't affect your mark. E.g. mispronouncement. But, if you make a big mistake like a sentence or paragraph structure, start over.

When making an error in signing production, you self-correct way too far...

self-correcting in sign language

Exaggerating self-corrections or making big self-corrections take relatively too much of the instructor's time. Don't sign "sorry" and/or "again".

Simply briskly "wave-no" or quickly "shake-head" and re-do the previous sign and move on. A few self-corrections (single words) in the video would be fine. If too many or when it becomes messy, re-do the video.


Practice and preparation improves your degree of fluency for your level and earns you a nice point. It also saves (Deaf) instructor's time and helps maintain the instructor's attention, especially when they watch tens and tens of videos of slow signers that take all day or two of marking.

A degree of fluency doesn't mean fast signing. Signing fluently and signing fast (with the intention to make one looks impressive) are not synonymous. Signing fast as in hurry can become sloppy, blurry, or unnatural. It lacks intonation and sometimes clarity.

Your facial expression may or may not look like this.

lack of facial expression

In this video, the Frozen character does a better job. Don't freeze your lips which in turn freeze the whole face. Break ice and relax in front of your camera (easy to say, ha). Intonation or prosody can add a very nice natural look to your signing.

Avoid your hands down every sentence (or worse, mid-sentence). Use natural pauses between paragraphs, not sentences. Though infrequently happening, mid-sentences are a big no-no as they break grammatical flow and coherence of information. Okay, now. How does. It looks. Or sounds to you? Got it?

If you happen to pause because you're thinking, hold your hands as in "umm" instead of putting your hands down.

Maintaining eye contact

Likewise for eye contact, avoid regularly looking at your notes as it breaks the flow. Or even the whole presentation if you're reading your notes. Glance only when you don't remember what to do next or check for something (a spelling or word). But, don't read aloud in signing because you need to maintain eye contact with your audience through the lens or in class to engage them. Rely on your heart, not notes.

Linguistic competency

Use proper grammar what you have learned, such as contrastive structure, listing/ranking, OSV, SVO, conjunctions, interjections, classifiers, verb inflections, and so on. Proper non-manual grammar can make a difference in your mark.

Use pronouns instead of repeating the nouns. Use spatial references and ranking/listing and such when needed.

Use vocabulary what you've learned -- a few ones that most students in your class most likely underused.


Avoid bouncing the alphabetical letters when fingerspelling.

Like fluency, fingerspelling fast is not the same as fingerspelling fluently. Clarity over speed. Fingerspell in a natural flow.

Overcoming camera jitters

Students may typically feel jitters during a test, not to mention that having a camera in front of the student adds more jitters during an ASL expressive assessment. If you find yourself intimidated by the one-eyed magnified lens scrutinizing you, consider a few exercises to overcome fear.

For your video assignment done from home, set up a camcorder in front of you. Get used to it staring at you while you're working on your video assignment, practicing your signing skills, or whatever you do. Turn the video camera on while you practice signing. Then watch one or few of your videos. Delete the video files if you wish. Keep the best one.

Go with the natural flow; don't race with time. Follow your natural rhythm (pace) when signing. Do your best but don't be a perfectionist, which possibly create more mistakes and tension. It is okay to make mistakes and self-correct them immediately during your practice in front of the camera.

Still feeling anxious in front of your video assignment? Discreetly bring your little furry stuffed animal and put it on the top or on the side of the camera. Nobody is looking! Have humor. But one thing, avoid rhythmically signing to the music.

Have fun!

Rather than doing the right things the first time, try to stretch your limit. Test, experiment, and play during your practices before you decide on the final piece.

Posted 2014. Updated 2021.

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Some tutorial pages are a mix of free and premium versions. Access to premium content and links below are available in the PatronPlus subscription. More links/posts will be added from time to time.

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