Handshape Storytelling and Poetry: resources

Handshape-based storytelling or poetry is one of the forms of art and literature in sign language. ASL storytellers tell a story using handshapes in a particular sequence and a rhyme. ABC Stories and Number Stories in ASL are two common examples. Storytellers and poets may experiment with various sequences and rhymes, like a combination of alphabet and number sequences or a different sequential order and handshape rhyme.

Handshape Rhyme in ASL

A storyteller or poet can create various handshape-based rhymes. "Alliteration" is one of the forms, in which the signer uses the same handshape of ASL words throughout the story or poem. For example, "farm", "landscape", "trees" and so on, in which all of these ASL words use the same "5" handshape. "Alternative alliteration" is another example in which a poet choose two handshapes and alternate them word by word in ASL. For example, alternative 2-handshape and 5-handshape in a ASL short story.

Alphabet Stories in ASL

ABC stories in ASL are one of examples of how a storyteller tells a story using each handshape of the manual alphabet. For example, "A" for knocking on the door (which is very common), "B" for opening the door, "C" for shaking hands and so on. Along with these handshape-based ASL words, facial expression and other non-manual markers are accompanied. The storyteller may use a various sequences, such as from A to Z or from Z to A. From A,A to Z,Z is a more challenging entertainment.

Number Stories in ASL

A storyteller or poet tells a story or poem using a handshape-based sequence and a rhyme in numbers. For examples, handshapes from 1 to 10 or higher, from 1 to 5 and backward to 1 again, or other different sequences.


Smith, Adonia K., Jacobowitz, E. Lynn. (2005) Have You Ever Seen...? An American Sign Language Handshape. This book includes a DVD.