Measured success in ASL cooking class

Tsp vs. Tbsp. If a teaspoon of baking powder is mistaken for a tablespoon, it’s a recipe for disaster. Just as misreading a recipe in English can cause this error, so can incorrect signing of the units in American Sign Language (ASL).


Iowa School for the Deaf students taking the fall class ASL Classifiers in Cooking practiced their receptive and expressive American Sign Language in a practical life skills setting. The student chefs worked in the high school kitchen and not only mastered fingerspelling the difference between teaspoon and tablespoon, but grasped  other critical concepts to successfully following recipes.


Miranda Kuehne, ASL teacher at ISD, used recipes that would appeal to the high schoolers, and could be prepared during the 50-minute class. She first translated recipes from English to ASL in a video format and had students watch the video before food preparation. When students had food prep or cooking questions, they could review the video or ask Kuehne directly. Students practiced using ASL expression during these questions- moving eyebrows, mouth or shoulders.


Classifiers use handshapes to indicate size, shape or use. To indicate a square pan is needed, first “pan” would be fingerspelled, then a classifier would be used to describe the size or shape of the pan. In this situation, the classifier would be signed with both index fingers extended (think pointer fingers toward the ground) and the outline of a square would be made with the index fingers. Not all words have signs, which is why “pan” was fingerspelled in this example.


A variety of foods were prepared in class, ranging from vegetable trays to parfaits. In December the class made a gingerbread house and created a humorous video to document their adventures in class.