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Using High School Students to Teach Biology to Deaf Elementary Students

April Sims

Type of Entry:

  • project

Type of Activity:

  • community outreach
  • off-site activity

Target Audience:

  • Biology (most applicable)
  • Life Science
  • Integrated Science (3 and 4)
  • Advanced / AP Biology
  • Other special needs (deaf students)

Notes to Teacher:

This program works best with the widest difference in ages, High School- Elementary School. You can use any type of elementary class whether they have special needs or not. The hardest part is convincing the elementary teacher to give up some class time for this project. Notice that these lessons are really activity-based. Students learn best this way and elementary schools have small science budgets and no equipment to perform these lessons.

Please try this project at least a few times before giving up. It will be time-consuming and hard to schedule but the rewards will be more than you can imagine. Deaf students are an excellent choice because they maybe isolated from the world and in need of interaction. The first time we came I was very disappointed but the deaf-ed teacher told me how much the children enjoyed it. How could I tell, no one would even come near the animals that we brought!! The next time was much better but they still wouldn't talk to us directly. Now with the program in it's second year the students are striking up conversations without being asked and showing surrounding classrooms the things that we have brought. This program was also done in regular classrooms. The fourth grade teacher said that when the students wrote essays about the high school students coming they received the highest scores ever! Also don't think that just your best students will benefit from this activity. All high school students realize they are science experts when compared to elementary students. The younger students will recognize them out in public and may even ask the sports players for autographs. I require my students to work on this project outside class time. They have learned sign language to the extent that they can converse on a short-time basis with a deaf student. There is a sign language quiz each class period to reinforce their learning. The students decide which lesson is to be taught each month. I usually outline several activities that they select from. They prepare the materials ahead of time and teach each other the lesson as practice. They realize that they are responsible for the younger students learning the material and take it seriously. We usually spend 1 to 1 1/2 hours each month of class time to discuss, ready the materials and practice for the lesson. Another hour is spent traveling to the elementary school and teaching the lesson.


Using high school students to teach Biology concepts to elementary students, in particular deaf students. This is accomplished by traveling once a month (we go to them but you could have the younger students travel to see you) to the elementary classroom with activities / lessons that have been selected and prepared by the older students. The high school students have run through the lesson teaching each other finding flaws and correcting misconceptions / inaccuracies. Evaluation is by a pre-post attitude inventory and having the elementary teachers reinforce positive behaviors.


Reinforcing major Biology / Science concepts by reteaching them to a younger, deaf audience. Observing the younger students' enthusiasm for the subject matter.


Hearing and Deafness- The first lesson is for the high school students.

They will experience what it is like to be deaf by filling their ears with cotton and trying to understand what the teacher is saying. She will turn her back to them and will speak only with consonants (some deaf people have some residual hearing but often cannot hear vowels). They will also experience wearing a hearing aid. It amplifies everything! Ouch! This activity allows the older students to empathize with deafness.

Animals- we bring an iguana, rats, gerbils, snakes, Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, frogs and toads. These are all animals from our animal collection which are used to being handled. This lesson continues with the differences between the species and warm-blooded vs. cold-blooded animals.

Fossil imprints- pouring plaster of paris into molds. Bring a box of clean sand and bury fossils and shells in it for the kids to screen out. They were fairly good at distinguishing the fossils from the shells. The importance of this lesson is to learn exactly what a fossil is and how it is formed. The older students also had fun building a cardboard box diorama of ocean-inhabiting dinosaurs. A black light was mounted on the top of the box to make and made the diorama appear to be under water.

Acids and Bases- using pH paper to test common foods: 7up, lemon juice, tomato juice, ginger ale, etc. They also determine the differences by tasting. Sour is acid and bitter is base.

Weather- making wind speed indicators (pinwheels), solar cooking, sun printing (this uses a special paper available from a biological supply company).

Microscopes- Showing them various live creatures under the microscope. Creatures include planarian, vinegar eels, pond organisms etc. Studying the differences in locomotion and why Protists are in a group by themselves.

Photosynthesis and Respiration- Counting oxygen bubbles coming off Anacharis (common aquarium plant) in a beaker of dechlorinated water sitting 6 inches away from a 60 watt light bulb versus Anacharis in an identical beaker without the benefit of light. We also showed them that when you breathe through a straw into Lime Water Solution (available from biological supply) the solution will turn cloudy.

Anatomy- Bring several skeletons of various animals, any human models (we usually cover up with clothing any anatomy deemed too sensitive for the young ones.) Play Anatomy bingo by having them cover up the word that corresponded to the part of the body. The older students really had to help on the bingo. Insects- This lesson required the most preparation time because several live organisms had to be purchased in advance. We brought our preserved insects in bottles along with several Painted Lady Butterfly cocoons, Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches (from Carolina Biological Supply) , Ladybugs and Praying Mantis egg case (purchased from a local nursery). The live insects were left behind so that they may observe them for several days. They were instructed to let them go (not the cockroaches) the next few days if the weather was pleasant. The praying mantis egg case was gently placed in a shrub several yards from the school.

Is it Alive or Dead? Important concept at the elementary level. Consists of several items that could be mistaken as living, such as a lit candle, or the reaction which results form pouring vinegar and baking soda together. After careful observation and discussion there was a vote to what they thought was happening.

Method of Assessment/Evaluation

The teachers at the elementary level would wander around the classroom with a clipboard and write down positive things that happened or were mentioned. This reinforced the older students and kept them on track. Keeping the comments positive kept the atmosphere healthy and warm. The only thing that I would change is having the planning / preparation divided more equally among the older students and the elementary teachers. The older students improved their teaching with on-the-job training. What a way to have a shy student practice his oratory skills without the same critical eye as his peers.

Each student was given the following Attitude Inventory before they began the program (first week of school) and when the program was finished for the year.

  1. I feel comfortable telling someone else about the subject of Biology.

  2. I enjoy learning about the subject of Biology.

  3. I can teach someone a Biology lesson successfully.

  4. I would like to work with children as an occupation.

  5. I like to talk to younger students about what I have learned in Biology class.

  6. If I don't know the answer to a question about Biology, I will look for the answer.

  7. I like to work with a team of students in order to learn Biology lessons.

  8. I would like to work with a team of students to teach Biology lessons / activities.

  9. I would like to be responsible for another student learning more about Biology.

    Further evaluation can include having the local newspaper, TV station and school newspaper come and visit while you teach at the school. Makes for great pictures and copy!!

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