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  • Destiny Yarbro

Language Learning: Cognitive Domain or Psychomotor Domain?

My secular teaching experience is mainly in teaching world sign languages. While language learning is often considered a mainly cognitive task, in many ways the psychomotor domain is a better fit for teaching visual / kinesthetic languages such as American Sign Language (ASL).

An element of sign languages that are often difficult for hearing students to acquire are the appropriate facial expressions. (For example, the gestures for “Are you sure?” and the word “truth” are the same, but the facial expressions are completely different.)

I will explore this lesson plan (the instruction of facial expressions) through both low level or perception / imitation and high level or origination / naturalization of the psychomotor domain (Kasilingam & Ramalingam & Chinnavan, 2014, Table 3; Seifert & Sutton, 2009, p. 222).

Low Level: Perception / Imitation

When asking questions in ASL, I have the students focus on my eyebrows and imitate their movement. Then I teach them that “Yes/No” questions require them to raise their eyebrows while “Who/What/Where/When/Why/How” questions require them to lower their eyebrows. Learning this rule and practicing the small and simple movement of the eyebrows help them differentiate between the two types of facial expressions used for questions.

High Level: Origination / Naturalization

As a class, we identify a few favorite scenes from TV shows. Sitcom TV show characters often have a large number of questions compared to movies so the students will raise and lower their eyebrows throughout the scene to match the questions. The scripts’ quick banter, with rapid questions and answers, provide students with ample experience to practice the appropriate facial expressions in a humorous way.

Note: I have not done the high level activity I described above in class yet. It has always been a challenge to help students practice question eyebrows as it is the rapid reciprocity that provides the greatest challenge. (And speed is a hard-to-find commodity in a class of beginning language learners.) I am excited to get back to teaching so I can try it out!


Kasilingam, G., Ramalingam, M., & Chinnavan, E. (2014). Assessment of learning domains to improve student’s learning in higher education. Journal of Young Pharmacists, 6(1), 27-33.


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