The British Association of Teachers of the Deaf
Promoting Excellence in Deaf Education

A sense of self

This article first appeared in the April 2002 issue of the BATOD Association Magazine


In the course of the last few years, it has become evident that an increasing number of pupils have included in their Statements of Special Educational Need, objectives, which require that the aspect of ‘feelings’ be addressed as part of the pupil’s personal and social development.

Having undertaken an in-depth study of self-concept development with adolescents who have sensory difficulties, I was interested to find ways of specifically addressing this whole area of using the senses to explore feelings as an element of self-concept development.

In 1995-96, I was working alongside our Speech and Language Therapist, Angela Sloan, in our joint communication skills programme with one particular group of five severely deaf boys in Year 9. Each of these boys had a wide range of stated needs but from these it was possible to identify six objectives, which were common to all or several of the boys to:

  • improve self-confidence
  • enhance self-awareness
  • increase self-esteem
  • learn to consider the feelings of self and others
  • develop expressive communication skills
  • develop greater respect for the rights and views of others.

An overview of these needs suggested that it would be appropriate to take a broad view of ‘communication’, not only verbal but also encompassing a range of creative and expressive activities.

The programme

A range of strategies was planned, which it was hoped would motivate these adolescent boys and promote a willingness to explore and share ideas about themselves, about each other and about feelings. The strategies that formed the framework for the programme were as follows:

The vocabulary of ‘feelings’

The boys identified words that described different feelings that they or others might experience and they considered what situations might cause each feeling and how they might react to it. Then the vocabulary was classified according to positive or negative attributes. The emphasis was placed upon those feelings which were positive, for example -calm, quiet, peaceful, cool, gentle, kind, patient. This range was then extended to include words that evoked feelings of calm and relaxation. Samples of these words were drift, flowing, snowflake, soft, floating, breeze. Words from these lists were to become the keys to all our later work.

Trigger words

At the start of each subsequent lesson, the list of positive words relating to feelings was reviewed, usually in a quick brainstorming session, so that the positive feeling vocabulary became established.

Dream Scene

The boys were asked to spend some time thinking about a scene in which they had felt, or thought they might feel, most positive - calm, relaxed, etc. Each boy then described the scene that they had pictured to the rest of the group, including details of what they would see, hear, feel (touch) and smell. Next they drew and painted pictures of their scene and finally, with the help of the Art teacher, produced 3-D models of the same scenes; they called them their ‘dream scenes’.

Dream Scene poem

As a group, the boys created a prose poem about each of their ‘dream scenes’ and this was to be the basis for a later project pursued in English lessons.


The idea that colours can evoke different feelings was explored and after a lot of thought and discussion, colours were classified according to their positive or negative qualities, as perceived and agreed by the group. The boys agreed that blues, greens and mauves were the most calming colours.

Shape and movement

This positive/negative issue was again explored, this time in relation to shapes, with smooth, rounded shapes being more positive and calming than straight-lined or jagged shapes. The boys explored different movements in creating different shapes and soon agreed that flowing and slower movements were more relaxing and calming than quick jerky movements. They then practised using the slow, flowing movements to produce patterns consisting of smooth rounded shapes and coloured these using the ‘calm’ colours and using a range of media, to identify the most relaxing medium or media. This was agreed to be either paint or pastels or smooth paper.

Art Work

After this we used our list of ‘trigger words’ to explore how we could express these using movement and shape. Some interesting creations resulted. These shapes were then coloured using the calm colours.

Use your senses

Having so far concentrated mainly on the visual sense, we decided to explore further the way our other senses could be related to how we feel. We therefore studied how our senses of taste, smell and touch could evoke different feelings. We thought about a wide range of materials in this context, ranging from sweet or sour tastes, pleasant or unpleasant smells and pleasing or irritating textures. Comfortable, sleepy, dreamy, smooth, cool, safe and relax were just some of the positive feeling words that arose.


The idea of using music to explore feelings was made tentatively but in the event proved quite successful. The boys were encouraged to listen to instrumental music of different kinds played through their radio-aids and to describe in simple terms how it made them feel. Each was able to differentiate between music that excited them and music which they found calming and relaxing.

Building on this unexpected success, we decided to allow the boys to experiment with a range of contrasting musical instruments, to create sounds of different kinds. Again we were surprised and pleased by their ability to create sounds of different qualities. A final step was a bit ambitious but we asked them to select one instrument and use it to describe their own ‘Dream Scene’, which they had created in much earlier sessions. Amazing! Tubular bells described a shower of rain and a rainbow on a spring day, a glockenspiel described the sun shining on the sea on a summer day, a xylophone described sitting by a fire stroking a cat on a snowy winter day, wood blocks and a sand block described walking through the leaves in the woods in Autumn.

Prose Poems

In the summer term, the time was devoted to developing expressive skills through creative writing. Again this was done as a group activity, so that the six objectives identified when the programme began could continue to be addressed.


The following year, in Year 10, these same boys extended the programme, embarking on a new venture - the production of a small poetry anthology, called ‘The Dream Machine’. This anthology was a collection of ten poems, written as a group, building on the work of the previous year’s programme. The first poem was entered in a national children’s poetry-writing contest and was one of 500 poems selected from more than 25,000 entries to be published in an anthology named ‘Calypso’. This success did much to improve self-esteem, as did the production of the boys’ own small anthology, copies of which were sold, raising £25 for Great Ormond Street Hospital.


We had explored our senses and our feelings. We had thought about our own feelings and shared the feelings of others. We had shared ideas and learned to come to agreements. We had learned that everyone’s ideas were valid and to be accepted. We had experienced a sense of achievement. The initial programme had taken the three terms, working for approximately one hour per week. Since then, the initial programme, or appropriate elements of it, have been repeated with other groups of pupils - again with a pleasing degree of success. The evidence for this success has been in the improvements in co-operation, self-esteem and expressive skills of pupils, observed by staff involved with the programme but also by other staff who have observed and noted the progress made. I would like to extend my thanks to Mrs Angela Sloan who worked with me on the ‘pilot’ programme and to Rona Whitelaw (Speech and Language Therapist) who worked on it with me on a later occasion. Also of course to the pupils who worked hard on the programmes - without them it wouldn’t have happened!

Alison Print

Teacher of the Deaf, Royal School for Deaf Children, Margate