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Deaf Culture in Sweet Nothing in My Ear

Sweet Nothing in My Ear
Sweet Nothing in My Ear

America is a combination of numerous cultures commonly referred to as “the melting pot.” Every culture brings its own unique traditions, rituals, and even communication styles. While many cultures are defined by their geographical origin, there are those that are created by people who share similar physical likenesses. One such culture that is quite common is the Deaf community. Most people do not think of the Deaf as being a part of their own culture, but they have their own form of communication (American Sign Language), their own common strengths and struggles as a group, even their own way of performing different arts. Many people draw conclusions about the Deaf community without ever really learning about it, and often this results in judgments and, frankly, a lot of insensitivity to this highly unique culture.

My hope is that through this three-week unit plan students will begin to understand more of the Deaf culture, how to interact with the Deaf culture, and start to actively engage with those who have different abilities and skills than they do.

The primary text that we will be focusing on over the next three weeks is the play Sweet Nothing in My Ear by Stephen Sachs. The play tells the story of a young boy who has a Deaf mother and a hearing father. The play looks at the struggle in the family when the boy who was born hearing loses it, but is a candidate for a cochlear implant, a highly debated operation in the Deaf community.

Other than reading the play, we will have the opportunity to watch clips from the film adaptation of the play, read excerpts from various books about Deaf culture, do individual research on what makes the Deaf community unique, as well as get the opportunity to interact with members of the Deaf community.

Learning Tactics

Since the genre of the primary text is a play, majority of the reading in this unit will happen in class. The idea is to read together out loud, while ‘performing’ each scene in order to help better understand the content as well as the emotions that are tied into the material. This will not only help students with content, but also expose them to varying learning techniques helpful when analyzing the genre of Drama.

Students will have the opportunity to write daily in a journal about their thoughts and feelings while reading the text together. They will also have the opportunity to do research on the Deaf community and compile a brief report of their research. The goal is to help student become aware of misconceptions they have of people who have differing abilities to them.

Students will also have the opportunity to interact with other students and/or people from the community who associate themselves with the Deaf community. This interaction is designed to help students understand how Deaf people perceive their roles and engagement in society.


  • Days 1-3: What is Deaf Culture?
    • In the first few days, students will be exposed to Deaf culture. Through video clips, a guest speaker, and short excerpts of text, students will have the opportunity to learn a little about Deaf culture, as well as express their own views of what it may be like to have different abilities than most of the people around them.
  • Days 4-7: Sweet Nothing in My Ear
    • In the next segment of the unit, we will be studying the text of Sweet Nothing in My Ear together in class. We will be reflecting individually through journals, as well as in small and large group discussions about the text we are reading, as well as exploring the specific cultural issues that the play presents about the Deaf culture.
  • Days 8-12: Research
    • In this segment of the unit, students will get to do research on one area of Deaf culture, ranging in topics. Some topics that will/may be addressed: inter-cultural communication, Deaf education, and Deaf-specific technology. This research will culminate in a 2-3 page report on student’s findings.
  • Day 13: Cultural Interaction
    • In this segment, students will get to have a hands-on experience of interacting with members of the Deaf community. They will get to play games, talk with them, ask questions, etc. The idea of this lesson is to expose students directly to the Deaf community, as well as show them ways that they can bridge gaps in communication or other cultural gaps.
  • Day 14-15: Reflection
    • In the last two class periods of the unit, students will reflect individually and as a class on everything they have learned, as well as on how they can take this knowledge and share it with other members of the community.

Assessment of Knowledge

Student progress will be assessed through the following means:
  • 10 Journal Entries
  • Participation/Demonstration of Knowledge through Class Discussions
  • 2-3 Page Research Report
  • Participation and Reflection of Cultural Interaction with the Deaf Community

Standards That Will Be Addressed

    Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
    Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
    Analyze a particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature from outside the United States, drawing on a wide reading of world literature.
    By the end of grade 9, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 9-10 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
    Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience's knowledge level and concerns.
    Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
    Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
    Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
    Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.