Jump to main content

General Interpreting Skill Development:

Improving Spatial Structuring - Verbs

This guide enhances general interpreting skills by exploring spatial mapping of verbs and providing activities to improve verb agreement and distribution. Resources that include ASL and English narratives are provided below.

Learners can practice tracking verbs in ASL messages by creating spatial maps.

The strategy of spatial mapping involves the following steps:

  • Select an ASL text and watch it for comprehension.
  • On a sheet of paper, draw a stick-figure of the signer from the waist up [torso], inclusive of torso, shoulders, arms, neck and head. 

  • Watch the ASL text again, and map onto the stick-figure, the zones / areas around the body where people, locations, events and things are placed and talked about. 

    You can represent the zone / area with an oval shape circle. These typically will be located directly in front of the signer, or slightly away from the signer’s center, to the left side or right side of the signer, etc.

  • In one or two words, place a label in the zone that identifies what that space represents - for example, work location, home, school, reunion, meeting, etc.
  • Next, map the verbs that move from the signer to each zone, or from each zone back to the signer, or from one zone to another.  

    You can do this using lines with arrows. The line will be drawn from the location where the directional verb begins and the arrow head will point to the location where the directional verb moves to. For example, if the signer talks about going to some event established in one of the zones, then the line would start on the signer’s torso and move to the zone and the arrow head would be placed within the zone. Or, if someone moves from the zone on the signer’s left to a zone on the signer’s right, start the line in the left-side zone, extend it to the right-side zone and place an arrow head at the end.

Here is an image of what the end result might look like. This graphic only shows the verbs going in one direction - from the signer to the zone. However, in many texts, the verbs will also move from the zone to the signer.

Spatial map of a signer

Exercise A

Try mapping an ASL text and apply this process. View the following ASL video (2:10 minutes in length). In the video, the signer - Tom Riggs - is discussing a relocation from one state to another due to a job. Don’t be overly concerned about the specific details - such as the universities he names or the states involved.  Instead, focus on how he organizes information in space, and specifically the verbs he uses. Chart the main spaces and the direction of verbs to and from those spaces. 

TR Work Relocation
posted by Anna Witter-Merithew

~2 minutes in length

When you are finished, you should have a mapping that looks something like this.

Spatial map of TR Work Relocation video

 What verbs did you identify? How do your findings fit with the list that follows?

Examples of Verb Agreement

  • He sent his application and vitae to Arizona State University (ASU)
  • ASU summoned-to-him for an interview
  • He went-to ASU for the interview
  • He returned-to Colorado and waited to hear from ASU
  • ASU offered-to-him the job
  • They negotiated the salary
  • He moved-to Arizona
  • He returned-to Colorado in the summer

Examples of Spatial Verbs

  • He taught-there at University of Colorado
  • He had to wait for the class to make before being offered a contract
  • He interviewed at ASU
  • He worked in the ASL Dept. at ASU
  • He taught and developed curriculum there
  • He associated with peers in the Department
  • He associated within the Deaf Community in the area
  • He preferred the weather in Colorado
  • He stayed in Arizona during the 9-month academic year
  • He went-to/came-to Colorado for 3-months in the summer
  • During the summer, he worked-there FRCC, University of Northern Colorado, and FRCC-EICP
  • He enjoys Colorado

View the text as often as you would like until you feel confident that you are able to see each of the specific zones / areas and what is referenced in each, the verbs that show action from him as the narrator to that zone / area and from that zone / area to him, as well as the spatial verbs.

Then, generate an interpretation of the text. Practice it a few times until you are satisfied you have a solid representation of the information. Then, conduct a self-assessment of your performance. Were you successful in accurately interpreting the verbs and maintaining the appropriate agreement? Where could you make improvements? Seek feedback from a mentor and/or peer as well. Use this feedback, along with your own assessment, to re-do the interpretation.

Repeating this process with a variety of texts will heighten your awareness of verb forms and verb agreement in ASL. This can strengthen your ASL to English interpretations. 

Exercise B

Apply the steps outlined in Exercise A to a new ASL text. 

Sign with Robert - New Used Car Story
posted by Hilari Scarl

~3 minutes in length

Step 1. Watch the ASL text.

Step 2. List the main ideas of the text.  

Step 3. Map the spatial structuring that occurs in the text.  

What zones / areas are used around the signer’s body? What information is established in the zones / areas? What directional and spatial verbs are used? How do they relate from the signer to the zone / area or from the zone / area to the signer? 

Review the completed map to identify the inter-relatedness of ideas and how the overall message fits together.

Step 4. Record yourself interpreting the text, applying cross-linguistic features to convey the verb forms in spoken English. 

Review your performance against the spatial map and assess your effectiveness in conveying all the intended connections. Are there areas where you could improve your performance as it relates to verb forms as part of spatial structuring? If so, where and why?  

Step 5. Seek feedback from a peer and/or mentor. Incorporate this feedback, along with your own observations from the self-assessment, and re-do your interpretation.

Step 6. Apply steps 1-5 to a range of ASL texts involving different speakers and a variety of topics.


NOTE: These resources were last updated March 2021.

  • ASL Texts

    My Thoughts of Deaf Bilingual Coalition
    by Jon Lenois Savage

    ~3 minutes in length

    Day of Pink 2013
    by OntarioRAD

    ~3 minutes in length

  • Free Online Materials

    ASL Storytime from the Department of Sign Language and Interpretation at Gallaudet University

    The series included three volumes, each containing stories with a broad variety of ASL features. The series is available on YouTube.

    TerpTalks from the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC)

    The series includes diverse ASL and English texts available for practice interpreting. The series is available on NCIEC's website. There is no charge for accessing these materials, although you may be required to register to access.

  • Purchasable Materials

    The following resources may be available for use from your local interpreter education program or through your public library. If the library does not have them, request that they purchase them for community use.

    Interpreter Practice Materials from Sign Media

    A set of 33 DVDs including 12 simultaneous texts, 12 consecutive texts, 7 one-to-one situations, 2 small groups, 6 ASL texts and 6 English texts.

    This resource is excellent for individual, study group, or classroom skill development exercises. 

A PDF version of this guide is available - General Interpreting Skill Development: Verbs

Grant Recognition

The contents of the Project CLIMB website was developed under a grant (#H160D160001) from the Department of Education. The contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education. Do not assume endorsement by the Federal government.

As of December 31, 2021, this grant project is no longer active or soliciting applications.
This website will remain available as a resource.

NCRTM logo

The National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM) website is a central portal for accessing archived and new rehabilitation training resources offering search capabilities, a quality rating system, as well as enhanced usability and accessibility.