“The Treasure of Lemon Brown” & My Deaf Students

Photo by Gil Epshtein
Photo by Gil Epshtein

With all the advances in the quality of hearing aids and the popularity of cochlear implants, I don’t teach very many students nowadays who can’t hear anything at all. While they might not be able to understand speech, most students react to sounds, though they can’t always identify them. “It’s a truck backing up” I’ll explain, or point out the crow on the branch of the tree outside the classroom window.

We are in the midst of studying the story “The Treasure of Lemon Brown” by Walter D. Myers, as part of our national curriculum program. It turns out that this story is highlighting those students who have a serious hearing loss. I did teach it last year but only to a few hard of hearing students. This year we have a more diverse group in terms of hearing loss.

The main part of the story takes place in a dark abandoned house, during stormy weather and there are quite a few references to sounds. Two of my students thought lightning was simply called “thunder and lightning” and did not know that thunder makes a sound (other students did know this). When clouds hit each other there is lightning! There are scary noises in the dark, in particular, “a scraping sound” which was harder for these students to understand than the crashing sounds.

The main character, a teenager named Greg, tries to “quiet the sound of his breath” when he is crouching, afraid in the dark. That was hard for quite a few kids to understand.

Not one of them was perturbed by the fact that Lemon Brown sang the Blues. Some had encountered the name (” like Jazz”, they said!). Others simply said they had no interest in what type of music Brown sang, knowing he was a singer was enough.

But the hardest phrase was this one:

“His father’s words, like the distant thunder that now echoed through the streets of Harlem, still rumbled softly in his ears”.


16 thoughts on ““The Treasure of Lemon Brown” & My Deaf Students”

  1. Interesting insights that we do not usually think about…but don’t the deaf students feel the reverberation of the thunder? I would think that that would give them SOME concept of the sound…..

    1. Adele,
      Only two students out of those with a serious hearing loss didn’t know about thunder. Those two were adamant that the wind caused anything one might feel.
      I don’t think the topic has ever come up in any of my lessons before.

  2. Wow Naomi, a truly thought-provoking post. Thank you so much for sharing this, as I learn and keep on learning what work you are doing with these students. I am constantly reminded it is not only the linguistic part of it.

    I am still thinking of what was the most difficult part: thunder, rumble…

    1. Glad you found it interesting, Vicky!
      I’ve been working with this population for so long that I’m often not sure if it would interest others.

  3. The power of descriptive writing is that the reader is instantly able to understand the concept/experience. However in this case your students had no experience of thunder being noisy or scary. The same is true of anything that is out of our experience or understanding. When teaching language we so often have to explain things that may be ‘obvious’ to native speakers. yet this post reminds us to never make assumptions about our students’ understanding or even interest, as illustrated by the child who was happy enough to know that the blues is music.

    1. Oh, Jane, I see that everyday in the classroom.
      In the story “Mr.Know All”, there are so many concepts and references (not related to sound) that I must explain! One looks at a story differently after teaching it!

  4. Interesting indeed teaching this story to hearing impaired. Even the name works on the power of sound ‘Lemon Brown’…such a melodic title.
    How many new ‘windows’ of experience may have been offered to your students by the questions they raised?

    Keep us posted!
    maybe introduce more such items (like short poems with hard rhymes?)


    1. Judih,
      That’s why my job is so interesting! Rhyming is hard work though. I teach it for the Road Not Taken where they rhymes are pretty clear and leave it at that.
      The problem with all the lit pieces of course is that sound is the least of the things they don’t know, there are so many “contact points” that the author assumed readers would have and they don’t. Mr Know All is the worst in that sense.

  5. Hello! Fantastic post. This is something I am constantly trying to explain to hearing mainstream teachers. I am a MA student in Online Education and as part of my course I created a resource that aimed to explain Onomatopoeia to deaf and hearing students using facial expressions, handshapes, gestures and sound. You might like to download it from the iBook store, it is called The Gog. It uses BSL however I would think it is still very relevant to ASL. I would love to receive your thoughts on this resource and whether you found this useful! I have linked to this article on my blog and Twitter account.

  6. Pardon, I assumed you were based in America whereas you are based in Israel. My resource still very relevant I hope! Let me know what you think if you are able to get hold of a iPad.

  7. Another difficulty I found with this particular story is that Lemon Brown’s voice sounds like crackling twigs. My hard of hearing students had no idea that twigs crackle.

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