I find Braille so fascinating as a language, as it can be read- in theory- by people in both the sighted and blind communities either visually or through touch.
Used as a hook for a lesson on decoding/encoding- particularly for students in the younger years- Braille can be a brilliant platform to introduce the concept, as well as whet children’s appetites and increase their understanding about the worlds of people who are visually impaired.
As a basic introduction into the concept of Braille as a language, students are presented with a short word or phrase in Braille (visuals only) on the IWB/whiteboard e.g. “Braille is fun!”. Explain to students that Braille is a language- just like English- and we can ‘translate’ or ‘decode’ it to a sentence in English. Additionally, or as an extension, students may be presented with the same phrase in Braille in a physical format- for example using upside down egg cartons stuck onto cardboard. This activity will seek to familiarise students with reading through touch alone- an activity that may take longer depending on student’s age and familiarity with Braille.
Depending on the school’s resources a Braille alphabet chart may be available, or they can be made simply by gluing buttons, beads onto card or wood, or by punching holes into paper using a pin. Children can use these Braille alphabet charts in teams to ‘decode’ the simple phrase they were given. Once the team finishes, they may be given the opportunity to create their own word in Braille, which could be given to another group or classroom to try and decode.
During this activity, children should be asked to verbally describe their thought processes by answering questions such as: ‘what does Braille feel like?’ ‘how does this word/letter feel different to the other?’ and ‘do you find Braille easier to read with your eyes open or closed?’.
A fact that I discovered recently about Braille are its several direct links to data representation. Interestingly, Braille uses the same concept of ‘bits’ as binary, and is a base-2 system. Braille contains either ‘raised’ or ‘not raised’ values, much like the ‘on’ and ‘off’ in binary. Older children can be explicitly taught the links between Braille and binary as they progress further in their understanding of base-2 systems and digital data representation.