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Improving deaf children's literacy skills

A programme aims to improve deaf children’s literacy skills by increasing their understanding of English morphology and syntax.

This programme is designed to be used by primary school teachers, supported as required by Teachers of the Deaf and teaching assistants, to develop the literacy skills of deaf children. Parents can play an important role by playing the games and reading the books with their children. This should be done in partnership with the class teacher, who will introduce the concepts first in school and indicate which games and books are appropriate at the time.

Research by Oxford University found that deaf pupils using the programme made greater progress in spelling, reading comprehension and writing than deaf pupils in a control group that did not use the programme.

Watch our video with Diana, a Teacher of the Deaf, who gives step-by-step instructions on how to use the resource.


Most deaf children in the UK will have experienced a phonological approach to the teaching of reading. However, English also uses units of meaning called morphemes to form words. Research by Oxford University has demonstrated that deaf children need to develop a better awareness of morphology if they are to improve their literacy skills. More information on the background to the research, its aims, how the research was carried out and some of the results which were reported can be found in our research briefing.

The programme consists of 10 units. Although the 10 units were originally designed to be taught over 10 weeks, some teachers involved in the research project found that they had to move at a slower pace and were able to adapt the materials to do this. The 10 units build on each other and should be used in order. You can download our progress sheet to record how your pupils are progressing.

There are learning materials for each of the programme’s 10 units for children to follow with their teachers or teaching assistant. It is flexible enough to be adapted to suit the needs of individual pupils. The 10 units are:

  1. Sentence structure and pronouns (‘Who does what?’)
  2. Third person singular and adjectives (‘Get the verb right’ and ‘Describing the what’)
  3. Adverbs and other verbs (Describing ‘does’ with ‘how’ and ‘to be’)
  4. Plural and compound words (‘One or more?’ and ‘Compound words’)
  5. Plural and past and present tense (‘One or more?’ and ‘Past and present’)
  6. Morphology (‘Person words’), present & past tense, plural, and word order
  7. Past, present and future, morphology (‘Person words’ and ‘Number meanings’)
  8. Adverbs (‘Choose the adverb’ and ‘Does it fit in the sentence?’), past, present and future, abstract nouns, morphology (‘Reverse meaning’)
  9. Review of concepts and morphemes
  10. Review of concepts and morphemes

For each of the 10 units there are:

  • a description of the learning objectives for the pupil
  • teacher-led activities (or lessons) to be delivered to children in groups or individually as a PowerPoint presentation prior to them starting on the worksheets, games and books
  • worksheets, books and games to be printed out for use by the pupil in school but also at home.

The research was carried out using the Oxford Analytical Writing Assessment.


Developed by Terezinha Nunes, Deborah Evans, Diana Burman, and Rosanna Barros at the Department of Education, University of Oxford.

Funded by the National Deaf Children’s Society and Nuffield Foundation and supported by the British Association of Teachers of the Deaf.