Poor literacy skills especially among KS 1&2 pupils (age 5-11) can be a great hindrance to smooth teaching and pupil-teacher interaction and learning in Madrassah context. Especially so because teaching Islam is often done using some non-every day vocabulary and the teacher has to speak about abstract ideas such as Paradise, angels, patience etc.

Children with low literacy skills -which include, listening, speaking, reading and writing- will face lots of difficulties understanding the lesson and following instructions. Literacy problems will range from inability to read and write what the teacher writes on the board, in ability to understand basic vocabulary, poor handwriting, extremely slow writing, difficulty speaking about an idea, difficulty following an explanation or an instruction, minimal understanding of a given topic.  

English is the medium through which Islamic knowledge is transferred to most of these children, hence concern over children’s literacy skills is of great relevance to Madrassah teachers.

Some Madrassahs are brilliant at catering for literacy classes on their premises, others are without the means to deliver such service. This article below gives suggestions for teachers to apply in their teaching which could boost their pupils’ literacy. It also showcases an example of a mainstream school’s strategy for supporting its pupils’ literacy skills.


Look who’s talking in EYFS

More and more children seem to be entering early years with underdeveloped communication skills. Here, teacher Jacqui Pedder offers some advice on getting those pupils up to speed in Reception

“Twinkle, twinkle little car, I have got a chocolate bar!”

Rowan jokes, his friends listen and giggle. Matty then improvises his own verse.

“Twinkle, twinkle little star, put a fishy in a jar!” They all collapse with laughter.

This is no frivolous playground game. Through singing, what these children are actually doing is improving their reading skills. Yes, really.

Speaking and listening skills form an important foundation for just about every area of children’s development, including reading. Children are born hardwired to communicate, but good communication doesn’t just happen by itself – it is developed through daily interactions with others.

Increasingly, schools are finding that children are entering early years at a serious disadvantage because of underdeveloped communication skills. There are many theories as to why, including the increased use of mobile phones providing a constant distraction, and the overuse of computers.

If left unchecked, underdeveloped communication skills lead to poor educational outcomes. Language shapes our understanding of the world, connects ideas and strengthens relationships with others. If you cannot think a sentence, then you cannot say it or write it.

What can schools do to tackle the issue?

At our school, we have been taking part in Hampshire’s “Keep on Talking” project. The aims of the project are to develop awareness of the importance of speaking and listening skills in the early years, to highlight the impact that poorly developed communication skills have on a child’s future outcomes and to provide tools for assessing gaps in speaking and listening, and techniques for addressing them.

We have been using the Child Monitoring Tool (CMT) from the National Strategies (which is available from the National Strategies archive for free) to assess gaps in development in five core areas: listening and attention; understanding what is said; learning new words; making longer sentences; and talking socially.

The CMT offers a checklist of milestones in terms of what children might be expected to be doing at a particular age. For example, by the age of 5, a child should be able to follow a simple instruction such as: “Put all of the sand toys on the top shelf and the water toys on the bottom.”

By using the CMT to screen language development early in the school year, we have been able to quickly identify children who might have gaps in their development early on and have introduced steps to address any issues.

How we promote speaking and listening

For any significant delays, we immediately make a speech and language referral (the CMT provides invaluable evidence for this). However, because of a lack of funding, a child may wait anything up to 12 weeks to be seen by a speech and language therapist from the point of referral.

So, rather than just waiting for children to be assessed, schools taking part in the project are given a host of techniques designed to help develop each one of the five core skills.

We use lots of games as interventions to develop the skill of listening to and holding information. One example is the shopping game, in which the teacher tells a story about someone who goes to a shop, and what they buy. But the shopper leaves her bag on the bus – and the child is then asked to remember what’s in it.

Other useful games are sorting activities that build vocabulary and teach the child how to organise information into different categories (read on for more details).


It’s had an immediate and significant impact. This can be summed up by the progress that one student in particular has made.

When Mark came into Reception class, he showed no interest in his peers. He loved playing with cars, but would push others away if they came close, and wouldn’t share. Sometimes he would get very upset, but couldn’t articulate what was wrong.

Using the CMT, we quickly realised that he had poorly developed listening and attention skills, as well as general issues with socialising, which meant that he just wasn’t absorbing new information.

This can be a common issue for children – like Mark – who have English as an additional language. It is just so hard for them to pay attention and communicate for long periods of time in a different language.

His mum and dad agreed that he much preferred playing on the computer than playing with other children, and he came home from school very tired after the effort of trying to communicate. They agreed to try and introduce some opportunities for him to socialise outside of school and to limit his time on the computer at home to encourage him to talk. We gave them some top tips for talking to try at home.

In class, we set him up with a buddy who was a very good role model for talking, and used social talking activities to help him develop these skills. We used the interventions – including the games (see our 10 tips, below).

It is hard to imagine that the chatty, confident, happy child we have now, who pays attention and is always putting up his hand up to speak, is the same little boy who was once so withdrawn.

For me the real success of the project, in terms of how this impact is measured, is not how many of our children have achieved their Early Learning Goal (in my former school’s case, significantly above national and local expectations) but how many children left Reception with highly developed language skills that will help them connect to their world.

To help in other early years settings, here are 10 of the tips we have developed or reinforced over the past 12 months:

  1. Make learning language playful using turn-taking and guessing games. Don’t be afraid to experiment with language; the more that you do, the more likely they are to copy you and have a go themselves.
  2. Get their attention first – help children to tune in to you by getting down to their level and saying their name.
  3. Chat aloud about what you are doing so that you provide a narrative: “First I have to wash the fruit, next I’ll have to put it in the bowl…”
  4. Provide lots of opportunities for social talking in your environment. We have a snack bar, where children can come and sit down with their friends and chat while they’re eating.
  5. Include children who have well-developed speaking and listening skills in any small group interventions to provide role models for talking.
  6. Pair children up with a buddy in order to provide them with a number of social turn-taking opportunities.
  7. Introduce some quiet zones in your setting such as “dens” under tables so that children can talk in pairs. Young children find it hard to discriminate between sounds in a noisy room.
  8. Build on what the child says to you. If they say, “Look, train,” reply, “Yes, a red train.”
  9. Rephrase what they say correctly – rather than criticising any mistakes. If they say, “I wented on the slide,” reply, “Wow, you went on the slide.”

More Ideas include:

  1. Explain to parents and guardians the importance of literacy skills and how they are a prerequisite for sound understanding and learning of Islam in your Madrassah.
  2. Follow up on your pupil’s literacy skills progress by requesting a copy of their end of term literacy reports and keep a record of them. The report will contain advice from their teacher on useful literacy tips which you could apply in your teaching.
  3. Suggest local supplementary literacy clubs to the parents or guardians.
  4. Communicate your concern over your pupil’s poor literacy directly to their school or teacher if you find that the problem is persisting.
  5. Endeavour to improve your own literacy and language skills. If needed, take an ESOL or literacy course. Your pupils will learn from your own literacy skills, later they and their parents will be grateful to you, and more importantly you will have demonstrated ihsan in your work of service to Allah.
  6. Use the Child Monito ring Tool to assess your pupils’ literacy level and pin point any gaps. This tool will allow you to express the child’s area of difficulty: //www.foundationyears.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/ECAT_child_monitoring_tool1.pdf

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