Literacy teaching for deaf pupils

Learning to read and write is more difficult for deaf children because letters represent sounds and they do not make the subtle discriminations between speech-sounds required for using an alphabet. In addition, deaf children have a restricted English vocabulary, which interferes with reading comprehension.

Professor Nunes and her team developed a system based on the visual representation of morphemes – units of meaning used to form words. For example, explaining that ‘s’ on the end of a noun represents the plural is difficult to convey to deaf children through sign language, so the researchers focused on visual representation through a series of pictures, books and games.

With additional support from the National Deaf Children’s Society, the research team developed specialist teaching and learning resources based on their findings. These resources are now accessible to all via the Oxford University website and are proving popular with teachers.

Professor Nunes was invited to share her research at a workshop for leading linguists and psychologists at the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina in Florianópolis, southern Brazil.

Project details



Professor Terezinha Nunes, University of Oxford

Grant amount and duration

1 September 2004 - 31 July 2007

Project website


The teaching and learning resources are available to download free of charge from the University of Oxford website



'The Secrets of Words - A programme to help develop deaf children's literacy' (2012)

Download booklet (PDF)

Summary of research: Using deaf students’ visual skills to promote their knowledge of English literacy. By T. Nunes, 2010

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Briefing paper 'The validation of an assessment of deaf children’s writing in primary school: grammar and story development'  from a seminar held in June 2007

Download briefing paper (PDF)