eBASE, effective basic services:Oral Language Local Summary

Oral Language Local Summary

Summary of the research evidence on the impact of oral language interventions on the educational attainment of school pupils in sub-Saharan Africa.


The text below is a summary of the research evidence on the impact of oral language interventions on the educational attainment of school pupils in sub-Saharan Africa. It is an analysis of individual studies of oral language interventions in sub-Saharan Africa. The information here is valuable for African school leaders, administrators and policy makers.

Effective Basic Services (eBASE) Africa developed this summary using available research evidence while also taking into consideration prominent themes arising from key informant interviews (KII) and focus group discussions (FGD), particularly FGD with teachers and students. The research evidence in this summary is acquired from a detailed and replicable search protocol used on a wide range – listed below – of research databases for related studies in low- and middle-income countries in general and sub-Saharan Africa in particular.

Definition of strand

Oral language interventions are those interventions that highlight the need for the use of spoken language and verbal interactions in classrooms, with the idea that reading and comprehension skills can profit from a clear-cut conversation on either the content or processes of learning or both (Higgins et al., 2016). These interventions therefore aim to support learners’ articulation of ideas and spoken expression. Examples of oral language approaches include:

targeted reading aloud and book discussion with young children;
explicitly extending pupils’ spoken vocabulary;
the use of structured questioning to develop reading comprehension; and
the use of purposeful, curriculum-focused, dialogue and interaction.

Why is this strand important?

Evidence has shown that oral language skills can effectively support the reading comprehension of monolingual learners who are trying to acquire another language, (Bonifacci & Tobia, 2017; Proctor et al., 2005; Tobia & Bonifacci, 2015). Oral language interventions can therefore be beneficial in improving pupils’ reading comprehension skills in areas with multiple local languages, as is the case with most SSA countries.

Summary of research in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA)

Across SSA, the impact of oral language interventions has seldom been studied. The few studies that do relate to oral language development are mostly from East Africa.

In Uganda and Kenya, Lucas et al (2014) evaluated the impact of the Reading to Learn (RTL) model for reading instruction amongst grade 1 to 3 in poor public schools. Results showed an increase in written and oral literacy in both Uganda and Kenya, with a smaller effect on oral literacy in Kenya. There were however no effects on numeracy test scores in both countries.

Other studies have focused on programs that improve oral language fluency, including effective teacher decision-making. For instance, in Kenya Piper et al (2015) investigated the impact of the Primary Math and Reading (PRIMR) Initiative on the achievement of year 1 and 2 pupils from low-income families. Findings revealed an effective increase in oral language fluency, reading comprehension and the number of children from low-income homes who were able read. Similar programs in Zambia (de Hoop et al., 2020) and Liberia (Piper & Korda, 2011), eSchool 360 program and the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) Plus program, respectively, incorporated aspects of school based pedagogic support and training to teachers, both identifying significant impacts on pupil literacy skills..

A study involving two public primary schools in Oyo state, Nigeria sought to investigate the effects of storytelling on the listening skills of year one pupils (Oduolowu & Oluwakemi, 2014). Results showed that those who were exposed to storytelling complimented by illustrations had higher listening skills mean scores in post-intervention tests than those who were exposed to storytelling without illustrations. This suggests that illustrations accompanying storytelling may benefit learning when used in a teaching environment.


Overall, evidence on oral language intervention has rarely been investigated in SSA, with most of the research evidence coming from East African countries. Some research has instead focused on the impact of language of instruction.

Studies in Kenya and Uganda have focused on different models that aim to promote oral language skills among children. All of these models showed positive impacts. Research has also shown that incorporating aspects of school-based pedagogy and support to teachers can go a long way in improving the effectiveness of oral language interventions.

Use of technology and storytelling could be useful in facilitating the use of oral language intervention and increasing its impact, as highlighted in studies conducted in Kenya and Nigeria respectively.

However, there is a scarcity of research evidence in other regions within SSA. More high-quality research is therefore recommended for the continent, particularly in other regions in order to a build a broader evidence base on oral language interventions.

Impact, Security, and Cost of the evidence

There is still a paucity of research evidence regarding the impact of oral language interventions on educational outcomes in SSA. The evidence is very limited. Nevertheless, the available studies suggest positive outcomes of Oral Language Interventions. Robust randomized trials are therefore recommended to ascertain the impact of outdoor adventure learning interventions on educational attainment.

The cost of implementing oral language interventions within the Lake Chad Basin is likely to be moderate.

Search Terms

Oral language interventions; dialogic/​interactive reading; joint book reading; speaking and listening; communication skills; talk for writing

Databases Searched




Google Scholar


Abrami, P. C., Wade, C. A., Lysenko, L., Marsh, J., & Gioko, A. (2016). Using educational technology to develop early literacy skills in Sub-Saharan Africa. Education and Information Technologies, 21(4), 945 – 964.

Bonifacci, P., & Tobia, V. (2017). The simple view of reading in bilingual language-minority children acquiring a highly transparent second language. Scientific Studies of Reading, 21(2), 109 – 119.

de Hoop, T., Ring, H., Siwach, G., Dias, P., Tembo, G., Rothbard, V., & Toungui, A. (2020). Midline Report for the Mixed-Methods Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial of Impact Network’s eSchool 360 Model in Rural Zambia. Making Research Relevant. American Institutes for Research.

Higgins, S., Katsipataki, M., Villanueva-Aguilera, A. B., Coleman, R., Henderson, P., Major, L. E., Coe, R., & Mason, D. (2016). The Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit.

Lucas, A. M., McEwan, P. J., Ngware, M., & Oketch, M. (2014). Improving early-grade literacy in East Africa: Experimental evidence from Kenya and Uganda. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 33(4), 950 – 976.

Oduolowu, E., & Oluwakemi, E. (2014). Effect of storytelling on listening skills of primary one pupil in Ibadan north local government area of Oyo state, Nigeria. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 4(9), 100 – 107.

Piper, B., Jepkemei, E., & Kibukho, K. (2015). Pro-poor PRIMR: Improving early literacy skills for children from low-income families in Kenya. Africa Education Review, 12(1), 67 – 87.

Piper, B., & Korda, M. (2011). EGRA Plus: Liberia. Program Evaluation Report. RTI International.

Proctor, C. P., Carlo, M., August, D., & Snow, C. (2005). Native Spanish-speaking children reading in English: Toward a model of comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(2), 246.

Tobia, V., & Bonifacci, P. (2015). The simple view of reading in a transparent orthography: The stronger role of oral comprehension. Reading and Writing, 28(7), 939 – 957.