At the time of writing, (April 2022) Muslims around the world are observing Ramadan.

This post is aimed mainly at non-Muslim teachers of English with limited knowledge of Islam or the practice of Ramadan. It is not intended to be a comprehensive explanation of Ramadan but rather a brief guide to the challenges and opportunities Muslim students and colleagues may face during this period of the year. We also suggest some English teaching and learning opportunities for the whole class that can be inspired by Ramadan.

I am not Muslim and my knowledge of Islam is based on the Religious Studies component of my degree, the internet, and conversations with Muslim friends and colleagues. Any factual errors about Islamic belief or practice in this post are entirely my own!

Ramadan is associated with fasting, but prayer, reflection and community are seen as being equally important. In fact, the first thing you might notice with colleagues and older students participating in Ramadan may be that they become more thoughtful and even kinder than normal. A Muslim colleague of mine recently said;

For me watching how I behave is even more important than the fasting itself. I try to make time to reflect on my behaviour towards other people and try to be more helpful to those around me. I try to stand back from myself a bit, to think about how I could be a better person and then try to act on those observations.’

That colleague is always kind anyway, but since Ramadan began, I have noticed that she has really gone out of her way to be helpful to others and is always the first to volunteer if anybody needs assistance with something.

Fasting is the cornerstone of Ramadan and Muslims around the world are obliged to go without food and drink between dawn and sunset. Accordingly, the length of the fasting period will vary depending on where in the world people are living. Some people, such as those who are chronically ill, those who are travelling and women who are breastfeeding or menstruating (among others) are exempt from fasting. Muslim children are not required to fast for Ramadan until they reach puberty. However, Ramadan is a family and community-focused celebration, so younger children will be involved in other aspects of the fast. If you notice that Muslim children in your class are more tired than usual it is probably not because they are fasting themselves but because their family routines are changed during Ramadan so that people can eat before dawn and break their fast after sunset. In some parts of the world, this can mean getting up earlier than normal and going to bed much later.

As children get older, they may fast for part of the day or perhaps one day a week. This is a way to practice for when they are old enough to participate fully in the fast and also allows them to feel included in the special events the family and community are participating in. Most Muslim children under ten will not be expected to fast during the school day itself.

Older students and teachers who are fasting at school will probably appreciate a quiet space at lunchtime away from those who are eating, where they can reflect or pray privately.

As well as abstaining from food and drink during the daylight hours, those participating in Ramadan are generally encouraged to give up any bad habits and try to do good deeds. In some regions, children and students might collect coins, money, or other items to donate to those in need. They might also join or set up projects to benefit the local community.

At the end of each fasting day, Muslims celebrate with Iftar parties which involve preparing and eating special foods. Then, when the next month of the Muslim year begins, there is a three-day festival to mark the end of the fast called Eid al Fitr. People wear new clothes, young girls often wear special dresses and matching jewellery. Eid is a big celebration that can include preparing special foods, giving and receiving gifts (especially for children) family visits and large community gatherings. If the first day of Eid should fall on a school day some Muslim children may be absent from school.

Fasting during the daylight hours is a big undertaking particularly the further north or south you are in the world if Ramadan occurs in the Summer or Winter months. All people will react and adapt differently to such an obligation. Some will struggle more than others. Younger Muslims who are less experienced in fasting may sometimes have more difficulty and might seem more tired or appear more withdrawn than usual. Most Muslims however try not to draw attention to any difficulties they experience while fasting. The chances are you will not notice your Muslim students and colleagues are fasting unless you speak with them about it or notice some differences in their daily routines. As mentioned earlier, the thing you are most likely to notice is a greater tendency to be kind to others and perhaps involvement in charitable projects.

Ramadan in the English Classroom

While the main point of this post is simply to promote awareness of the impact of Ramadan on students and staff in school, Ramadan itself can be used as a starting point for many activities and topics within the English curriculum. Below is a very short list of ideas intended to spur further thinking around this topic. Please feel free to share more ideas in the comments section after this post.

Some of the themes of Ramadan such as thoughtfulness, kindness, self and community improvement are quite universal and can be used to inspire or support projects for the whole class across the curriculum. Reference to Ramadan and discussion of its themes can be used as an example and starting point for a variety of English activities.

Speaking

For younger learners and beginners:

  • Mini-presentations/show and tell – ‘What I’m doing for Ramadan.’ ‘How I help around the house.’ ‘What I do for others.’ ‘A Party/Celebration/Festival/Special Event I remember
  • Spelling Challenge; spell and pronounce words associated with Ramadan, Festivals, Celebrations, Food.

For intermediate learners:

  • Poster/Powerpoint Project Presentations on Ramadan, Religious Festivals, Fasting and Health, Local, national and international charities, bad habits, good deeds. 
  • Discussion and debate. ‘How to improve our school/our town’ ‘How important is Religious Education?’

For advanced learners:

  • Structured class debate on themes concerning Ramadan, Religion, Food, diet and fasting, Government versus Charity, The meaning of kindness, civic duties and responsibilities.
  • Personal presentations on aspects of self-improvement.

Reading and Listening

Publishing houses and local education authorities produce a host of written and oral material associated with Ramadan that can be used for comprehension work, vocabulary building, Use of English, grammar and gap fill work. A couple of good examples are linked below, with plenty more to be found on the internet.

Nadia’s Ramadan

I found the following video and information about a young American Muslim girl’s experience of Ramadan to be a useful resource for younger learners. It could be used as a stimulus for discussion, written or spoken comprehension questions and project work.

Nadia’s Ramadan Video

Functional English Worksheet

The following worksheet, written by Carrie Bray and produced by The Skills Workshop may be useful for intermediate learners. It contains a reading comprehension text about Ramadan, vocabulary and form filling exercises and discussion prompts. 

Ramadan Functional English tasks

Writing

Writing is a more personal and private means of producing English. Some students might feel more comfortable to communicate their feelings and opinions about Ramadan and the themes connected with it within the context of a structured essay than they would be in a spoken presentation.

For younger learners Acrostic Poems and Haiku may provide a fun framework for exploring some of these themes.

Mixed Skills

Dictionary Races/Board Races, Running Dictations, Crosswords/Wordsearches, Quizzes, Music and Drama work can all be used to introduce, revise or review vocabulary and concepts associated with Ramadan.

Ramadan Kareem to those who are fasting now!

For the rest of us, let’s enter into the spirit of self-improvement by sharing our best and most successful Ramadan lesson ideas in the comments below.

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