Improving the Literacy Standard in the Intermediate Phase whilst building a love for reading

As a former English teacher of Grades 4 – 6, I know a thing or two about how the English language is perceived in a class where the majority of learners do not speak English as their Home language – a norm in South Africa. It can often be a struggle when getting learners to read for the fun of it (if you even find the time during the day to do so). 
There are 3 main things that need to align in order to form a love for reading before one can start seeing an increase in your class’ literacy standard:

  1. Access
  2. Ability
  3. Patience


Many of us don’t have the privilege of having a school library, or access to any library at all. So how do our learners gain access to reading materials?
During my years of teaching, I used to put a certain percentage of my salary back into the classroom. I would buy magazines or books or readers – crazy – yes, but I did get to see the benefit of it. This is however, definitely not feasible for all teachers – nor should it be. Our South African schools have a budget – it is however, those in charge’s job to assign the funds to the correct places and the teachers’ job to pose the need for the specifics.. 
When I attended primary school, we had access to a reading box. This box looked like it had come out of the 80s, and to be honest, it turns out it had.Many of the stories were still relevant – kudos to those that published it – but with the added years, a lot had since changed in the form of imaging and technology. Also, the stories were just stories and had no other extra additions or interactive ability  to them.
Nowadays, one is able to find fantastic resources that are aligned to the CAPS curriculum which are a lot more relevant to our learners – best of all, they are a lot more interactive, which is what we need. Learners need to learn to read for comprehension and not just for the sake of sounding out words.


In any classroom that you step into, on any given day, you will find a wide array of learners with  different reading abilities. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and this is no different when dealing with language. Learners don’t learn at the same pace – that is a given. So with that being said, how does one raise the literacy standard when the standard of literacy is already far below what is expected of those of that age?
This can be a conundrum, and it can be an absolute headache. As teachers, we know that there is no quick fix for this – one has to start with the basics and slowly-but-surely help nurture the process of reading and understanding for your learner.

“It is only through reading that children learn to read. Trying to teach children to read by teaching them the sounds of letters is literally a meaningless activity.” 

– Frank Smith (Psycholinguist, Development of Reading Theory Contributor,  Harvard University)
Comprehension of what is being read is key.


This final step is not just for the learner, but for all stake-holders involved. Learners can often become unenthusiastic or frustrated with the reading process – especially when they are aware that they are reading below the literature curb. This is where I find it most important that our learners are given time to read and in doing so, read for enjoyment. Remember: literature refers to any body of written work. This includes regular books, but it also includes other, lesser used forms of text, such as comic books and graphic novels, movie scripts, news articles and short stories. One can even mute a film and put on the subtitles to enforce learners to practice!
Try something different – not just because it is different, but because it is likely to spark interest in your learners. Why not get your class to write their own short stories and then “publish” them in a class book, or why not start a classroom blog (which can be done through any device that has an internet connection). Speak to those in charge of the school budget to invest in an updated reading box, or have a book drive in your community to collect books for your learners to read for the many years to come.
Once a child’s love for reading has been ignited, it is virtually impossible to snub out. 

“There is no such thing as a child who hates to read; there are only children who have not found the right book.”

– Frank Serafini

By: Ali Mills, Onnie Media

This article is sponsored by Macmillan’s Language Gaps – A practice and intervention tool that can be used in the classroom and at home.

When there is an area of English that is difficult to understand and that learners struggle with, it is wonderful to have a helping hand to make things easier. The Language Gaps series offers just that kind of help!
The five Language Gaps books cover some of the core skills that Intermediate Phase learners need as the building blocks of their language journey in English Home Language or English First Additional Language:

  • Language Gaps – Concord, grammar and tenses
  • Language Gaps – Reading with comprehension
  • Language Gaps – Working with words
  • Language Gaps – Literature
  • Language Gaps – Writing

Language teaching in the classroom happens in an integrated way. The Language Gaps books were developed to give learners the chance to practice one skill at a time to help learners to overcome problem areas so that they don’t continue into later years.
Each Language Gaps book covers Grades 4, 5 and 6 and works through all the basics that learners will need.

More about the series’ features:
  • Written and reviewed by Intermediate Phase experts
  • CAPS compliant
  • Addresses specific gaps in focussed sections
  • Notes and examples at the beginning of each section that guide the learner, parent or tutor through the specific skill
  • Lots of practice activities under each section
  • Activities levelled by degree of difficulty using a different icon for each grade
  • Activities can be used for formative and summative assessments in the classroom
  • Answers on all answerable questions at the back of the book
  • Helps learners to make connotations between English and Afrikaans concepts e.g. Noun (Selfstandige naamwoord)
  • Space for learners to answer questions


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