An update from Book Club lessons in Gweru
July 13 2017

Book Club aims to develop children’s English literacy skills to allow them improved access to all areas of the school curriculum.  Book Club students from Mkoba 4 Primary School in Gweru, Zimbabwe, work in three different groups according to ability.  Learners in group one receive the most support, group two students are of average level, while those in group three are the most advanced.

In the most recent lesson, students in group one read a book called “Scat said the Cat”, before spelling a selection of words from the story.   All struggled with the task.  To help them remember the words they were trying to learn, the children were asked to draw a picture to represent each one and then write the accompanying word; a drawing of a cat with ‘cat’ written underneath, and so on.  This was not only an enjoyable way of practising spellings, it also appeared to make the children more confident in having a go at spelling words without support.    

For group two students, the book called “Bramble” was more advanced.  As the children took turns to read a page out loud, incorrect pronunciations were highlighted and corrected.  It was noted that students did not know how to ‘sound out’ unfamiliar words, so a lesson on phonics (the relationships between letters and sounds) will be introduced to help them decode new words by blending the sound patterns.

In group three, students read the book “Kate Delivers the Mail” fluently but, when questioned about the story, showed a lack of comprehension.  To develop better understanding and interpretation of a text, stories will be read in short sections, making sure that students understand what is happening before moving on.  Events in a story will be related to the students’ own lives, or what they may have previously read or seen in a film, to help them understand.  

The Oxford Reading Tree reading scheme is used to help children start to read, then become confident readers and eventually learn to love reading for pleasure.  Stage one uses pictures to tell a story with only a few simple words which are closely linked to the illustrations.  These picture storybooks encourage children to talk about the pictures to create their own story, and to make connections between the pictures and the story.

All three groups of Book Club students were shown the pictures in one of the scheme’s picture storybooks and were asked to provide an appropriate narrative.  After orally telling their story, simple sentences in relation to what they had said were written down, for example “I can see a yellow book”. There was a definite improvement in sentence construction during this activity, as well as some improvement in spelling.

Overall, Book Club students are continuing to make steady progress, showing development in their reading skills, and also an increased confidence and willingness to participate in class.

About Book Club

English is the official language of both Zambia and Zimbabwe, and without good proficiency in English reading and writing, students will likely be excluded from many aspects of active citizenship, including employment opportunities.   English proficiency also helps students to better understand all their school subjects, and to be able to tackle exams, which are given in English.  In partnership with Coventry University, ALERT has established English literacy programs at weekly Book Clubs to improve children’s English literacy levels and foster a love of reading.  Pupils attending book clubs are tested to establish their current reading age, and then tailored, locally appropriate, assistance is provided to improve literacy using educational materials from AXIS Education, TESSA and Happy Readers.  A library system provides pupils access to a wide-range of reading level appropriate books.

About ALERT Education Centres (AEC)

English literacy courses are one aspect of the work of our ALERT Education Centres.  The AEC operations at Livingstone (Zambia), Victoria Falls and Antelope Park (Zimbabwe) are all aimed at supporting the formal education system by offering extra-curricular activities to enhance student learning, and assisting with access to education for vulnerable students.  Current programs include the provision of classes in conservation education, basic life skills, and English literacy.  In addition, we provide funding to pay the fees of vulnerable students to take part in education from pre-school to university level, and fully funded internship and facilitated research placements for university level students.  Future programmes will incorporate classes in numeracy, health & nutrition, physical education and business studies / entrepreneurship, as well as a variety of vocational training.  The AEC is operated in association with Coventry University (UK), Midlands State University (Zimbabwe) and Copperbelt University (Zambia), and with the assistance of David Brackstone of John Taylor High School (UK).   The first AEC, at Antelope Park, was opened in 2012 by the then Zimbabwe Minister of Education, Mr. David Coltart.

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