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Read aloud to a child on World Read-Aloud day
Author: Shannon Bishop-Swart
Published: 07/02/2024

​In South Africa today, reading levels of learners are a massive concern requiring educators to prioritise reading by finding opportunities to highlight and explore literacy initiatives. According to the Department of Basic Education's PIRLS 2021: South African Preliminary Highlights Report detailing the 2021 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (2023), 81% of Grade 4 and 56% of Grade 6 children were not able to reach the lowest benchmark, meaning they could not accurately locate obvious information or replicate necessary information from a text at their grade level. One literacy initiative is the annual World Read-Aloud Day, taking place on Wednesday 7th February this year.

What is World Read-Aloud Day?

World Read-Aloud Day (WRAD) was introduced in 2010 by LitWorld, a non-profit organisation founded in New York by literacy specialist Pam Allyn in 2007. WRAD was created to celebrate the power of reading aloud as a way to amplify stories while creating community and advocating for literacy as a foundational human right. In the past fourteen years WRAD has become a worldwide movement of millions of readers, writers, and listeners from communities across the globe who have come together to honour the joy and power of reading and continue growing the definition of and opportunities for global literacy.

The challenge:

While reading aloud for one day will not solve literacy issues in South Africa, or the world at large, perhaps the activity of reading aloud will assist in promoting reading communities, making available reading resources, and motivating adults and children alike to read regularly, thus providing a supportive environment for the improvement of literacy. Students, alumni, educators and colleagues are challenged to take the opportunity on Wednesday, 7th February to read aloud to a child.

How to get started?

For educators (in and pre-service) who want to incorporate literacy-building activities in their classes, here are a few activity suggestions:

  • An activity on WRAD that has an immensely powerful impact on those taking part and those observing is asking a group of learners to each read from a book for one minute aloud. Once you raise your hand/blow a whistle/give a signal, learners should stop reading and remain in silence for a minute. The minute of reading aloud is usually a noisy cacophony followed by a minute of deafening silence, highlighting the idea of literacy versus illiteracy. Use this opportunity to get feedback from the learners about their experience during this activity and to discuss with learners the power of reading and literacy.
  • For schools or classrooms that do not have a library, or have very small libraries and available books, start a book drive. This can be done across your school or within your grade or class by encouraging parents, the community, businesses and private donors to donate new or gently worn books. The donor's name can be stamped or stuck inside the cover.
  • Start a reading club where older learners read to younger learners, then switch it up.
  • Model for your learners that you are also a reader by having a book on your desk and being seen reading regularly. Ask learners what they are currently reading and tell them about some of your favourite books.
  • Start a 'Drop Everything And Read' (DEAR) initiative that could be 10 minutes at the start and/or end of every day in which you encourage learners to take out a book they are reading or from the class bookshelf and read it for 10 minutes.
  • Encourage learners to write their own stories and share them in class. Then encourage learners to illustrate the stories. In this way you and your learners create a learner library with self-made books.


Personal anecdote:

From 2009-2011 I studied MA TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York through a Fulbright Scholarship. During my studies I came across LitWorld and was introduced to the inspiring Pam Allyn. She welcomed me into the organisation and, as a result, I was privileged to gain one of the most memorable and life-changing experiences leading a LitWorld Summer Literacy Programme for at-risk youth in Harlem. The Literacy programme required meticulous planning and careful organisation, including hiring exceptional interns who had an interest in community development, literacy and youth at risk. The interns were young adults, mostly students, who would support and alternate leading the planned activities daily. Books were sourced from a variety of bookstores, schools and through company and individual donations. The day's schedule was devoted to improving literacy skills through regular reading and writing activities, and, of course, reading aloud. Books were placed in baskets according to themes and/or reading levels, and the participants were encouraged to read whole baskets of books. Refreshments and snacks were provided for each participant daily, and an element of physical activity or play was also included, often linked to a story that had been read that day. At the end of the programme each participant received their favourite book and a certificate of attendance that was awarded to them at a final Literacy celebration ceremony attended by their families. At the Literacy celebration the participants each read aloud a section of their favourite story they had read or one they had written themselves. Parents and family members were in awe that these children, who had been identified as needing literacy interventions, were now confidently reading aloud to an audience of children and adults alike and had written or co-written and illustrated their own stories.


Department of Basic Education (2023). PIRLS 2021: South African Preliminary Highlights Report. Department of Basic Education: Pretoria.

Further reading:

Van Staden, S., Roux, K., Tshele, M. (2023). PIRLS 2021: South African Children's Literacy Achievement. Centre for Evaluation and Assessment.