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Developing an Alternate Approach to Group Guided Reading (GGR) Research Study in Early Grade Literacy




The South African national curriculum promotes Group Guided Reading (GGR) as the core Foundation Phase reading instructional strategy. Following GGR, learners with similar reading abilities are placed in small groups and appropriate reading material is assigned according to their reading level. Teachers review and assess learners on an ongoing basis and reallocate them to different groups accordingly.

GGR has proven effective in some countries where small classes are possible. However, research indicates that teachers in South Africa are struggling to implement GGR, especially in large, multilingual and under-resourced classrooms. This is contributing to poor reading outcomes, with recent studies showing that many learners are unable to read at the age-appropriate level.

Alternate instructional strategies for literacy better suited to low-income schools in South Africa must urgently be identified, tested and scaled up. The intention of this study in early grade literacy is thus to use contextually based research to design and pilot an effective alternative to GGR. If the pilot shows promise, it can be tested through a large-scale intervention to inform curriculum revision.

The project is in line with the Zenex Foundation’s emphasis on developing evidence-based pedagogical approaches. It also fits our strategic focus on improving reading and literacy in the Foundation Phase, with a focus on African languages.

Project Overview

The research is undertaken by the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Education over an 18-month period from 2020 to 2021. The researchers in the Foundation Phase Division are working towards a new pedagogical approach for reading that is easier to implement than GGR and more effective in the South African context.

The project has three phases:

  1. Review of international and local research and evaluation of the findings.
  2. Development of an alternate approach to GGR and the associated resources.
  3. Field testing the new approach and resources.

The associated resources to be developed for field testing include revisions of existing National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) IsiZulu lesson plans, incorporating the new practices and teacher guidelines for managing classrooms. Prototypes for training, coaching and monitoring will be developed during the piloting phase.

The resources will be tested in a sample of Grade 2 classes in two IsiZulu-medium schools in Gauteng. The alternative pedagogical approach will replace GGR in the timetable. Attention will be paid to ease of use within the constraints of a typical classroom, and to teachers’ attitudes and perceptions. If the pilot proves the approach is viable, the researchers will propose large-scale testing to measure wider efficacy and cost-effectiveness.


The research project has the following objectives:

  • Conduct a literature review of relevant local and international publications, research and evaluation studies.
  • Analyse learner assessment data from existing literacy interventions.
  • Develop a framework on the basis of the above for an alternate approach to GGR and the associated resources, including:
  • Revised lesson plans for use in the classroom;
  • Management guidelines;
  • Teacher training prototypes, and
  • Monitoring tools.
  • Field test the new approach and resources, including:
  • Providing training, coaching and resources to teachers, and
  • Conducting classroom observations and teacher interviews to gather data.
  • Analyse the data gathered during the pilot, draft a report on the findings and disseminate to stakeholders.


The research study will produce the following outputs:

  • A research report on the literature review.
  • A new programme for an alternate approach to GGR and associated
  • Publication of the field-tested research findings and recommendations on the basis thereof.
  • Publication of a policy brief.


This project is critical because a core literary strategy advanced by the curriculum (GGR) is not working in South African classrooms as envisaged. The project will support teachers to improve reading outcomes and help learners reach their age-appropriate reading level. The project is increasingly necessary as part of the education sector’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ultimate goal of the project is to contribute to a viable literacy education strategy and pedagogical approach to replace GGR and improve learning outcomes in reading in schools across the country in the long term.

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