Original Research

In word and deed: Embodying early literacy learning in gestures and postures

Caroline R. van der Mescht
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 13, No 1 | a1280 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v13i1.1280 | © 2023 Caroline R. van der Mescht | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 03 October 2022 | Published: 24 October 2023

About the author(s)

Caroline R. van der Mescht, Department of Education, Faculty of Education, Rhodes University, Makhanda, South Africa


Background: The context of this research is reading literacy instruction in Foundation Phase classrooms in South Africa. Although large-scale studies have researched learner performance, little is known of the nuances of teachers’ practice, particularly in the non-verbal realm. This research seeks to address that gap.

Aim: This research investigated teachers’ gestural and postural enactments during reading literacy instruction in the Foundation Phase. It identified and described these enactments to understand their function.

Setting: The research sites comprised three Grade One classrooms in suburban government schools. The research focused on the Foundation Phase speech event ‘Reading on the Mat’, a variation of Group Guided Reading.

Methods: This article presents a strand of a linguistic micro-ethnography. An analysis of the forms and styles of communication showed the salience of gestures and postures in teachers’ practices. The research used an established framework to analyse non-verbal communication and also generated a framework to analyse postural communication.

Results: These teachers deployed gestures and postures to enact their instruction. Learners embodied their learning by copying gestures and using them in recall. Postures were used to provide signals to learners and visitors related to the function of activities on the Mat.

Conclusion: The article concluded that gestures and postures can be deliberately employed in the service of literacy teaching in the Foundation Phase. Their analysis can also reveal the function of enactment practices to researchers.

Contribution: This article adds to the understandings of embodied practices. It presents original categories that may be useful in similar research into teachers’ practices.


enactment; embodiment; gestures in reading instruction; postures in reading instruction; early reading instruction practices


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