Original Research

From word recognition skills to reading for the meaning of a science text

Kelsi J. Arends, Kathleen Fonseca
South African Journal of Childhood Education | Vol 14, No 1 | a1323 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajce.v14i1.1323 | © 2024 Kelsi J. Arends, Kathleen Fonseca | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 31 January 2023 | Published: 16 January 2024

About the author(s)

Kelsi J. Arends, NRF South Africa Chair: Integrated Studies of Learning Language, Science and Mathematics in the primary school, Faculty of Education, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa
Kathleen Fonseca, Department of Childhood Education, Faculty of Education, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa


Background: Although the reading of science texts has been reported for high school learners, there is not much research on how younger learners engage with expository texts and how they develop academic language skills. In the instance of this study, the topic came from the curriculum content about animal reproduction.

Aim: The study from which this article emanated aimed to explore how a sample of learners engaged with a short text, which required cohesive reading and some background knowledge and vocabulary.

Setting: This study was conducted in a suburban school where the learners use English as a second language.

Methods: A sample (n = 25) was randomly selected from five Grade 4 classes. Their reading comprehension of a custom-designed test was assessed, along with their writing competence in their responses to content questions as well as their drawings. The data were analysed in a typical content analysis modality.

Results: This study showed that the learners do not apply inferencing skills and do not read cohesively across sentences and paragraphs and that their vocabulary and prior knowledge of animal reproduction is limited.

Conclusion: The urgent need for the development of academic language skills in the early grades is foregrounded in this article, arguing that it can be infused in subjects across the curriculum of the early grades.

Contribution: The task can be used by teachers and by researchers who may wish to replicate the study.


middle school; reading comprehension; science texts; qualitative data; intermediate phase.


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