Original Research

Learners’ reading between the signs in the English second language classroom

Rockie Sibanda
Reading & Writing | Vol 13, No 1 | a328 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/rw.v13i1.328 | © 2022 Rockie Sibanda | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 July 2021 | Published: 14 January 2022

About the author(s)

Rockie Sibanda, Department of Languages, Cultural Studies and Applied Linguistics, Faculty of Humanities, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa


Background: In South Africa, developing criticality among learners is essential for their careers in school and outside school. However, knowledge and understanding of critical literacy within the schooling context is unclear, with only patchy guidance available for teachers.

Objectives: An intervention project was set up to discover how community signs could be used as a pedagogical tool for teaching learners to be critical readers. The focus of the study was teaching English second language learners to use language as an instrument for creative and critical thinking.

Method: In this ‘study within a study’, the learners’ role has been elevated to that of researchers. As ‘researchers’, the learners collected community signs from around their township and conducted interviews with community members. They analysed the signs and interview transcripts using Fairclough’s method of critical discourse analysis. The social semantic theory was used to anchor this study.

Results: The first attempt at being critical readers was the categorisation of data. Three categories that formed broad themes were observed. The learners’ responses gave insight into their own ‘processes’ of reception and processes of production of the signs. The results suggest learners developing an ability to read signs as instantiations of township discourses.

Conclusion: Teaching critical literacy awareness can be achieved when teachers use texts drawn from familiar contexts. The study contributes to knowledge on how unconventional texts can be used in the classroom to develop criticality among learners.


community signs; critical literacy; critical discourse analysis; social semantic theory; township


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