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Read Smart Cinyanja

Read Smart Cinyanja: A Mouth-Chart Phonics Program to Teach Early Literacy

Read Smart is an innovative project to improve early literacy outcomes based on the use of phonetic charts, illustrating the mouth positions associated with each sound. External literacy assessment data from a USAID-funded Let’s Read Zambia project showed that after two years, the proportion of our third grade students below minimum literacy standards was 3% compared to 30% nationwide.



HundrED shortlisted this innovation

HundrED has shortlisted this innovation to one of its innovation collections. The information on this page has been checked by HundrED.

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Target group
Students early
May 2023
Before Read Smart, many teachers did not believe it was possible for young students to learn how to read, since it is not commonly seen in rural Zambia. Now, they see that students can definitely learn to read, even in Grade 1. This innovation helps students read proficiently by the end of Grade 2, and relies on explicit phonics-based instruction in order to make that happen.

About the innovation

Why did you create this innovation?

Education quality in rural Zambia has been dismal, especially in regards to literacy. A recent assessment by USAID-funded Let’s Read Zambia shows that 55% of Grade 1-3 students performed at minimum or below minimum levels of proficiency in literacy. Delays in the age and grade at which students attain functional literacy skills make future primary years that much more challenging.

How does your innovation work in practice?

Read Smart is a literacy intervention for early grade learning based on the use of phonetic charts, illustrating the mouth positions associated with each sound. The majority of Zambian children are taught how to read by memorization but Read Smart focuses on using visual aids to teach children how letters sound. It is an explicit phonics program where sound-spelling relationships are directly taught and applied.

The project consists of a preparation period followed by 4 phases of 10 weeks each. In phase 1, students complete activities explicitly connecting mouth charts and letter sounds to accurately pronounce letter sounds. During phase 2, letters are connected to the sounds they make and students learn to read basic words. In phase 3, students practice writing and reading lower case letters with a focus on reading simple sentences. Last, in the final phase, students read basic stories with simple words.

How has it been spreading?

We scaled Read Smart from 2 schools in 2021 to 8 schools and ~1,000 students in 2022. The program results indicate that the program is successful at improving literacy outcomes across a diverse audience including both boys and girls, very low-income levels, and for students entering primary school with high academic needs. In the future we will work within Eastern Province to expand to 3,000 students in early childhood centers, community schools, and government schools over the next year. Finally, we want to explore adapting to 1-2 other Zambian languages within the next three years.

If I want to try it, what should I do?

Read Smart has improved literacy outcomes in very rural and remote villages in Zambia. We believe this solution can be adapted to work in other places. Please contact info@impactnetwork.org to learn more.

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