Oral Language Programme


Developed by the late Annette Stock, Speech Language and Literacy Specialist

The late Annette Stock receiving the Rotary and Rotorua Community Excellence Award for outstanding service to speech language and literacy, November 2020.

Rotary Rotorua Sunrise launched this exciting education initiative at Western Heights Primary School in February 2014 to assist and raise the level of students’ early oral language and literacy to enable them to transition to formal learning. It meets one of The Rotary Foundation’s key areas of focus – basic education and literacy in our local community and the programme is a legacy established by Past President, Sue Gunn.

How does it work?

Volunteer tutors are trained to work 1:1 with students for half an hour, 3 times a week over a 10-week period. It’s run as a ‘block course’ programme at various Rotorua primary schools.

Volunteer tutors take two students over the 10 week period, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with sessions starting at 9.15am and finishing at 10.20am.

There’s a graduation at the end to celebrate the children’s success with their parents/caregivers, tutors and staff.

Student referrals come from the teachers.

What does the programme cover?

  • Talking about and reading New Zealand only storybooks with students
  • Working on rhyme and rhyming storybooks
  • Language processing to increase phonological skills
  • Playing specific educational literacy and numeracy games with students
Sue Gunn, Project Coordinator and volunteer tutor.

The primary focus is to use a set of protocols (including the one hand approach using narrative storybooks) to promote language competence and confidence, increase phonological skills and ensure Tamariki have a better foundation from which formal literacy teaching would be more successful.


Each school is fully resourced with storybooks, poems, puppets and educational games, working on a library booking system.

These resources have been kindly funded by Rotorua Trust and Rotary Rotorua Sunrise.

Volunteer Tutor Training

There are two half day training sessions scheduled in before the ‘block course’ starts. The training is provided by Cate Thomson, Trainer and Heather Vail, Tutor Support.

Training Manuals are given out to all volunteers at the first session and volunteers are fully supported throughout the programme.

How do I sign up?

To discuss becoming a volunteer tutor please contact Sue Gunn, Programme Lead on 021 190 4011 or email suegunn25@gmail.com

Overview of the programme

Children playing with the possum puppets at the Erin Devlin Show

Schools recognise that many students coming to school have low oral language which affects their formal learning. Oral language underpins this learning. There is recognition that teachers are hard pushed to meet the needs of these students.

Annette Stock said, “Children need to develop a sound oral language system, which is a natural developmental process, that will support them when they move on with the more formal process of learning to read, write and spell – not a natural development, they have to be taught”.

This programme has been designed to support students who enter the schooling system with the oral language of a 2-3 year old, which can hinder more formal literacy development. It can become an Achilles’ heel for these students in their schooling journey and a challenge for teachers.

Teachers assess junior school children’s oral language development, to get a base line and an idea for planning their programmes accordingly, to meet student needs.

Volunteer tutors can greatly support teachers with this process, raising student levels of oral language, which underpins literacy and numeracy growth.

Worth bearing in mind is research now identifying up to sixty per cent of youth offending can be attributed to the lack of identifying ‘clinically significant and previously undetected oral language ’, during students’ school years.

If schools can be supported to increase levels of oral language capability, with trained volunteer support, in the early years of schooling, the affects long term may contribute towards lowering this level of offending

Students confident with their learning journey will grow. Volunteers, who assist this process, will reap the rewards of their time, graciously given.

Sue Gunn said, “Many of the students arriving at school have been very transient in their early preschool life and have been unable to attend any preschool facility, resulting in a large number of children starting school with extremely low oral language and this ultimately hinders their progress throughout their education. Parents and caregivers are being encouraged to become part of the programme helping to ensure that the community and intergenerational literacy levels are raised”.

Annette Stock and Erin Devlin performing with Mr. Kiwi at Western Heights Primary School.

Megan Marshall, Assistant Principal at Western Heights Primary School is the supervisor of the Time to Korero with Tamariki programme within the school. She said, “We have student data on file and it has shown that the boost these students receive through the programme has greatly enhanced their progress. Students enjoy the smaller interactive and communication opportunities by having a tutor who is trained to provide specific instruction in a very informal situation, which encourages student confidence”.

“Teachers have been taught to teach the learned process assuming the child comes in with a certain level of oral language skills, but they find there’s a gap”, says Megan.

Western Heights Primary School Principal, Brent Griffin agrees that possessing good oral language communication skills provides the foundation which allows young children to access their school’s curriculum from day one. Mr Griffin is thrilled to be part of the oral language programme and believes the programme is vital for his school which has the second-highest transient rate in the country.

“The students’ prospects for further achievement are high, especially when the needs are recognised and addressed from the beginning”, he says.

“This programme is not to teach students to read”, explained Annette. “It has been developed to provide support for students to be read to and talk about the book content as it relates to them. It is a chance for them to have specifically trained adult support around books and games, activities which will enhance their oral language”.

“Some magical things happen, these children are very loving and they just love the adult attention, that one-on-one interaction, somebody that’s going to sit down and take the time to read with them.

They just love their tutors. They form relationships, gain confidence, and really look forward to their time with the tutors.

The volunteers really enjoy their time with the children, reading storybooks, introducing rhyme and playing games that develop oral language and confidence in the children”, says Sue Gunn.

Time to Korero with Tamariki oral language programme is currently offered at Western Heights Primary School, Sunset Primary School and Owhata Primary School.

If you would like to volunteer your time to take part in lifting the oral language of our future generations, or if you are interested in the programme taking place in your school, please reach out to Sue Gunn via email on suegunn25@gmail.com.