English is one of two subjects that remain compulsory through to Year 11 and often in Year 12. It is arguably the most important of subjects in that the primary focus of English as a subject through the primary levels and into secondary school is literacy. To be literate, that is to be able to read, write and understand text, is an important part of everyday life.

What is Literacy?

Literacy is all about the language that surrounds us – the ability we have to understand, respond to and use language. In order to grow intellectually is it essential to develop language skills. Language enables us to make sense of the world around us and to participate in society.

Because English is the language most New Zealanders use as their first language, the New Zealand Curriculum document states that all students need to be able to communicate effectively in both written and spoken English.

So what are the general aims English as a subject?

The following are aims of the English subject curriculum throughout the school levels.

Students should be able to:

  • engage with and enjoy language in all its varieties;
  • understand, respond to, and use oral, written, and visual language effectively in a range of contexts.

To achieve these aims, students will:

  • develop control over the processes associated with using and responding to English language purposefully and effectively through reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and presenting;
  • develop an understanding of the grammar and conventions of English;
  • develop an understanding of how language varies according to the user, audience, and purposes;
  • respond personally to and think critically about a range of texts, including literary texts
  • use language skills to identify information needs, and find, use, and communicate information;
  • understand and appreciate the heritages of New Zealand through experiencing a broad range of texts written in English.

NZ English Curriculum

How does it all work?

You will have just read in the above section about oral, written and visual language. English at secondary school these days is about a whole heap more than just reading novels and writing book reports. It is all about giving students opportunities to learn how to interact with the various types of text they encounter in an increasingly technological and changing world, as well as being able to express themselves in a variety of ways.

These three — oral, visual and written language — are further broken down into six focus areas for teachers and students can base learning on.


Oral language

Speaking and Listening

Visual Language

Viewing and Presenting

Written Language

Reading and Writing

The English curriculum is broken down in this fashion for a very logical reason. Speaking and listening (oral) skills are the foundations on which we base our reading and writing (written) skills. The third thread, viewing and presenting (visual) is also a hugely important part of the development of reading and writing skills.

Language is essential for reasoning and expressing ideas because it is the way we gather and communicate meaning and information.

Some key principles coming from the English curriculum are:

  • Students learn English in programmes that value each student’s language and experiences. These programmes help students to make connections between their own world and school.
  • Students will be encouraged to experiment and take risks with language when exploring ideas.
  • Students will be challenged to understand and use English in a variety of situations and for different purposes. Expectations of achievement will be high to encourage students to develop to their potential.
  • When students know the steps in a language process they develop skills which they can transfer to other areas – eg, when they know the steps in the writing process they are able to use this knowledge in lots of different types of writing in their other subjects.
  • Listening, speaking, reading and writing skills are not taught separately but in a way that uses a combination of approaches. Sharing books, and recording experiences orally and in writing develops literacy skills.
  • Students will learn in New Zealand English and will study New Zealand literature, reflecting the diverse make up of our society. English programmes also draw widely on the best of historical and international literature.
  • Students are encouraged to study literature from different places and periods. They learn to discriminate and respond to a wide range of different sorts of writing. They develop skills to analyse and reflect on the meaning and beliefs in different writing.

There’s more great information about the characteristics of learning English available here.

What sorts of things can I expect my teenager to be doing in English?

The following are some generic activities your teenager is likely to do as a part of their learning English:

  • Studying a movie.

Watching a film with literary merit (something that has appropriate  themes, characters, plot (storyline).

Studying, discussing, exploring the different elements of the film.

Creating a static image based on a theme in the film.

Writing a response about one element of the film.

  • Learning how to write and deliver a speech to the class.

Listen to and read speeches written by others.

Discuss effective speech writing and delivery techniques.

Write own speech and practice with peers.

Deliver the speech to the class or video it for a showing in class.

  • Study poetry.

Read poetry of others.

Discuss and explore elements of poetry – formatting and language features used.

Write own poetry

There are obviously the ore traditional aspects of English that are taught today also. These are things like

  • Essay/report writing.
  • Learning grammatical skills
  • Reading novels, short stories, poetry (texts) and so on.

The changes that have occurred in technology over the past ten years have meant that English as a subject has evolved and is more appealing to the ‘tech-kids/teens’ of today. It has meant that some assessment techniques have changed, for example the opportunity to video a speech delivery and show it to a class perhaps rather than deliver it directly to them and being able to give a response to text in a visual form rather than written.

Although there have been many changes the aims remain the same, to arm our children with the language skills they need to be effective members of NZ society.


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This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

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