To better comprehend how educational reforms and classroom practice interconnect, we need to understand the epistemic environments created for learning, as well as the pedagogical activities and the modes of classroom discourse related to these activities. This article examines how a particular innovation in English literacy, Strategies for English Language Learning and Reading (STELLAR), has been implemented in Singapore. Outlining the broader curriculum initiatives, current literacy policy landscape and pedagogical effect of classroom discourse, we look at how English language teachers in grades 1 and 2 interpret the STELLAR curriculum. Situated within the larger international zeal of educational reform, Singapore presents a rich case for the study of policy–pedagogy initiatives, literacy instruction and cultural values. Adding to the existing policy enactment research, this investigation provides an opportunity to probe both the prospects and limitations of policy implementation associated with centralised educational structures, examination-oriented systems and societal cultural frameworks.