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What is Balanced Literacy? A Teacher's Journey

Updated: Mar 19, 2022

After not knowing but learning about Balanced Literacy, I effectively helped incorporate it into some classrooms. Combining what I learned about Balanced Literacy along with some of my own teaching methods and favorite teaching practices, I found it very rewarding and productive. It was unexpectedly easy to do, the teachers loved it, the students loved it, and the student growth pred it worked!




Literacy Practices

· Interactive Read Aloud

· Shared Reading

· Phonics and Word Study

· Guided Reading

· Literacy Centers


There are more practices that can be incorporated but I always suggest starting off small. Writing and reading workshop are great practices to incorporate along the way also, once you are comfortable with the planning and process!


Each literacy practice will be described briefly and then stay tuned for more in-depth posts that dig deeper into what each of these look like.


IRA or Interactive Read Alouds- (20 minutes) This is a time to enjoy authentic literature with your students. Model your thinking as the teacher and provide turn and talk opportunities for the students to practice what you model. I normally choose above grade level texts because I am doing the reading and we review vocabulary prior to reading the book. This is also a great time to teach state standards.


Shared Reading- (15 Minutes) This literacy practice can use any kind of reading that is on grade level and is good to read as a group. Poems, Big Books, and short passages can be used. The words need to be large enough for the entire class to read it together. This is a “safe” time for students to practice reading since it is done as a group. Avoid asking students to read alone during this time. You can also use shared reading to teach concepts of print - letters and sounds, phonics, sight words, reading strategies, etc. Keep it simple and pick one skill a day to practice after reading together. Since reading as a group takes the pressure off students, it tends to be a time some reluctant readers will start to bloom.



Phonics and Word Study- (15 minutes) When I first started to incorporate Balanced Literacy we had Phonics and Words Study from Fountas and Pinnell. If you don’t have a Phonics program that you can use this is the time to work on phonemic awareness and phonics. Lessons should start with modeling of a phonics skill and then having students practice together. I like to then add this to Literacy Centers for even more independent practice.


Guided Reading (15-20 minutes per group) This may be the area I see the most growth in students, although they are all extremely important. I highly recommend getting Guided Reading into your literacy block every day and working with each group every day. Some teachers say there isn’t enough time but I have helped many teachers tweak their schedules to make this work. This is where the magic happens and the students put everything together that you have been working on and try it independently and get immediate feedback from you. Books are on their instructional level and we are watching closely for signs that they are ready to try harder books.


Literacy Centers- (15-20 minute blocks during Guided Reading Groups) This is where the students can now practice independently. They will not do everything right but exploring words, writing, and reading independently is part of the development process. The power of working with other students during this time is great too. This is the time I allow students to read the shared reading on their own, practice phonics and word work, read independently, etc. I will share tips on how to organize and keep prep time to a minimum with literacy centers!


Sample Literacy Block (120 minutes)


8:30-8:45 Shared Reading

8:45-9:00 Phonics

9:00-10:00 Guided Reading and Literacy Centers (4-5 students per group or 20 minute groups with 6 students per group).

9:00-9:15 Group 1

9:15-9:30 Group 2

9:30-9:45 Group 3

9:45-10:00 Group 4

10:00-10:30 IRA


If you don’t have 120 minutes you can still make it happen. I like to actually teach phonics in one of the times later in the day. For example, we had an odd 15 minute break in our afternoon and it was a great spot to squeeze in phonics. I also have helped make schedules where we did IRA right after lunch and/or recess because the kids needed something to help calm themselves down. If you don’t have a phonics program you could just incorporate it into your Shared Reading. I also know 15 minutes seems short for GR and there aren’t transition times incorporated but once the kids get the routine down it goes pretty smoothly!


Stay tuned for a breakdown of these literacy practices!


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