Balanced Literacy For All

What it is and how you can implement it in your classroom

What is Balanced Literacy

Teaching literacy so that everyone learns is a balancing act! We need to find the right balance between what we teach the students and what they do on their own! Releasing responsibility to the student is really important, but how do we accomplish that?

The balanced literacy program uses 4 elements together to promote the best chances for all students in the diverse classrooms to learn literacy!

Why does it work?

How do the 4 elements work to reach all students?

Learning something as complex as reading is a long and difficult endeavour. This program gradually works with students to turn them into readers. By reading to the students through the years, they learn to appreciate texts they might not choose on their own, discover some really neat fact they might not find on their own and show them that reading is a fun activity! We then start to pull the students into reading by including them as we read to them. This is also the perfect time to model them different tools and strategies for gathering meaning from a text. Making small groups and working with them gives students a safe and intimate place to apply the tools you've just taught them with reading. Shy students come out of their shell and start to pridefully show off their skills! They can read! They can understand! Now they can read on their own!

The whole program should be done daily. Learning how to pull meaning from text happens all day in all areas of studying. Providing students with a time every day when they can learn and practice those skills is very important to ensure every student, regardless of level, can become better readers!

The Classroom

Literacy is everywhere! Our classrooms should not be any different! Have anchor charts and word walls up for students to read and check! Provide students with a classroom library and comfortable area to read. Make reading a fun and relaxing activity!

For more ways to include literacy around your room, check out a PDF with lists of examples on different ways to turn your classroom from a room into a literacy learning zone!

The 4 Elements

Read Alouds

Well the first part of the balanced reading program is called read aloud. Read a story to the class! It catches the student's' attention and shows them that reading is fun! We read for lots of different reasons, and we can do the same for our class. We can read to them for lots of different reasons!

When reading to them, we want to be the best reader we can be! We want to show them what a fluent reader sounds and looks like. We want to share what we are thinking at different times during the story (I wonder what will happen next? I think.... because...). This is the time when we can model for the students what they will become with practice!

Read alouds can happen every day for around 10 minutes. The students should be comfortable and ready to listen! If they are listening to a picture book, they should be close enough and comfortable to see the pictures too! Many times, this is done with students sitting on the carpet in front of a teacher with a story book. This is also important to do with older students, but they will probably be more comfortable sitting at their desks than on the floor!

Shared Reading

The students now know what a good reader looks and sounds like! They even have a few ideas on what to think about as they are reading! Shared reading is the next part of the program. It involves the students in the reading process!

Make the text really big! A giant print of a book, or re writing a poem on chart paper, make it big so that everyone can see the text! Provide students with the opportunity to join in with the reading too!

This is the time to pick an area or skill to focus on. In the YouTube video clip below ( you see how a teacher is focusing on letter knowledge. She reads to the students and then they echo her. She then asks them questions about the book.

This seems great in a primary classroom, but what about in a junior classroom? Here is another clip about an important skill when reading, checking for understanding. When ever we read, we need to know what we are reading. This is a skill that is still taught well into the junior years. The clip, found at, shows you how a poem is used to demonstrate how students check for understanding. Modifying it for junior years might involve asking what the strategy is, have them provide the definition, before going through the text together.

How often should this be done? Any time you want to demonstrate, or review, a skill used for understanding text, this should be done. You can even use the same text over again if demonstrating a different strategy! This helps reach all of the students and gives them a chance to start taking responsibility over their learning!

Teaching with Shared Reading of a Big Book
Shared Reading - Check for Understanding

Guided Reading

We have all looked in and saw U shaped tables in classrooms. What is it used for? It seems to work great when we want to work with small groups of students. The table has many names: the U table, the horseshoe table, and the guided reading table. This part of the learning time with students is when they start to take more control over their reading. In small groups of similarly levelled students or students with similar interests, they practice using the skills and strategies you showed them in the read aloud and shared reading.

Why group them? To make every student feel that they are being listened to while reading

How many in each group? The groups should be 3 to 6 students. Too many and you might not get to work with each student as much as you want

How long and how often? Anywhere between 10 to 20 minutes 2 to 3 times a week. This will provide you with the chance to meet with all of your students!

This is the time when they read together or on their own to you with your support and guidance to help them use the tools and skills you showed them! This provides them with the amazing chance to practice how to gather meaning from texts that they will soon be doing on their own!

what is guided reading

A neat site to help you learn about guided reading -

even more What is Guided Reading?

A short PDF to help you learn more about what guided reading is -

Independent Reading

This is the ultimate goal of all literacy teachers! We want students to be able to read on their own, to understand what they are reading and to be able to apply what they read to other situations!

This is the time when students apply the tools you've provided them on their own. Students have now accepted responsibility of their reading! Now they are picking their own books! At the beginning, they will need a reminder on how to pick a book that is just right for them. Now, all that's left is for the students to find a comfortable space to sit, or lie down, and read for around 20 minutes a day!

Wait a second. How do I ensure they're using any of the strategies you've taught them? How do I know if they are reading at all! Very good question. Asking students to write something about the story they read, or asking students to tell you a bit about the story is a great way to check that they are gathering meaning from the books.

Creating Literate Environments

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