What Are the Components of Balanced Literacy?

What are the components of balanced literacy? What does it mean to create a comprehensive literacy program, and how is it done?To a first year teacher, it can seem very intimidating, but it doesn't have to be!

For example, in my very first class there were 27 students, about 10 of which were first graders. About 90% of my students were ESL, meaning English was at least a second language for them, or third, or in some cases fourth. Several spoke very little English at all. One of them couldn’t speak a single word of English, and I had no ESL support until November. Another had lived in the mountains of Jamaica and had never even held a crayon or a pair of scissors before. How were the components of balanced literacy going to help these children?

We all face these sorts of challenges each year. Each day. And we are expected to create a comprehensive literacy program. Not only that, you will need to differentiate the curriculum for each student as needed. The easiest way to do this? By combining independent silent reading, shared partner reading, literacy centres, guided reading and/or literature circles, and guided writing or Writer's Workshop.

I'll show you how to set up each of them later, on a different page. But for now, I'd like to give you an overview, so you can see how it can actually benefit you.

Independent reading, also known as silent reading, is when your students are actually doing just that. They can also be engaged in reading-related writing at this time too. What grade you teach will dictate whether your students are writing detailed chapter analyses, or carefully copying in title/author information and trying to determine whether a text is fiction or non-fiction.

Shared reading is more common in the primary grades, but can also be a wonderful tool with older students. Essentially students are given permission to read aloud to each other and discuss whatever texts they wish to share. It fosters enjoyment of reading more than almost anything else, other than reading to and with children, which is, after all, the whole idea!

Literacy centres are a wonderful, almost magical experience that transports students from simply reading and writing into active and interactive learning that is easy to assess and so much fun for the students, they often forget it's work!

Guided reading is a reading circle, during which students share reading of multiple copies of the same text, which is at, or close to, their own reading level. Guided discussion of the text also takes place here.

Literature circles vary greatly, depending on whether you're teaching kindergarten or Grade 5 or 6, but have in common the enthusiasm with which students share and discuss texts. Often teachers encourage and support discussion with supplied questions, but this is not always the case. Discussions--usually animated--tend to spontaneously erupt because the children are so excited about what they have read.

Put these five components of balanced literacy together, and you have the ingredients to create a comprehensive literacy program.

Independent Reading in a Junior Class
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