Balanced Literacy: Finding Time In Your Schedule

Balanced Literacy: Finding Time In Your Schedule

Welcome back to our balanced literacy series! Today the focus is on our schedules. Have you ever seen that Tropicana orange juice commercial where all those oranges squeeze into the bottle? In the commercial all of the oranges squeeze in a very small space and magically the container still shuts. Sometimes scheduling the time you have available in your classroom can feel like that. Let’s talk about different options with balanced literacy and your schedule. Please leave any comments below with what works or doesn’t work for you. If you need more individual advice, feel free to email me at! 

Don’t forget to stop by every Tuesday  to gain a better insight into using a balanced literacy framework within your classroom! 

The Ideal World

...that none of us live in

What time allotments are supposed to be allowed for balanced literacy? You might want to refresh yourself on the balanced literacy components before reading on. Now, while reading this section do not freak out! Please! I know exactly what you’ll be thinking, “WHAT? Who has time for all of this on a daily basis?” The answer is no one. Only the ideal dream school that we can all fall asleep thinking about. We’ll get to real life scheduling in a moment. I do think there is value in understanding how things should go before we change them to how they have to go. 


Kindergarten - Grade 2

  • Read Aloud with Accountable Talk: 20-30 minutes a day
  • Word Study: 10-15 minutes a day
  • Reader’s Workshop: 60 minutes a day
  • Writer’s Workshop: 60 minutes a day
  • Shared Reading: 10 minutes a day
  • Shared Writing: 10 minutes a day 

Total: 170-185 minutes a day 


Grade 3 - Grade 5

  • Read Aloud with Accountable Talk: 20 minutes a day 
  • Word Study: 10 minutes a day
  • Reader’s Workshop: 60 minutes a day
  • Writer’s Workshop: 60 minutes a day
  • Shared Reading and Shared Writing: scaffolded into groups 
Total: 150 minutes a day 

Let's Get Real

I have never had this so called dream literacy schedule and I’m sure you don’t either. Let’s figure out how to apply this in the real world of teaching. Currently I have 80 minutes three days a week and 120 minutes two days a week for literacy. I can’t follow this schedule no matter how much I want to stick to it. I also need to make sure that my schedule isn’t shortchanging the kids. 

Nonnegotiable Items

Tbe first thing you need to do is determine your nonnegotiable items. These are my current nonnegotiable items within my classroom schedule. I currently teach grade 1. 

  1. I must have read aloud with accountable talk every day. 
  2. My students must have independent work time and as much of it as I can give them.
  3. My mini-lessons will stick to the 10 minute time frame because otherwise I am taking precious time away from independent work time. 
  4.  I will read a story each day during snack (that does not count for read aloud with accountable talk because… well, they’re focused on eating) to increase their exposure to stories.
  5.  No students will be pulled out of my literacy time for any support. This time is sacred.

My Past Schedules

Total: 180 Minutes a day! 

Ok, so… maybe I lied when I said I never had the dream literacy schedule. I completely forgot about my first school! My first school district was 100% invested in balanced literacy. That is actually where I was trained and where I learned so much of the knowledge I am sharing with you. We wrote our entire social studies curriculum in a way that supported our literacy goals. This was my schedule during my time there. We always had enough time to get everything done that we needed to get done. If science or social studies needed more time we would flex our literacy or math time to devote more time to those subjects. Teachers were given professional choice within our schedule to make small daily changes as needed. This was honestly the greatest schedule I ever had. You’ll notice that Shared Reading and Shared Writing aren’t listed as subjects. This is because those were pulled into any subject every day. Sometimes shared reading happened in math or shared writing happened in science. We were completely in control. 

Snack happened while kids were independently reading. This is obviously not ideal because eating and reading at the same time is very tricky for the grade 2 reader. Very tricky. We had many lessons about how to eat safely, without damaging the books, eat our snacks. 

Total: 120 minutes 

This schedule worked pretty well for grade 3. At this school we were not so attached to balanced literacy and focused more on the workshop model. We received amazing PD around oral language and accountable talk here. 

You will notice that we do not have a read aloud time written into our schedule. Even though we did professional development around read aloud for two years we never made actual time for it within our schedule. Usually I cut reader’s workshop short by 15 minutes and did read aloud then. Sometimes read aloud would be incorporated during Morning Meeting or Science or Social Studies. This was tricky but it was what we had to work with. Again, not ideal but I worked with what I had. Isn’t that what we all do as teachers? 

At this school we had less flex time in our schedule. We were expected to be teaching what was on our schedule no matter what. If the principal walked in and it was supposed to be word study and you were still doing writer’s workshop it was “noted.” I don’t know where those notes went but someone knew when you didn’t follow your schedule with fidelity. 


Total: 65 minutes 3 days a week 105 minutes 2 days a week… I think! 

This is my current schedule and by far the least ideal of the three. Last year my schedule was much better than this one but I can’t find it and our schedules are too complex to remember. Usually I don’t even know my schedule until March! You’ll see that our students receive 200 minutes a week in their native language. This means that our Polish speaking students head to native Polish, our French students go to native French, our German students go to native German and all the kids who don’t fit into those categories go to foreign Polish. If we’re complaining about our schedule I have no idea how these native language teachers do it. They literally teach an entire years worth of curriculum (not just reading and writing but social studies and other important information too) in 200 minutes a week! I can’t even imagine! 

This is the first time that I haven’t had time for both reader’s and writer’s workshop everyday. I want to do each subject justice but I know that I am not doing what I should be doing. At one summer institute Lucy Calkins said something along the lines of… if you can’t do 60 minutes of workshop (reading or writing) a day then don’t even bother. She said not to do this sort of schedule at all. I should just forget it. I can’t imagine what she would think if she saw my current schedule. 

I do reader’s workshop on Monday and Tuesday and writer’s workshop on Thursday and Friday. I use Wednesday to flex between the two. Some weeks you need 3 days of reading. Some weeks you need 3 days of writing. Some days I am so discouraged by this schedule. I just have to work with what I’m given 

Plus! 80 minutes of word study in two 40-minute blocks? Also not ideal for the first grader. This schedule is the most rigid of any. I cannot move anything around. I can sometimes swap science and social studies for each other but there is no way for me to get more literacy time in our day.  

So What Do I Do?

  • I plan like no other. Pulling all of these strings and orchestrating a successful schedule while trying to implement balanced literacy is HARD. My plans are on point in order to incorporate everything. 
  • I guarantee my students get a read aloud every single day. It usually is only 15 minutes a day. Sometimes I put my read aloud in math, science or social studies. 
  • Interactive writing has been totally incorporated into my science and social studies curriculum. My students usually get about 30 minutes a week. 
  • Shared reading is totally incorporated into word study, math, and social studies. We do some shared reading in science but not too much. We have about 20 minutes of shared reading a week. 
  • I teach my kids to hustle. We learn abut urgency and we know that everything we’re doing is the most important thing in the moment. I shave down my transition times to next to nothing in order to optimize minutes.
  • I also relax and know that some days it just isn’t going to happen. Sometimes we need a go noodle break even though we clearly have no time for it. We do it anyways.
  • My kid listen to a story (without accountable talk aka not interactive) every single day during snack time
  • We have wonderful and very involved parents who provide support for literacy at home


What's Next?

Each Tuesday a new post will appear giving you more insight into the life of a balanced literacy teacher! Next week our post will focus on the teacher moves during independent reading or writing time.

Use the comments section to ask any lingering questions or leave any comments with things I can do to better help you on this journey to implementing a balanced literacy framework within your classroom.

What are the nonnegotiable items within your schedule? Do you have a scheduling issue at your school? I would love to hear from you!


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