Letters & Sounds Hooray!

Letters & Sounds Hooray!

A few weeks ago during science we went outside to trace our shadows. On the shadow we wrote the day and time. As kids wrote with chalk I said the letters in Monday aloud. M-O-N-D-A-Y. I looked around at my diamonds to see many, many incorrect spellings of Monday. I had some Muntew, Nondei, Mondaw… I mean the list goes on. Later that morning we played a game called write the letter I say as we tested to see which markers needed to be thrown away. As I said the letter names they wrote down the letter and then checked their marker to decide if it was a keep or a toss. I watched as they wrote incorrect letter after incorrect letter. We needed to do something about letter names ASAP! …but what?!

Last year was my first year teaching grade 1. Previously I had never taught lower than 2. I know, I know. It might seem like there isn’t a big difference between grade 1 and grade 2 but there is. There really really is. A HUGE difference.

These are some of my classroom favorites for teaching letter names and letter sounds. Remember that this is taught in cooperation with reader’s and writer’s workshop. Although these are isolated activities they are brought out of isolation during workshop. Kids need to learn within a context as well. 

My Favorite Letter/Sound Activities

Class Name Chart

These are not the names of my students. Fake names have been chosen to demonstrate a class name chart.

If you use Fountas and Pinnell Phonics then you probably have a class name chart in your classroom. We made our class name chart the first or second day of school. The name chart is a great way to get to know your students and to find out what they know about their own name. Starting with the name is a powerful choice. Students take great pride in their names… actually, I think everyone takes pride in their name. If you haven’t read this post about names, please check it out! Having their names up on the wall is so exciting. I once read somewhere that a child should be able to find their name at least 7 places in your classroom.

While creating this name chart I can see who knows the first letter of their name, who can spell their name, who knows about ABC order, who knows what sounds different letters make, and so much more. I just love this activity! We then use our name chart throughout the entire year.

This year we also added a people at our school name chart. This was inspired by this video. The kids love having the different people at our school up on the wall and it brings our whole school community into our classroom.

Once the class name chart is completed it is the gift that keeps on giving. We use this all the time during word study or interactive writing. Sometimes I call a kid up to write a letter if they have it in their name. “Kuba can you please come up to the board and write the last letter in your name?” Or “Oh my goodness! This word starts with the same letter as Filip!” 

The Alphabet & Alphabet Linking Chart

Yeah.. I always forget to take pictures so here is a sort of blurry one of the alphabet. I recently learned that it is not ok to have igloo as the I because it is offensive to Native Americans so I have changed it to an iguana. BUT... of course I don't have a picture of that one.

This year I switched my alphabet and made one intentionally thinking of letters and letter sounds. I don’t think you can create an alphabet without thinking of letters actually! 😂 In the past, I had an alphabet that had only animals or one that the kids and I made together. After reflecting upon how I use the alphabet in my classroom, it’s importance in our word study program and problems I’ve had with my previous alphabet I made a change.

This year all of the pictures in my alphabet were chosen because they made a certain sound. This way each time a child looks at the picture they hear the sound I wanted them to hear. All of the vowels are short vowel words (apple, egg, iguana, octopus, umbrella). I learned that elephant is not a good short e word to use because it sounds like the letter l.  Letters like c or g that make different sounds have a hard sound (cat, girl). X doesn’t use x-ray or xylophone both make a sound of x but not the one I wanted my children to hear. X instead uses box. The only word in the alphabet to end with the letter sound. I thought it was very important for them to hear that /x/ sound.

As a class, we then made an alphabet linking chart. Here I printed only the lowercase letters and a black and white version of the picture for each letter. The kids and I colored our cards together while discussing the letter sounds. Then we glued them onto a large piece of chart paper and hung it next to the easel. When I first taught second grade, each teacher had the alphabet hanging (usually up high), an alphabet linking poster at the easel and a smaller alphabet linking poster at the guided reading table. I don’t have a specific area in my classroom for guided reading so we just have the large alphabet and the alphabet linking poster for now.

The personal alphabet took the place of the small alphabet linking poster at the guided reading table. As I worked with small groups kids were able to color in the pictures of the letters they knew the sounds for on their alphabet. Each child now had a small alphabet linking chart that could be used for many different things. Some friends keep their letter offices out during writer’s workshop to determine sounds. Some use it during writer’s workshop to determine how to make the lowercase letter they are looking for. Sometimes we bring it to the carpet with our letter looker to find what letter sound I am making. There are just so many different ways to use a personal alphabet. This alphabet will also transform into a personal word wall for some of my friends.  

Click here to purchase my alphabet set! 

Handwriting and Letter Sounds

In our Grade 0 (kindergarten) kids learn both upper and lowercase letters but many students leave only knowing the uppercase letters. In many cultures in Europe the way writing looks on a page is valued higher than the ideas and the story. Many cultures also teach cursive from the very beginning so print can be looked down upon. I know there has been a fairly large shift on this thinking in the US but I don’t teach in the US. When our parents see our children’s writing they focus on how it looks, not what it says. We are working to build in parent education around this but you can’t change cultural values through parent education. In class, we place more value on what we are writing and how we are saying our message but culturally we also need to focus on how the letters look.

My assistant teacher and I focus heavily on lowercase letters in grade 1 and try to de-emphasize uppercase letters. Our children are learning to write in many different scripts all at the same time. Some students might be learning Polish and English at school but Korean at home. The Polish, French, German, English, Czech, and Korean (just to name some) scripts all make their letters in different ways. In many of the languages, they are learning cursive but we are teaching print. So in grade 1, we spend a lot of time on handwriting and on lowercase letters while trying not to lose the essence of the writer’s workshop and word study. It is a tricky balance but after children start making their stories “look nice” parents start to understand the importance of the other parts of writing.

Each Letter Makes a Sound (Farmer in the Dell)

There are so many ways to take the traditional songs we might know and change the lyrics. This song goes to the tune of the Farmer in the Dell.

Each letter makes a sound

Each letter makes a sound

High-Ho Here We Go!

Each letter makes a sound

The a makes a sound

The a makes a sound

/a/ /a/ /a/ /a/ /a/

The a makes a sound

I think you get the picture! This song is so engaging. We sing it while we are lining up. We sing it as we are coming to the carpet. We sing it as we are cleaning up. The kids just love this song! The grade 1 reading interventionist at my old school taught this song along with the next one to me long ago. Sometimes I let the kids call out the letters. Sometimes I pull magnetic letters out of a jar. Sometimes we go in ABC order or in reverse ABC order. The song is great for practicing letter sounds.

The Letters on the Bus

This goes to the tune of the wheels on the bus.

The a on the bus goes

/a/ /a/ /a/

/a/ /a/ /a/

/a/ /a/ /a/

The a on the bus goes

/a/ /a/ /a/

The letters make a sound.

This song is also great just like each letter makes a sound. There are so many different things you could do with this song. I even made a little letter bus to help kids use on their own. 

Click here to get a letter bus FREEBIE

Letter Looker

This is an idea I borrowed from Dr. Jean. You might know Dr. Jean from her Guacamole video but she has so many educational ideas to share with everyone. The letter looker is a pipe cleaner that is twisted into a magnifying glass shape. When we have our letter lookers I call out a letter and everyone tries to find that letter. The kids have a blast. Some of them only feel comfortable going to the letters on our alphabet linking chart right now. That is completely fine! As they learn more about letter names and sounds they will start to move away from the alphabet linking poster and go out into the room. This is a reason why Interactive Writing is so important in Grade 1. If we didn’t produce any writing together the kids might not have places to look for the letters. 

I also use the letter looker with some of the videos I will share below. Simply pause the video and have the kids search for the letter the video paused on. I honestly didn’t think that this would be as engaging as it was! the kids have a blast!

Youtube Videos & Go Noodle

We use Go Noodle and on Go Noodle there is a Youtube Channel. Teachers can add videos to their channel and I add all of these videos. It is much more fun to dance and sing to a letter video when your champ is going to earn points to level up! 

Here are the videos I recommend

ABC Kickbox by Dr. Jean

Phonercise by Dr. Jean

Go Letters by Dr. Jean

A to Z by Jolly Phonics

LeapFrog Letter Sounds

Sing and Sign by Jack Hartmann 

Vowel Bat 

What do the Letters Say by Have Fun Teaching


What are your favorite letter and letter sound activities in the classroom? How do you work with your students who don’t know their letter sounds? I would love to hear from you, please leave a note in the comments below! 

Valentine’s Day- Seriously, It’s Not Valentimes!

Valentine’s Day- Seriously, It’s Not Valentimes!

First Of All...

If you teach elementary school then you probably know exactly what I mean when I say Valentimes. IT. IS. NOT. VALENTIMES. DAY. NO! 

We have to correct kids when they are pronouncing words incorrectly because they won’t be able to read them or spell them if they’re saying it wrong. One time I taught a student (who was wonderful but…) who said gynasics instead of gymnastics. Everyone thought it was so adorable until he tried to read a story about a girl who loved gymnastics…. He couldn’t figure out the word. He even said, “It should be gynasics but they spelled it wrong.” Then I had to tell him he was saying it wrong the whole time and it was not good. He was very upset no one told him and he was unnecessarily hard on himself. 


If your kids are saying Valetimes please correct them. Show them the word. Show them that it sounds like tines at the end not times and help the kids out! Also make sure that you’re pronouncing it correctly too! 

No Valentines in Poland

Valentine’s Day is super American. Super, super American. We love to take a whole day and devote it to love and friendship and buy things that are red and pink and send notes to each other filled with gushy messages. The rest of the world doesn’t really do Valentines Day. Not like we do. 

That means that you can’t go to a shop and purchase valentines for your class. There are no little chocolates in heart shape… although I think there are large boxes of heart chocolate. Anyway, this means that when we celebrate Valentines Day kids don’t have valentines to pass out. 


I Made My Own

This year instead of sending home a note with a list of names and an attempt to explain Valentine’s Day I sent home already made valentines. All the kids had to do was pick one for each classmate and color it in. Easy Peasy! (As my firsties say) 

If you too would like these valentines, they are free in my TPT shop

Except in true hypocrite fashion I’m not personally handing those valentines out. My assistant teacher and I found these Bella and Rosie Valentines from Pioneer Valley so we’re handing these out. Our kids are simply obsessed with Bella and Rosie! 

The (Reading or Writing) Workshop Essentials

The (Reading or Writing) Workshop Essentials

Welcome back to our balanced literacy series! Today the focus is on the essentials of workshop model teaching.  This post is meant to build a collective understanding of the workshop model used for readers and writers workshop. If you haven’t read the first two posts of the series, take a minute right now to read about the framework and the components. Don’t forget to stop by every Tuesday to gain a better insight on using a balanced literacy framework within your classroom!

Workshop Shifts In Understandings

One of the major shifts in moving to a balanced literacy framework is the role the teacher plays and the role the student plays. The role of the teacher used to be to have all the knowledge and dispense that knowledge to students. The teacher was the expert in the room and the students trained to catch as much of that expert knowledge as they could. This is style of teaching is often referred to as a sage on the stage. If you were to peek into a classroom often we would see students sitting around a teacher probably at their desks and the teacher standing in front of the classroom for the majority of class time. The focus was on the teacher giving information to the students. This teaching style doesn’t match best practices anymore and it doesn’t work for developing 21st century learners.

In a workshop model the teacher is often seen sitting one on one with kids thinking about all that this child knows and pushing their thinking slightly further in one area or another. Think back to the zone of proximal development post. A teacher knows where each child is in the continuum of learning to read or write. She can then analyze student errors, miscues or self corrects (in reading) and then guide the child with teaching directly targeting a skill in their zone of proximal development. A teacher in this model is a guide on the side. Instead of having children spend the majority of their time listening to the teacher dispense knowledge they spend the majority of the time practicing skills that their teacher had taught them. In a workshop model the teacher only gives whole class direct instruction for 10 minutes. Then the role of the teacher shifts to coach as she walks around and guides each student individually or in small groups. 

This shift in how time is spent in the classroom allows students time to practice their craft. What good does it do if one day I teach you all the ways to decode multisyllabic words and then I give you 5 minutes to practice it at the end of class through a worksheet? It doesn’t help you at all. What if I teach you two ways to decode multisyllabic words and then give you 35 minutes to read a book and try it there? Not only letting you try it on your own but I spend a few minutes with you listening in and then coaching your specific need. That sounds like it is extremely beneficial for students. I can tell you from experience that it is. The workshop model allows students more time to practice skills through authentic situations. 

As I’m sure you’ve gathered differentiating using this model of teaching is extremely easy. First of all, each child will be reading or writing on their own at their own level. Then the teacher is pushing in and coaching 1:1 or in small groups to target the ZPD of each student. Each student is getting exactly what they need. It doesn’t matter if in your third grade class you have a child reading at a fourth grade level and one at a first. Both students are receiving the instruction they need to move forward as a reader.

The workshop model also promotes independent problem solving in students. The role of the teacher is not to provide right answers but to guide students to right answers.  Through workshop I teach my students many independent life skills. My little gems are taught how to staple in writer’s workshop. What do I do if my pencil breaks? What if I finish reading all of my books? These are situations where students traditionally might come and ask a teacher what they should do or sometimes as for permission to do things. In a balanced literacy framework a lot of responsibility falls on the students. This is a good thing! It helps to create independent thinkers. Kids in your class don’t need to ask you for permission to do everything. Supplies should be accessible to them. They should know how to problem solve on their own! We want our students to be independent thinkers and doers. Workshop helps to foster those skills.  


The workshop model is designed to use one hour of instructional time. This means that if you are teaching reading and writing workshop you would need two hours of time. Now, I don’t have this amount of time in my classroom and I only ever have had it once. At one school they had enough time in the schedule carved out to implement workshop with fidelity. I’m going to explain the ideal circumstances here and then let’s talk real world. 

Workshop begins with all students called to the gathering area for a mini-lesson. This means that you’ll want to create a gathering area in your classroom if you don’t have one there already. At my first grade gathering area kids sit at the carpet. When I taught third grade kids were allowed to drag chairs with them but they had to be sitting at the same level as their reading/writing partner. Teachers do this in different ways to meet the different needs of their students. I will say that kids should be gathered close and in one area. Kids sitting around the room at desks doesn’t create the atmosphere desired for workshop. 

Once the class has gathered the teacher begins a 10 minute mini-lesson. Here she goes through a format that is predictable to both the teacher and the students. During the mini-lesson a teacher has one teaching point. Only one! She models how to do the teaching point, she has students try out the methods on their own and then she says the magic words, “off you go!” Once these words are said all students get up off of the carpet and go off to work. There aren’t a million questions asked. The teacher doesn’t start giving a million reminders. It is quiet and calm as readers and writers go off to try new things and grow into even better readers and writers. 

After the words off you go,  I currently go off to read or write for the first three minutes myself. I started this practice when I was teaching third grade in the States.  I began one day sitting next to a reader who typically would try his best to avoid books during workshop. I say next to him for 5 minutes reading before going off to confer. In those five minutes he didn’t pick up a book but he watched me as a reader. He said things like, your face is smiling right now or why do you look confused? He started picking up on my facial expressions. When he tried to interrupt I simply stated, “I’m working on my reading right now and you should be too.” I started doing this again in my grade 1 writing classroom. I have some students who can come up with a million questions they want to ask right after I send them off. Now I get my writing folder and find a spot to write. During the three minutes I might move around the room, calming kids with my presence and encouraging that they write. If someone attempts to interrupt I calmly state, “I am working on my writing right now and you should be too.” Then once I go off to start conferring the kids are already working independently. 

After the magic words off you go, a teacher gets to work on meeting with students one on one or in small groups depending on student need. During this time the students are working independently. While conferring the teacher is studying the student and watching to find what they can do, what they are almost doing and what they can’t do yet. The teacher then makes a powerful choice and teaches the reader/writer one skill or strategy that fits within their zone of proximal development. The students continue working even if the teacher doesn’t meet with them. If they encounter a problem, they solve it on their own.  The students are trying out all of the various strategies that the teacher has taught. The teacher continues the important task of coaching in and guiding each student forward on their journey. 

After about 40-45 minutes work time it is time for share. Share is sometimes the most neglected piece of the workshop model but it is very important. The students gather again in the gathering area of the classroom. Sometimes they bring something with them as prompted by the teacher. The students then share out what they are trying, what they are succeeding in, and what they are struggling with. The community of readers or writers comes together to give advice, compliments and ask questions. The share is carefully planned by the teacher. Sometimes share might be a quick turn and talk. Share ties the lesson together and brings it to a close. During share the teacher will reference the teaching point again and now ask for student voices to share what happened when they tried things out. 

What do I need to Get Started?

Here’s a list of things you may want before diving into the workshop model. 

  • A gathering area within your classroom
  • An easel to hang things on
  • An organizational system for tracking student notes and records
  • Assessments of your students as readers and writers. Do you have a general idea of where kids are in your classroom? 
  • Books for kids to read during reader’s workshop and paper for them to write on during writer’s workshop
  • Start to look at your schedule and your language arts time blocks. Do you have 1 hour to carve out for reading and 1 hour for writing? If you don’t, do not panic. Next week we’ll be talking about scheduling and what to do if you don’t have the perfect amounts of time. 
  • Write all of your questions, comments, concerns in the comments of this post so I can help you out along this journey. 

What's Next?

We’re going to stay with workshop a while so we can really get into all of the pieces together. Hopefully you’re starting to feel like taking on workshop and balanced literacy won’t be such a large task. We’re going to break it down into manageable chunks. Start to shift around things in your classroom to prepare for workshop. Let me know all of your questions too so I can help you out.  

Each Tuesday a new post will appear giving you more insight into the life of a balanced literacy teacher! Next week our post will center around scheduling. Maybe you’re realizing that you don’t have enough time in the day for this, neither do I. We’ll talk all about what to do about this next week. 


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

Components of a Balanced Literacy Framework

Components of a Balanced Literacy Framework

There are many different components in a balanced literacy framework. Balanced literacy can seem like a complicated jigsaw puzzle where the pieces don’t always seem to fit together. After teaching in this framework for several years, I can assure you that the pieces all fit together and teaching using this method is extremely beneficial for students and teachers too! If you haven’t already read it, I would read an overview to balanced literacy prior to reading this post.

Maintaining the Balance

While there are many components to the framework each component will fall under a general category. These categories are reading, writing, word study, and read aloud. Listening and speaking skills are interwoven into all of the components. As you can see in the image above, reading and listening are both components where the child is taking in information. Writing and speaking are components where the child is putting out information. Read aloud and word study involve a balance of taking in and putting out. This is where the term balanced literacy comes from.

The Components

Here we go, we’re about to break down each of the components into slightly more manageable chunks. By the end, you should have a general picture of each piece of the puzzle. I find it beneficial to break down each component in the general sense before giving the details of each. Posts after this one will focus on the nitty-gritty of each piece. While getting to the nuts and bolts of each component, it will be helpful to come back to this post to see the big picture from time to time. Taking on a balanced literacy framework is also a balance between learning all the nuances of each component while keeping the big picture in mind. Don’t worry, I have faith that we can all get there together!

Interactive Read Aloud with Accountable Talk

Let’s start with something you probably already have going in your classroom- read aloud. It is instinctive for most teachers to read to children. Read aloud is truly the heart of my classroom and the foundation for my literacy program. Read aloud in a balanced literacy framework is more intentional than just reading a story. Here a teacher is modeling the moves a proficient reader makes by thinking aloud. A think aloud allows students to see inside the mind of a reader. Reading is thinking and students must be shown how readers think as they work through texts. Keep in mind, we’re not telling readers what to think but showing them how to think.

Now, notice how I snuck the word interactive in before the words read aloud? During an interactive read aloud, children do not simply sit back and enjoy the story they assist the teacher in working through the text as readers. Children will be engaged in a series of turn and talks to practice skills they know and skills that they will soon know with high levels of teacher support. Teachers will encourage students through prompting to think deeply and readerly about the texts they read together.

Now, don’t worry not every read aloud in a balanced literacy framework must be interactive. Of course, I still encourage you to read for reading sake. Each time I pick up a book in life it isn’t to learn something or try out a new skill I learned. Sometimes I read for pure enjoyment and the children in your class should too! I was at a reading conference where author Lester Laminack spoke. He was discussing read alouds and said wouldn’t you be annoyed if you went to the movie and just when the story got to a part where you couldn’t wait to see what was coming next, the lights suddenly came back on, a voice came over the speakers and said, “now, turn and talk to your neighbor! What do you think is coming next? Will these two fall in love? Is a wedding in their future? Think back on all you know!” You would be so annoyed! It is okay if every read aloud isn’t interactive, but, with all things balanced literacy, we need a balance.

Word Study

Word study also straddles both the input and output pieces of balanced literacy. In reading the focus is on learning how to decode words and solve those tricky parts to read fluently. In writing the focus is on learning how to decode words and solve the tricky parts to write fluently. Do you notice how these might go hand in hand? Word study is a combination of phonics, grammar, spelling, vocabulary and sometimes handwriting instruction. In order for a child to fluently read and write they need a solid foundation for how words work within the English language (assuming that you’re teaching balanced literacy in English).

Most often, people who are frustrated with balanced literacy, have a problem because they feel word study is not being included and given the proper dedicated time. In my experience, I have seen many “balanced literacy” programs leave out this component because it is a harder one to tackle. Word study is tricky but that doesn’t mean we just leave it out in the cold and ignore it. It would be detrimental to the child if this piece of the balanced literacy framework is left out. The key to a balanced literacy program is building skills in all the areas at the same time. We don’t leave any out. So if this is a frustration you have, please know, word study is an essential component of a balanced literacy framework.


Reading has many different pieces that fall under this umbrella of a word. Reading focuses primarily on input. The conversations we have around texts and the writing we do about our reading give us the output connection needed in a balanced literacy framework. None of the pieces work in isolation, they all work together.

Reader’s Workshop

Reader’s Workshop is dedicated time each day to focus on the skills and strategies readers use. The teacher begins reader’s workshop whole group at the gathering area. She starts with a 10-minute mini-lesson. This mini-lesson focuses on a skill or strategy that readers need in order to become proficient. After the magic words “off you go” students head off to work independently. During this independent time, the teacher meets with students 1:1 (conferring) or in small groups (guided reading or strategy groups). At the end of independent time, the students are called back to the gathering area and have a share. During share, teachers can highlight student work and students can share their success and ask for help with their struggles.

In the perfect school day, reader’s workshop would take about an hour. It would start with a 10-minute mini-lesson, go into 45 minutes of independent work time, and end with 5-minute share. Now, as teachers very few of us live in this idealistic world. In a post coming up in this series, we’ll talk all about scheduling. For now, let’s worry about getting the gist of each of the components.

Independent Reading

Independent reading takes place during the independent time of reader’s workshop… go figure! During this time readers choose their own just right books. They are working by themselves to practice the skills and strategies they know. While students are choosing their own text it is important that they are working within their independent reading level. There is limited teacher support (except for 1:1 conferring) during independent reading time. Students should be successfully practicing what they already know and continue the work of building strong reading habits.

Guided Reading

During the independent work time of reader’s workshop teachers can pull guided reading groups. Guided reading is a time where readers at the same level gather with a teacher to read. It focuses heavily on the “we do” portion of balanced literacy. The texts they read with the teacher are at their instructional level and are typically chosen by the teacher. All students in the group read the same text. The teacher works with the small group as well as each individual child to teach decoding and comprehension skills pertinent to their instructional reading level. At times some writing and word work will take place during a guided reading lesson.

Guided reading is NOT round robin or popcorn reading. There is no place for round robin or popcorn reading in balanced literacy. It just isn’t best practice anymore. Please click on the following links to read more about why round robin reading just isn’t used in 21st-century classrooms.

Reading Strategy Groups

During the independent work time of reader’s workshop, teachers can also pull strategy groups. Strategy groups might be comprised of students of many different levels who all need to work on the same strategy. In this group, students will all be reading different stories each at their level while working on the same strategy as the teacher provides a high level of support.

Shared Reading

Shared reading takes place at a time outside of the Reader’s Workshop. Typically shared reading will be whole group instruction. During this time students look with the teacher at an enlarged, shared text. The teacher works with the students on skills that have been taught or will be taught during reader’s workshop and have been modeled during read aloud. Students work on decoding skills, fluency, and concepts of print (directionality, 1:1 match, etc.) while lead by the teacher.


Similar to reading, writing is a broad category with many components listed underneath it. Writing primarily focuses on output in the form of stories being written or told. Writers also use conversations to take their writing to a higher level. Here they use both their output and input skills. Frequently writers will study master writers and use reading and mentor texts to help take on new skills as well. As you can see, in a balanced literacy framework no skills are learned in isolation but are all learned together in order to create a more literate life.

Writer’s Workshop

Writer’s workshop is dedicated time each day to focus on the skills and strategies writers use. Workshop follows a similar structure whether it is for reading or writing. The teacher begins writer’s workshop whole group at the gathering area. There she starts with a 10-minute mini-lesson. The mini-lesson focuses on a skill, strategy, or craft that writers need to take on. This is very targeted teaching (similar to reading) focused on the class’s zone of proximal development. After the magic words “off you go” students head off to work independently on writing. During this independent time, the teacher meets with students 1:1 (conferring) or in small strategy groups. Guided writing is used but primarily in grades 0 (kindergarten) and 1. At the end of independent time, the students are called back to the gathering area and have a share. During share, teachers can highlight student work and students can share their success and ask for help with their struggles.

Again, in the perfect school day, writer’s workshop would take about an hour. It would start with a 10-minute mini-lesson, go into 45 minutes of independent work time, and end with five-minute share. Now, as teachers very few of us live in this idealistic world. In a post coming up in this series, we’ll talk all about scheduling. For now, let’s worry about getting the gist of each of the components.

Independent Writing

Due to the nature of writing, students are each working at their own level each time they pick up a pencil. This means in one independent writing time some students might need to focus on using punctuation to create sentences while others are focused on breaking their writing into paragraphs. This is the beauty of a balanced literacy framework as well as the workshop model, all students are able to work at their own level while all working to achieve similar end goals. There is limited teacher support (except for 1:1 conferring) during independent work time. Students should be successfully practicing what they already know and continue the work of building strong reading habits. Independent writing time takes place within the writer’s workshop time.

Writing Strategy Groups

During the independent work time of writer’s workshop, teachers might pull strategy groups. Strategy groups can be comprised of students of many different levels who all need to work on the same strategy. In this group, students will all be writing different stories each at their level while working on the same strategy.

Guided Writing

Guided writing is on the very high level of support. Teachers will typically use this with lower writers in the early primary grades. More details will come on this later. As for now, just know it exists.

Shared Writing

Shared writing takes place at a time outside of the writer’s workshop. Typically shared writing will be whole group. During this time the teacher along with the students of the class compose a text together. This could be a letter to another class, a story that happened to the whole class, a list, a recipe and much much more. During this time the teacher masterminds the writing process pulling each child up to contribute to the writing in a way that matches what’s within that child’s zone of proximal development. Some writers might be called up at the end of the line to show where the next line should begin if they are having trouble with the return sweep. Some writers might be called up to write a lowercase r if that is something within their zone of proximal development. Some writers might be sent off the carpet to research or add-on independently of the class. During shared writing, all students’ needs are being met in an extremely responsive way.

The Big Picture

Now, I hope you aren’t too overwhelmed. It can be very easy to feel overwhelmed when learning about the whole big picture and how everything fits together. As you learn a bit more about each component life will start to feel a whole lot better.

What’s next?

Relax. Breathe in and breathe out. Shifting to a balanced literacy framework is a journey and it isn’t going to happen overnight. Remember this is just one post in a series. It isn’t important that you understand everything right now but instead that you are beginning to build your understanding. Just think, what is one idea I can try in my classroom tomorrow to shift into a balanced literacy model?

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 gradual release model and the zone of proximal development.

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.