Literacy Block

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How to organize your literacy block for maximum effectiveness this year.

dog on top of books with a quote about reading

Reading groups and activities should be simple to execute, student-driven, and involve the students with meaningful activities . 

The lessons should contribute to them becoming readers and writers.

A balanced approach is based on authentic activities.

Students should spend most of their time in reading real books.  They need lots of opportunities to become readers and writers, not doing activities that do not contribute to a balanced literacy framework.

The Daily Five

I use The Daily Five as a framework for balanced literacy instruction in my classroom.

This book changed the way I had been teaching reading to children. It is easy to implement, and the growth in my students metacognition has been incredible.

1. Train your students
Just as you would for classroom management, you will need to train your students how to read independently and with a buddy.

You will need to train them to check for understanding, how to manage their work independently, and build their stamina for extended periods of reading, writing, word work and listening to stories.

I use the entire month of September to train my students for our literacy block. It is not a waste of time - after this I no longer have to redirect students and micro-manage my class: I am free to work with small guided reading groups while the other students are engaged in meaningful literacy activities.

2. Read To Self
Read to Self is when the children read to themselves with books that they choose. The method of choosing books themselves is detailed in The Daily Five and it is called "I PICK." This is essential to the success of the literacy block, as students must be able to read independently for 20+ minutes, choose books they want to read, and are at a level they can read successfully. Once stamina is built, this becomes a favorite of the literacy center activities.

"The best way to become a better reader is to practice each day, with books you choose on your just-right reading level. It soon becomes a habit," (The Daily Five).

3. Read With A Buddy
Read with a buddy is a time when students can practice the reading strategies you have taught. The students get to choose whom they read with. This is fluency practice and works on checking for understanding. They do this for at least 20 minutes.

4. Listen to Reading
Children need to hear fluent reading and expression. Students listen to stories on tape and on the computer (online or with a CD) and they follow along in the text.

There are plenty of stories kids can listen to online.  You could also do this by downloading stories onto MP3 players. Not only does this provide modeling of good reading, it will also expand your students' vocabulary.

5. Work on Writing
Students must write every day during a balanced literacy block. They should be able to write about whatever they choose, but do provide options to help them, such as a jar of story starters or creative writing ideas.

Most often children will write stories that are similar to ones they have heard during read aloud time.

6. Working with Words
This element of the literacy block is where students work on their spelling lists or word wall words. Have magnetic letters available, Wikki Stix, stamps, markers and wipe-off boards.

What about worksheets?

You only want them working on meaningful literacy center activities. You should not want or need to grade a lot of papers to be effectively teaching reading to children.

How do you know then, that this approach is working?

7. Teacher Table
This is where you meet with small groups for a specific guided reading lesson plan. While the other students are actively engaged in working on their literacy skills, you get to have quality time with small groups.

The lessons are planned, specific skills are worked on. You will meet with some kids more often than others. This is where you use differentiation in literacy lessons.

You should definitely meet with all students at least one time per week, but do meet with your special needs more often.

Basal Readers and Balanced Literacy

Although most of my direct teaching happens during guided reading time, I do utilize whole group instruction. My district requires the use of an adopted basal text. This instructional time is separate from my literacy block.

  • Sometimes reading homework is a worksheet based on a strategy we have been working on (but not usually - I want parents and kids to be reading together, not fighting over a worksheet)
  • We read the basal story together and with a buddy two days per week
  • I teach a specific reading strategy from the basal one day per week(but I do ignore the worksheets for the most part)
  • We take a weekly comprehension test from the basal story every Friday (of course they can use the book - it's a reading test, not a memory test!)

This is not, however, my core literacy block. If you think this already sounds like it takes a lot of time, you're right. 90 minutes per day for your core literacy block and all of that other stuff in addition to it!

Remember that reading is the most fundamental of all tasks and without good skills, your students will fail - and those kids that are already behind have to have double or triple the amount of reading instruction in addition to your scheduled literacy lessons.

P.S. If you liked this, you're going to love The CAFE Book: Engaging All Students in Daily Literary Assessment and Instruction. Transformational teaching at its best!

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