What Is Balanced Literacy?

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  • Written By: Mark Wollacott
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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Balanced literacy is an approach to education aiming to promote reading and writing skills in equal. Its primary target is to help students reach basic reading and writing skill levels. It also seeks to prevent teachers from pushing one at the expense of the other. It includes various teaching techniques combining individual studying with group and class work.

Literacy means being able to understand and replicate the written word. Literate people are able to replicate the written word because they understand it, not because they simply copied the material. Literacy across the world varies. High literacy is linked to better job prospects and integration into society.

The most basic aspects of balanced literacy cover letters, sounds and words. Once these have been learned, students study how they interact with one another. A key element in early teaching is to imprint a love of reading and learning in the student at a young age.

There are four main reading tasks in balanced literacy. They are shared reading, reading aloud, guided reading and independent reading. They all aim to build a student’s confidence in reading, either alone or in a group. Throughout, the teacher is on hand to help and to assess the students.


Shared reading focuses on the enjoyment of reading and helps the less confident. This is because in balanced literacy, the group reads together, in a chorus, repeating after the teacher or as the teacher points to words on the board, monitor or poster. Reading aloud is where the teacher, or parent, if at home, reads to the child. This develops key listening skills. Both techniques can be complemented with questions concerning the text and what might happen next.

Guided reading is a more advanced technique where the students are divided into small groups of similar ability. The teacher chooses books for them to read and leads discussions on the subject matter. Independent reading allows the student to choose her own books, with teacher assessment optional.

Writing activities have a similar nature to their reading counterparts. Shared writing involves the students copying from the board or writing what the teacher says. Interactive writing and writing workshops have the students either answering questions or working together on written works. Independent writing has the students writing on set topics or styles chosen by the teacher, but they work alone.

Students also learn in more advanced activities about the writing process. This involves learning how to conceptualize, draft, revise and edit texts. Through learning the writing process and through a varied diet of writing activities, the teacher creates an environment where the student is able to discover her own language.

The various activities used in balanced literacy help develop a wide number of comprehension skills. These include organizational skills such as sequencing and summarizing. They also develop analytical and critical thinking skills such as problem solving, comparing and contrasting and contextualization. Students also learn to discern fact from fiction.


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