Pure Literacy

The Top 12 Glossary Terms For Literacy Models

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The Top 12 Glossary Terms For Literacy Models

When I think about all the different jargon that educators use it’s enough to make a new teacher’s head spin, let alone trying to explain the literacy lingo to parents. And for us who have been teaching a while, it seems like just when you get used to using one term there’s a new mandate and the acronym you had been using is swept away in the sea of reform and replaced with yet another. In fact, I recently stumbled across this website that dedicates a search engine database just to explain the terms and acronyms used in the California’s education system: edsource.org. Being from California I thought I’d share the website, but I know that several states offer something similar. 

Over the years, teachers from all over the country have asked me about what a Balanced Literacy Model is, and more specifically, what do some of the terms mean. It got me thinking… those of us who teach in a Balanced Literacy Model have our own way of talking about literacy instruction.  And… to those of us who teach a workshop approach it makes perfect sense, but to someone new to workshop these terms can be a little daunting.

I have to admit a dirty dark little secret, it took me years of teaching workshop to finally figure out what the heck the term “bend in the road” meant. Honestly, it was a tad confusing and ridiculously frustrating! So I thought I’d create a glossary of Balanced Literacy terms in the hopes that if you too are hiding behind a little dirty dark secret of being utterly confused by some of the terms used in Workshop that you have a little Workshop lingo go-to in your hip pocket.

What follows is my top 12 glossary terms of frequently used words with my own definitions. Spoiler alert- these are not official “researched-based” definitions nor did they come from some literacy search engine data base. And honestly, there are probably others who may use these words entirely differently. But these are the words I find myself using frequently during Workshop instruction based on my own experience as a teacher, coach, consultant, staff developer and author. 

Balanced Literacy Model of Instruction

In a Balanced Literacy program, teachers integrate instruction in reading, writing, language, listening and speaking. As they model reading and writing, they connect skills and strategy development across the literacy continuum integrating all content areas.

Comprehensive Literacy Model of Instruction

In the Comprehensive Literacy Model, there is an embedded continuous program of appropriate literacy assessments that ensure students are receiving differentiated instruction in both reading and writing. Early literacy intervention is provided for students identified at-risk. These early interventions may include Reading Recovery and Leveled Literacy Intervention.

Reading Workshop

Interactive Read Aloud:

What: Students engage in deep discussion around an age-appropriate, grade- appropriate text they have heard the teacher read aloud. The listener is freed from decoding the text, allowing the student to focus on the strategic actions for comprehending text. 

Why: Interactive Reading provides an opportunity to extend students’ thinking and ability to talk about grade appropriate texts. This whole group practice provides the foundation and preparation for small-group literature discussion groups.

Shared Reading:

What: During shared reading, students usually read from a common enlarged text. In some cases the students may also each have individual copies of the text. The teacher leads the group, pointing and encouraging reading in unison. Adaptations may include groups alternating lines or individuals reading some lines. 

Why: Shared reading involves the students in reading aloud for pleasure. Through shared reading the students are practicing: processing print in continuous text, working in a group, using the voice to interpret meaning and reading in unison with a group. Each experience in shared reading provides an opportunity to learn more about the reading process. Shared reading gives an authentic reason to practice skills and strategies.

Guided Reading:

What: The teacher guides small groups of children in the reading of teacher selected texts at the students’ instructional level. Explicit teaching and prompting supports the student’s developing processing system and ability to read increasingly challenging texts. The structure of the guided reading lesson includes introduction of the text, reading the text, discussion of meaning, teaching for processing strategies and word work. Reading of previously read, familiar texts may also be incorporated into a guided reading lesson. 

Why: Guided reading provides the teacher with opportunities to observe reading behaviors and provide targeted individualized instruction. 

Literature Discussion:

What: Similar to Interactive Read Aloud, students engage in deep discussion around an age-appropriate, grade- appropriate text. In small heterogeneous groups, students discuss texts they may have read independently or with scaffolding (audio tapes or other access). 

Why: Students are provided an opportunity to apply higher-level thinking skills, discuss their ideas with others and to experience age appropriate text. 

Independent Reading:

What: Students read on their own or with partners, independent of the teacher, from a variety of genre and text types. Students learn to self-select texts at their independent reading levels.

Why: Teachers conduct individual conferences as students read independently. Teacher observations guide instructional practices. Students learn to self-select texts and become self-regulated learners. Daily reading practice builds stamina, fluency, comprehension and further develops students’ processing systems.

Writing Workshop

Interactive Writing:

What: In interactive writing, the teacher and students compose a story together on a piece of large chart paper. During the construction of the story, the teacher invites individual children to write parts (or all) of some of the words.

Why:  Students’ contributions to the writing allow for opportunities to apply sound analysis or visual analysis related to spelling, practice partially known words, and draw attention to useful parts in words.

Shared Writing:

What: The teacher and students work together to compose a story, while the teacher acts as the scribe. The teacher constructs the story demonstrating the writing process as students watch.

Why: Shared writing is a useful strategy to use when students have limited writing skills. The teacher demonstrates how to move from a co-constructed oral language experience to the written text, helping to make the link between speaking, reading and writing.

Guided Writing:

What: The teacher guides small flexible groups of children in composing and constructing written texts. Demonstrations and prompting to specific writing strategies meet the needs of the group.

Why: Guided writing provides an opportunity for students to work toward independence with supportive feedback. Guided writing provides the teacher with opportunities to observe writing behaviors and provide targeted individualized instruction.

Independent Writing:

What: Students independently produce written texts, using skills and strategies previously modeled. Students write drafts, reread, revise, discuss, confer and edit. The teacher roves the room, working with individuals; conferring, modeling, observing and recording of anecdotal records.

Why: Daily independent writing provides opportunities for students to practice and apply what they have learned through modeled instruction. The teacher once again has the opportunity to observe, confer and teach while the students are working. Writing stamina, as well as increased strategic writing skills, are outcomes of this daily practice.

Word Study

Word Study:

What: Nine different word-solving systems help the reader learn to solve words rapidly. The nine systems of word study include: early literacy concepts, phonological awareness, and letter knowledge, letter-sound relationships, spelling patterns, high-frequency words, word meaning/vocabulary, word structure and word-solving actions.

Why:  Rapid and largely unconscious word-solving allows the reader to maintain attention to the meaning while reading and writing. 


So there you have it, my top 12 glossary terms for Comprehensive and Balanced Literacy Models. I'd love to know your thoughts and/or what literacy lingo have you wondered about? Share in the comment section here or write in at the Ask Anything section in the sidebar, don’t be shy!