Problem: Getting a good, solid literacy block up and running seems so complex, I don’t even know where to start.

Solution:  It doesn’t magically happen on the first day of school.  It’s a process that takes the students and the teacher several weeks to ease into.  Here’s a basic structure that I have found works well:

 Easing into an Awesome Literacy Block - a step by step guide for elementary teachers
Here’s how it works:

Phase 1-

At the beginning of the year (or wherever you’re at when you realize your literacy block needs some help) start with the activities in “phase 1.”  These are mainly whole-group, teacher-lead activities with just a little bit of independent work.  Reviewing foundational skills and teaching procedures are the focus here.
The amount of time that you spend in phase 1 depends on your experience as a teacher and the age and ability of your students.  With my 2nd graders I spend about 10 days in this phase.  Don’t rush it.  Kids feel more comfortable and are more productive when they fully understand what is expected of them. Veteran teachers say “go slow to go fast” meaning that if you spend adequate time on procedures and expectations in the beginning, you will move through content much more easily as the year goes on.

Phase 2-

If your students are doing well with the activities in phase 1, you may be ready to move onto phase 2.  In Phase 2, students start to build up a little more stamina for independent work.  Begin to teach your students the activities they will do independently in centers/stations/seat work.  Practice these activities as a group a few times.  There is no point in starting small group instruction until you know that the rest of the class can carry on with meaningful independent work.  Spend a few weeks in this phase.  Whole group reading lessons get up and running now.  You can choose to continue handwriting practice, or phase it out, depending on the needs of your students.  You can continue teacher read-alouds as time permits.

Phase 3-

By phase 3 students should be comfortable enough with their spelling practice activities that you can begin to differentiate their spelling lists.  Lists may be completely different or you may have one core list and add or subtract words for students with different abilities.  Reading small groups (or guided reading) start in this phase.  Now that you’ve had time to get yourself and your students comfortable with whole group reading lessons, you’re ready to dig into whole group writing lessons.  Student stamina for independent work continues to build.

If you are a new teacher or new to using small groups in your classroom, consider it an accomplishment if you get your class working at this level.  It’s a challenge!


Phase 4-

You may not be ready for this phase until half-way or two-thirds of the way through the year.  This is where differentiation is seen throughout the literacy block and students of all levels can really make some growth.  Struggling students will benefit from small groups that focus on the spelling/reading of sight words or a guided writing group.  Advanced students will enjoy vocabulary challenge groups or an extra push in a small writing group.
This level of teaching takes a lot of planning and energy.  If your literacy block only operates on this level some days of the week and not every day, you’re still doing a lot to meet the needs of your students.

Questions and Answers

Q: I’m supposed to be using the Daily 5 model.  Are these phases compatible with Daily 5?
A: Yes!  Daily 5 is all about building student stamina for independent work so the teacher can work with small groups.  Independent reading = “Read to Self” (and you could work in “Read to someone” and “Listen to reading” during this time), independent writing = “Work on writing”, spelling daily practice = “Word work”.
Q: My schedule doesn’t allow for one solid literacy block.  How do I make this work with so many interruptions?
A: The literacy “block” doesn’t have to happen all in one part of the day.  With different school-wide schedules over the years I’ve done spelling and reading in the morning with writing in the afternoon.  Or spelling, a special, then reading, then writing after lunch.  Break apart the pieces however you need to fit your school’s schedule.
Q: I was up and running with my literacy block but my kids aren’t very successful with independent work anymore.  What happened and what do I do to get back on track?
A:  Back up a phase.  A class that was once successful with independent work can start to lose their skill especially if kids frequently move in/out, or after a holiday break.  It’s worth it to back up, review expectations, and practice independent activities while the teacher is watching rather than running small groups.  Eventually you can keep moving along and get back to running small groups.

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Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun is a former teacher with 8 years of experience in the classroom and a master's degree in early childhood education. She designs engaging, organized classroom resources for 1st-3rd grade teachers.


  1. This looks fabulous. I have kind of worked this out on my own in first grade as I have gone through my 5 years in first, but this gives me the structure I was looking for! Thank you for sharing.

  2. This was a very helpful post and much needed! I’m a veteran teacher but would like to implement Daily 5 for the first time in my middle school classroom. We’re also moving from 7 class periods to 3 2 hour blocks, and I was having a hard time wrapping my head around how to implement what I want. Thank you!

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