The Balanced Literacy Program

Enter a classroom at Keys Grade School during a literacy period and you will see children engrossed in reading books on hand or focused in getting their thoughts and ideas down on paper. Keys students build their literacy skills by engaging in authentic reading and writing. Our literacy program balances reading and writing to, by, and with children.

The backbone of our literacy program is the workshop for reading and writing. Workshop teaching was developed by The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) of Columbia University in New York City. This research- backed teaching method is literature-based, so children work with high-quality children’s literature and not textbooks. Keys was introduced to workshop teaching by its foreign literacy consultant who has worked as a staff developer for TCRWP. The faculty of Keys all use the same approach to literacy instruction and have gone through intensive training under our foreign literacy consultant or our internationally trained in-house literacy staff developer.

Reading to children

The children listen to the teacher read aloud a carefully chosen piece of literature. During the read aloud, children are prompted to apply specific strategies that develop comprehension and support other reading skills.

Reading with children

At the Lower School, children and teachers read together a common book, poem, song, or children’s writing to develop fluency. For the higher grades, shared reading might take the form of reader’s theater, poetry reading, or book club reading.

Reading by children

Each child is matched to a collection of books that suit the child’s individual reading level. The children choose books, read independently during reading workshop, and apply reading strategies in working with a variety of genres as modeled by the teacher. They receive direct instruction in reading skills as a whole class, in small groups, or through one-on-one conferences with the teachers.

Writing to and with children

Children and teachers cowrite a variety of texts such as letters, stories, or news items. The pen is passed around and ideas on how to make the class composition better is shared and discussed.

Writing by children

Children engage in writing independently in a variety of genres including narratives, fiction, expository writing, and poetry. The teachers guide the children through the writing process from writing drafts to publishing a final work. Teachers model writing skills to the whole class or through small groups or individualized conferences.

Word Study

Children also devote time on working to sharpen their abilities in dealing with letters, letter sounds, and words. Spelling instruction is based on spelling patterns and not rote memorization of random spelling lists. Specific grammar rules are taught to particular children who have shown readiness to apply such rules in their actual writing.


Children at Keys apply literacy skills in meaningful contexts outside of the literacy period. For their work in social studies, for example, children read various sources of information, write persuasive essays and all-about books, and record findings from a field work. Thus, the learning of reading and writing skills is not seen as an end in itself but as a means to better express ourselves and understand the world we live in.