Four blocks of literacy

Four blocks of literacy DEFAULT


At Para Meadows School, literacy instruction has been developed around the 4 blocks literacy model, author Cheryl Mahaffey Sigmon. This model allows for flexibility and has the ability to be multi-leveled, as wel as providing interesting and engaging lessons for all students, both verbal and those with complex communication needs.

Repetition with variety

Our philosophy centres on the delivery of quality literary experiences for all students though a wide range of text type and genres. We aim to present literature that is age appropriate and developmentally appropriate, while maintaining a consistent approach to literacy instruction from Kindergarten to Year 12.

The four blocks; guided reading, self-selected reading, writing and working with words, represent the four different approaches to teaching children to read. By working within each of the four blocks every day we aim to provide an instructional model that suits the diverse learning needs of indivisual students.

Examples of four blocks literacy plan:


The Four Blocks Literacy Framework

The Four Blocks Literacy Framework

At Spero, our mission is to provide individualized education to students with autism or other disabilities. One of the ways we do that is through the Four Blocks Literacy Program. The Four Blocks is a framework for teaching students to read that allows all children, regardless of ability level or learning style, to master the basics of reading and writing.

The Four Blocks framework was originally developed by a group of teachers who believe that for all children to learn to read, you have to “do it all.” “Doing it all” means incorporating a variety of different techniques and approaches throughout the curriculum in order to provide opportunities for children with different abilities and learning styles to engage with the material and master the skills.

At Spero, we often have children of variable skill and ability levels in one classroom. It is challenging – if not impossible – to engage every child in the day’s lessons using the same techniques. With a multilevel teaching approach like the Four Blocks framework, we’re able to overcome that challenge. Following the Four Blocks program allows Spero teachers to provide individualized instruction to each student.

What Are the Four Blocks?

As you might guess from the name, there are four core pillars within the Four Blocks program. The four elements of the Four Blocks framework are:

  1. Self-selected reading (SSR)
  2. Guided reading
  3. Writing
  4. Working with words

Spero teachers incorporate each of these four blocks throughout the daily curriculum to provide a variety of ways for students to engage with the material and master the skills of reading and writing. There are also opportunities for individualization within each block, so every student is able to participate at their own level.

Block One: Self-Selected Reading

Self-selected reading (SSR) is an opportunity for students to choose their own books and read independently at their own level. The goals of SSR are to allow students to view themselves as capable and engaged readers, encourage students to pursue their reading interests, inspire intrinsic motivation to read, and to provide an opportunity for students to discover an authentic enjoyment of reading.

In addition to independent reading time, SSR may include:

  • Teacher read alouds - The teacher may kick off the SSR block by reading aloud to the class.
  • Teacher conferencing with students - While the students read to themselves, the teacher will talk one-on-one with a handful of students each day.
  • Sharing with peers - Students pair up to share their favorite books, or may take turns sharing with the whole class what they’re reading that day.

Block Two: Guided Reading

Teachers must help students not only learn to read, but to understand that the ultimate goal of reading is to gather information from the text. The Guided Reading block focuses on reading comprehension skills and strategies. In Guided Reading, our goals are to teach students how to read different types of literature, to develop background knowledge, and apply their skills in the context of “real” reading.

In the Guided Reading block, teachers focus on:

  • Mastering comprehension skills and strategies
  • Developing background knowledge, vocabulary, and oral language
  • Introducing children to different types of literature
  • Providing instructional-level reading
  • Boosting self-confidence and motivation of struggling readers

Block Three: Working With Words

In the third block, students take reading to the “word level.” They begin to understand that reading will come much more quickly if they master the high-frequency words that make up the majority of text. Teachers prioritize these high-frequency words, aiming for students to master 110-120 words per year. The second piece of this block is continuing to explore new words, letters, sounds, and patterns

The Working With Words block aims to help students:

  • Learn to read and spell high-frequency words
  • Recognize patterns used to decode and spell lots of words
  • Transfer word knowledge to their own reading and writing

Block Four: Writing Block

Research shows that many children can first learn to read from their own writing. In writing, students have to put together all the elements they’ve learned in the other blocks, such as grammar, mechanics, and meaning. The writing block easily incorporates multi-level learners, with opportunities for independent writing at whatever stage a student is at in their writing development.

The goals of the Writing Block include:

  • See writing as a way to communicate
  • Learn to read through writing
  • Apply grammar and mechanics in writing
  • Recognize different forms of writing
  • Write fluently

A multi-level model for teaching students to read allows Spero teachers to support students at various stages of development to make progress along their own learning journey within the same classroom.

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What Is the Four Block Reading Program?

By Christi O'Donnell

The Four Blocks Framework provides students with a variety of opportunities to read and write daily.

The Four Blocks Reading Program, or Four Blocks Framework, is a balanced literacy program that has been in use in elementary schools since 1989. Central to the program is the use on a daily basis of four elements of literacy instruction -- guided reading, self selected reading, writing and working with words. By relying on a variety of instructional methods, teachers give students the opportunity to practice literacy skills in a way that allows them to utilize their strengths while working towards mastery in areas of weakness.

Guided Reading

During the guided reading block, small groups of students gather with their teacher to work on reading skills from a shared text. Guided reading groups are often leveled, which means that teachers form guided reading groups strategically to place children of similar reading or skill levels together in a group. These groups are flexible and change over time as students' skill levels increase or as the focal skill changes. When they are in guided reading, students each have their own copy of a basal reader or a small paperback book to read from. Guided reading blocks often have a writing component as well as time for reading and discussion.

Self Selected Reading

Self selected reading, also commonly called independent reading, is the time when students are free to read books of their own choosing, on their own level. Most classrooms in grades kindergarten through four have a classroom library that is sorted by subject and reading level. In lower grades, students maintain a small basket, or bag of self selected books that are slightly below, just at and slightly above their reading level. In older grades students have an on-level chapter book that they read during this time. When students finish a self-selected reading book, they fill out a short "reader's response" form or record the book in a reading log.


The writing component of the Four Blocks Framework consists of writing workshops lasting thirty-five to forty-five minutes. The writing workshop begins with a ten-minute mini-lesson during which the teacher reviews the steps of the writing process -- prewriting, drafting, writing, editing, publishing -- and works collaboratively with the class to focus on one aspect of one step of the process. After the mini-lesson, students return to their seats to work independently for fifteen to twenty-five minutes on their own writing. During this independent writing time students work on their own level and on whichever step of the writing process they are currently on, while the teacher circulates around the room and confers with individual students about their progress. The writing workshop concludes with a ten-minute block where students share some of their writing.

Working with Words

During the word block, students work to increase their phonemic awareness and add to their cache of high-frequency words. The word wall, a large alphabetical chart of high-frequency sight words, is an important part of the Four Blocks words component. Three to ten words are added to the word wall each week and these words become part of the students' daily studies. During this block students also practice decoding skills and experiment with the rules of spelling.


Writer Bio

A lifetime resident of New York, Christi O'Donnell has been writing about education since 2003. O'Donnell is a dual-certified educator with experience writing curriculum and teaching grades preK through 12. She holds a Bachelors Degree from Sarah Lawrence College and a Masters Degree in education from Mercy College.

@Numberblocks- The Number Four - Learn to Count

What Is It?

Developed more than a decade ago by literacy experts Dr. Patricia Cunningham and Dr. Dorothy Hall in conjunction with first grade teacher, Margaret DeFee, Four Blocks is a balanced-literacy* framework for teaching language arts in grades 1-3. The Four Blocks program -- based on the premise that all children don't learn in the same way -- integrates four language arts areas into reading instruction. Those areas are: guided reading, self-selected reading, writing, and working with words.

Although originally created for use in first grade, Four Blocks has been adapted for use in other grades as well: Building Blocks provides a foundation for language, print, and literacy in kindergarten, while Big Blocks emphasizes activities appropriate for grades 4-8.

Explore It

To learn more about the Four Blocks literacy model, explore the following Web sites:

Use It!

The activities and lessons below will help you use the Four Blocks literacy model in your classroom.

Learn More About It
To extend your understanding of the Four Blocks literacy model, visit the following Web sites:

Learn More About Balanced Literacy*
To learn more about balanced literacy, visit the following Web sites:


Blocks of literacy four

Four Blocks

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