Structured Literacy vs Balanced Literacy: What’s the difference?

All educators want their students to develop the skills necessary to love reading books and their compositions. Although there is no debate on the end goal, teachers may hold quite diverse opinions about the best techniques to assist their children in achieving that goal. 

Balanced literacy and structured literacy are two ways of teaching reading. They have certain similarities, but when they’re mentioned together, they’re frequently placed against one other.

This post will discuss these two most frequent methods of literacy training and will highlight the significant distinctions between them, and bring you to a point where you take the final call as to which one should be encouraged more and is more promising. 

Structured literacy vs balanced Literacy: Definitions explored

Structured literacy learning is systematic and explicit instruction emphasizing phonological awareness, word identification, phonics and decoding, spelling, and grammar at the sentence and paragraph levels.

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) coined the term “structured literacy” to designate a unique method of teaching reading skills. It states that “Structured Literacy is characterized by the provision of systematic, explicit instruction that integrates listening, speaking, reading, and writing.”

Structured literacy vs balanced Literacy

Some critics argue that structured literacy programs impede the growth of fluency and prosody by emphasizing explicit phonics teaching early on. On the other hand, structured literacy advocates are concerned that pupils who do not understand how to decode unusual words early in life may rely on deficits that make them struggle with understanding and spelling for years to come.

The principles of structured literacy

The three concepts must be included in all structured literacy programs.

  • Systematic and cumulative
  • Diagnostic
  • Explicit
  • Systematic indicates that the content is organized in a logical sequence of language. It begins with easy and fundamental abilities and then advances to more challenging skills. Cumulative means that every stage builds on prior knowledge.
  • Diagnostic implies that teachers must personalize education through continual assessment. Then, before moving on to the next phase, the content must be learned to automaticity.
  • Explicit indicates that topics are taught directly through student-teacher interaction, rather than presuming that the learner already knows certain concepts from exposure. Explicit instruction also includes multisensory approaches.

The ultimate aim is reading comprehension, and all components work together to achieve it.

What is balanced literacy?

On the other hand, Balanced literacy is a literacy education paradigm that stresses the value of phonics-based training (or direct instruction in letter/sound correspondences) and whole literacy development (in which the letters come together to make words through print exposure).

Children in a balanced literacy environment get phonics instruction as well as text-based activities that assist them in acquiring the abilities they need to become proficient readers. However, there is less focus on phonics training because it is believed that children learn to read by being exposed to various books.

Skills are also not imparted methodically. Instead, students are taught to guess words they can’t read using context. Shared reading, guided reading, and individual reading are the primary modes of instruction.

 Structured literacy vs balanced literacy: Key differences

  • Structured literacy emphasizes the structure of the language through clear, systematic, sequential training. In contrast, balanced literacy is concentrated on actions that surround children with great books and encourage a love of reading.
  • A disorganized approach to phonemic awareness education is common in balanced literacy. At the same time, phonemic awareness is taught methodically and sequentially as part of structured literacy (usually via a purchased curriculum).
  • In a balanced literacy classroom, the emphasis is usually on the meaning of the text rather than the accuracy of what is read. Structured literacy teachers rectify students’ misread words and urge them to sound them out.
  • Structured Literacy is a more traditional approach to teaching reading, while Balanced Literacy is a more modern approach in comparison.
  • Structured Literacy teaches students how to read by breaking the process down into smaller, more manageable steps. Whereas, Balanced Literacy, on the other hand, takes a more holistic approach and emphasizes the importance of reading and writing in developing literacy skills.
  • Structured Literacy typically uses a phonics-based approach while teaching reading. Balanced Literacy also integrates whole language concepts such as sight words and vocabulary building for building acquaintance and developing proficiency.
  • Structured Literacy often relies heavily on rote memorization and drills, while Balanced Literacy incorporates more hands-on, interactive activities.
  • Structured Literacy usually progresses more linearly, while Balanced Literacy allows for more flexibility and choice in how skills are learned.

While both Structured Literacy and Balanced Literacy approaches have their merits, it is essential to choose the best method for your child’s learning style. Here are some examples that signify which method is suitable for whom and when. Have a look:

  • If your child is a visual learner, you may want to consider a Balanced Literacy approach incorporating more hands-on activities.
  •  If your child struggles with memorization, on the other hand, a Structured Literacy approach that relies heavily on drills and rote memorization may be more beneficial.


While we thoroughly discussed the patterns of implementing structured literacy and balanced literacy programs, which one is ideally most beneficial? Well, Structured Literacy is a teaching method that systematically breaks down reading into manageable steps. In contrast, Balanced Literacy emphasizes whole language skills with an integrated approach to teaching phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension. Both methods have their pros and cons, but which one is best suited for your child?

The answer depends on several factors including the child’s age, ability level, and learning style. Parents/ personal tutors may talk to the child’s teacher or reading specialist to get their opinion on the best way to help your child become a successful reader.

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