Have you heard of the “Balanced Literacy Diet?” It’s a framework for literacy instruction that applies the food pyramid concept to settle the debate between phonics and whole language advocates. Balanced and motivating literacy instruction needs to include phonemic awareness, systematic phonics, fluent reading of text, vocabulary development, spelling and handwriting, text comprehension strategies and writing. Some components, like phonemic awareness and phonics instruction, are more important for young, primary grade students, while others, like fluency and vocabulary development, become more important for older students. Balance among all of these components is the key to growth in literacy, and the flexibility to meet students’ individual needs is also necessary.

When I plan my literacy instruction, I still make sure that I include all of the components of the balanced literacy diet, and thanks to my smart board, I can easily include differentiated interactive activities and multimedia resources to make my lessons even more motivating and engaging. Sites like Gynzy are a great place to search for activities by grade level and content area, and their software lets me integrate all of my components into a lesson that I can save and share. Here is a roundup of my five shortcuts to creating a great literacy lesson.

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the ability isolate and manipulate phonemes in words, and these sound-related skills are necessary for a child to develop as a reader. A student with strong phonemic awareness will be able to recognize and use rhymes, blend and segment syllables in words, and isolate and manipulate phonemes in words. I teach a lot of ELL students, and they have such a hard time with rhyming, so I am always on the lookout for good rhyming activities for them. One of my favorites is Reggie the Rhyming Rhino. Reggie visits different locations in the community (like his home, a store, a restaurant, the zoo, and a garden) and students identify words that rhyme with objects that Reggie finds in these locations. This game is perfect for ELL’s because it not only practices the skill of rhyming, but it also teaches vocabulary. Check out this site to find tons of interactive phonemic awareness activities.

Phonics and Spelling

Phonics teaches students letter-sound correspondence, and they learn to blend the sounds to read words. A really fun (but tricky) phonics game that my students love is Word Wheel. They have to select onsets and rimes to build CVC words that match the picture.

Spelling flows naturally from phonemic awareness and phonics instruction. Once students can segment phonemes in words and can identify the letters that correspond with those sounds, they’re ready to start spelling. With the Word Dictation tool, you can compile a list of words that you want your students to practice spelling, and students will have fun practicing reading and spelling them.

Guided Reading

Guided reading is small-group reading instruction that gives students differentiated reading instruction that targets their specific needs. Guided reading provides students with decoding skills and comprehension skills, and it also reinforces phonics instruction to promote fluency. Do an internet search for “interactive guided reading activities,” and you’ll find lots of online reading resources. One site that I really like is My Online Reading. Students can choose from a large selection of free, online, colorful books to practice their reading skills.


I love the site Fun English Games for interactive writing activities. It gives students practice in writing in different genres, like persuasive writing, friendly letters, expository and personal narratives. But what makes these activities really great for my students is how well it scaffolds their writing. In the Debating Game, for example, students’ are given prompts to develop their arguments and responses, and this helps them to organize and compose their ideas.

Of course part of writing fluently is having good handwriting, and activities like this let students practice their handwriting on the smart board.


Another important component of literacy instruction is comprehension. Students need to build background knowledge and develop vocabulary for reading comprehension. Activities like Word Spider and Synonyms and Antonyms help students to improve vocabulary by exploring connections among words. In Bingo with Images, I can help my ELL students build their English vocabulary by choosing different themes.

These are my top five resources for designing great literacy lessons with my smart board. What are yours?