Whole language is a phenomenon that has been difficult to describe, particularly because many of its advocates have somewhat divergent perspectives about the core content of this instructional approach.

Several strands run through most iterations of whole language:

steadfast focus on making meaning in reading and expressing meaning in writing;

constructivist approaches to knowledge creation, emphasizing students' interpretations of text and free expression of ideas in writing (often through daily journal entries).

emphasis on high-quality and culturally-diverse literature;

integrating literacy skills into other areas of the curriculum, especially math, science, and social studies;

frequent reading, (a) with students in small "guided reading" groups, (b)to students with "read alouds", and (c) by students independently;

focus on motivational aspects of literacy, emphasizing the love of books and level-appropriate student materials;

meaning-based phonics, often taught as an "embedded" part of other reading lessons; and

reduced emphasis on other skills, besides phonics, that are usually not linked directly to developing meaning, such as grammar and spelling.