Glossary of Reading Terms

Glossary of Reading Terms

The Language of Literacy - Some Commonly Used Terms

The words and phrases used by educators to describe certain aspects of reading and reading instruction can be complex. If parents, teachers, administrators, and policy-makers are to work diligently toward improvements in the teaching of reading, it's helpful to know and use the same language. Here is a list of commonly used terms related to reading, literacy, and reading instruction.


Affixes are word parts that are "fixed to" either the beginnings of words (prefixes) or the ending of words (suffixes). The word disrespectful has two affixes, a prefix (dis-) and a suffix (-ful).

Analogy-based phonics
In this approach, children are taught to use parts of words they have already learned to read and decode words they don't know. They apply this strategy when the words share similar parts in their spellings, for example, reading"screen" by analogy to "green." Children may be taught a large set of key words for use in reading new words.

Analytic phonics
In this approach, children learn to analyze letter-sound relationships in previously learned words. They do not pronounce sounds in isolation.

Answering questions
Effective question-answering instruction shows students how to recognize what kinds of information is needed to answer questions. For example, students might learn that some questions require the synthesis of information from across a text.

Automaticity is a general term that refers to any skilled and complex behavior that can be performed rather easily with little attention, effort, or conscious awareness. These skills become automatic after extended periods of training. Examples of automatic skills include driving a car through traffic while listening to the radio, sight reading music for the piano, and reading orally with comprehension. With practice and good instruction, students become automatic at word recognition, that is, retrieving words from memory, and are able to focus attention on constructing meaning from the text, rather than decoding.



Base words
Base words are words from which many other words are formed. For example, many words can be formed from the base word migrate: migration, migrant, immigration, immigrant, migrating, migratory.



Comprehension strategies
Comprehension strategies are conscious plans or sets of steps that good readers use to make sense of text. There are six strategies that have been found to have a solid scientific basis for improving text comprehension. (See text comprehension.)

Comprehension strategy instruction
Comprehensive strategy instruction is the explicit teaching of techniques that are particularly effective for comprehension strategy instruction. The steps of explicit instruction include direct explanation, teacher modeling ("think aloud"), guided practice, and application. Some strategies include direct explanation (the teacher explains to students why the strategy helps comprehension and when to apply the strategy), modeling (the teacher models, or demonstrates, how to apply the strategy, usually by "thinking aloud" while reading the text that the students are using), guided practice (the teacher guides and assists students as they learn how and when to apply the strategy) and application (the teacher helps students practice the strategy until they can apply it independently).

Context clues
Context clues are sources of information outside of words that readers may use to predict the identities and meanings of unknown words. Context clues may be drawn from the immediate sentence containing the word, from text already read, from pictures accompanying the text, or from definitions, restatements, examples, or descriptions in the text.

Cooperative learning
Cooperative learning involves students working together as partners or in small groups on clearly defined tasks. It has been used successfully to teach comprehension strategies in content-area subjects.

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Direct vocabulary learning
Direct vocabulary learning is when students learn vocabulary through explicit instruction in both the meanings of individual words and word-learning strategies. Direct vocabulary instruction aids reading comprehension.



Embedded phonics
In this approach, children learn vocabulary through explicit instruction on the letter-sound relationships during the reading of connected text, usually when the teacher notices that a child is struggling to read a particular word. Letter-sound relationships are taught as part of sight word reading. If the sequence of letter-sounds is not prescribed and sequenced, but is determined by whatever words are encountered in text, then the program is not systematic or explicit.



Fluency is the ability to read a text accurately, quickly, and with proper expression and comprehension. Because fluent readers do not have to concentrate on decoding words, they can focus their attention on what the text means.



Generating questions
Generating questions involves teaching students to ask their own questions. This strategy improves students' active processing of text and comprehension. For example, a student might be taught to ask main idea questions that relate to important information in a text.

Graphic and semantic organizers
Graphic and semantic organizers summarize and illustrate concepts and interrelationships among concepts in a text, using diagrams or other pictorial devices. Graphic organizers are often known as maps, webs, graphs, charts, frames, or clusters. Semantic organizers are graphic organizers that look somewhat like a spider web where lines connect a central concept to a variety of related ideas and events.





Indirect vocabulary learning
Indirect vocabulary learning refers to students learning the meaning of words indirectly when they hear or see the words used in many different contexts - for example, through conversations with adults, through being read to, and through reading extensively on their own.






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Metacognition is the process of "thinking about thinking." For example, good readers use metacognition before reading when they clarify their purpose for reading and preview the text.

Monitoring comprehension
Readers who monitor their comprehension know when they understand what they read and when they do not. Students are able to use appropriate "fix-up" strategies to resolve problems in comprehension.





Onset and Rime
Onsets and rimes are parts of monosyllabic words in spoken language. These units are smaller than syllables but may be larger than phonemes. An onset is the initial consonant sound of a syllable (the onset of bag is b-; of swim is sw-). The rime is the part of a syllable that contains the vowel and all that follows it (the rime of bag is -ag; of swim is -im).

Onset-rime phonics instruction
In this approach, children learn to break monosyllabic words into their onsets (consonants preceding the vowel) and rimes (vowel and following consonants). They read each part separately and then blend the parts to say the whole word.



(Note: the slash marks show the sound the letter makes and not the name of the letter.)

Phonemes are the smallest units of sound that change the meanings of spoken words. For example, if you change the first phoneme in bat from /b/ to /p/, the word bat changes to pat. English has about 41-44 phonemes. A few words, such as a or oh, have only one phoneme. Most words have more than one phoneme. The word if has two phonemes /i/ and /f/.

Phoneme addition
In this activity, children make a new word by adding a phoneme to an existing word. (Teacher: What word do you have if you add /s/ to the beginning of park? Children: spark.)

Phoneme blending
In this activity, children learn to listen to a sequence of separately spoken phonemes, and then combine the phonemes to form a word. (Teacher: What word is /b/ /i/ /g/? Children: /b/ /i/ /g/ is big.)

Phoneme categorization
In this activity, children recognize the word in a set of three or four words that has the "odd" sound. (Teacher: Which word doesn't belong? bun, bus, rug. Children: Rug does not belong. It doesn't begin with a /b/.)

Phoneme deletion
In this activity, children learn to recognize the word that remains when a phoneme is removed from another word. (Teacher: What is smile without the /s/? Children: Smile without the /s/ is mile.)

Phoneme identity
In this activity, children learn to recognize the same sounds in different words. (Teacher: What sound is the same in fix, fall, and fun? Children: The first sound, /f/, is the same.)

Phoneme isolation
In this activity, children learn to recognize and identify individual sounds in a word. (Teacher: What is the first sound in van? Children: The first sound in van is /v/.)

Phoneme segmentation
In this activity, children break a word into its separate sounds, saying each sound as they tap out or count it. (Teacher: How many sounds are in grab? Children: /g/ /r/ /a/ /b/. Four sounds.)

Phoneme substitution
In this activity, children substitute one phoneme for another to make a new word. (Teacher: The word is bug. Change /g/ to /n/. What's the new word? Children: bun.)

Phonemic awareness
Phonemic awareness is the ability to notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds in spoken words. An example of how beginning readers show us they have phonemic awareness is combining or blending the separate sounds of a word to say the word ("/c/ /a/ /t/ - cat.")

Phonics is a form of instruction to cultivate the understanding and use of the alphabetic principle, that there is a predictable relationship between phonemes (the sounds in spoken language) and graphemes, the letters that represent those sounds in written language and that this information can be used to read or decode words.

Phonics through spelling
In this approach, children learn to segment words into phonemes and to make words by writing letters for phonemes.

Phonological awareness
Phonological awareness covers a range of understandings related to the sounds of words and word parts, including identifying and manipulating larger parts of spoken language such as words, syllables, and onsets and rimes. It also includes phonemic awareness (see above) as well as other aspects of spoken language such as rhyming and syllabication.



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Reciprocal teaching
Reciprocal teaching is a multiple-strategy instructional approach for teaching comprehension skills to students. Teachers teach students four strategies: asking questions about the text they are reading; summarizing parts of the text; clarifying words and sentences they don't understand; and predicting what might occur next in the text.

Repeated and monitored oral reading
In this instructional activity, students read and reread a text a certain number of times or until a certain level of fluency is reached. This technique has been shown to improve reading fluency and overall reading achievement. Four re-readings are usually sufficient for most students. Students may also practice reading orally through the use of audiotapes, tutors, peer guidance, or other means.



Story structure
In story structure, a reader sees the way the content and events of a story are organized into a plot. Students learn to identify the categories of content (setting, characters, initiating events, internal reactions, goals, attempts, and outcomes) and how this content is organized into a plot. Often students recognize the way the story is organized by developing a story map. This strategy improves students' comprehension and memory of story content and meaning.

Summarizing is a process in which a reader synthesizes the important ideas in a text. Teaching students to summarize helps them generate main ideas, connect central ideas, eliminate redundant and unnecessary information, and remember what they read.

A syllable is a word part that contains a vowel or, in spoken language, a vowel sound (e-vent, news-pa-per).

Synthetic phonics
In this instructional approach, children learn how to convert letters or letter combinations into a sequence of sounds, and then how to blend the sounds together to form recognizable words.

Systematic and explicit phonics instruction
The most effective way to teach phonics. A program is systematic if the plan of instruction includes a carefully selected set of letter-sound relationships that are organized into a logical sequence. Explicit means the programs provide teachers with precise directions for the teaching of these relationships.

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Text comprehension
Text comprehension is the reason for reading: understanding what is read, with readers reading actively (engaging in the complex process of making sense from text) and with purpose (for learning, understanding, or enjoyment).





Vocabulary refers to the words a reader knows. Listening vocabulary refers to the words a person knows when hearing them in oral speech. Speaking vocabulary refers to the words we use when we speak. Reading vocabulary refers to the words a person knows when seeing them in print. Writing vocabulary refers to the words we use in writing.



Word parts
Word parts include affixes (prefixes and suffixes), base words, and word roots.

Word roots
Word roots are words from other languages that are the origin of many English words. About 60% of all English words have Latin or Greek origins.







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The Literacy Dictionary: The Vocabulary of Reading and Writing, published by the International Reading Association, offers further definitions related to literacy. Order the book at