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Don’t know a morpheme from a phoneme? Find out what these and other words mean in this glossary of commonly used terms related to reading, literacy, and reading instruction.


Academic language

The common formal language that students are expected to learn and be able to communicate in across different academic disciplines. It’s the language used in classroom lessons, books, tests, and assignments. It is often contrasted with “conversational” or “social” language.


The ability to read words correctly.

Advanced phonics

Instruction that includes advanced decoding concepts such as vowel teams, vowel-r, consonant-le and begin reading multisyllable words containing prefixes, roots, and suffixes. Advanced phonics instruction typically begins in grade 2.


A morpheme (meaningful part of a word) added to either the beginning or the end of a word to form a different word with a different meaning. For example, ‘un’ is added to kind to form unkind. The word disrespectful has two affixes — a prefix (dis-) and a suffix (-ful).


The repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words in connected text. For example: Harry the happy hippo hula-hoops with Henrietta.

Alphabetic principle

The concept that letters and letter combinations represent the phonemes (sounds) of spoken language.

Analytic phonics

An approach to phonics instruction that works from known words to the sounding out of unknown words on the basis of analogy. Unlike synthetic phonics where phonemes associated with particular letters or letter combinations are sounded individually and blended together one at a time, analytical phonics involves decoding words on the basis of already known words. For example: sounding out the word rat, based on the letters used in already-known words like run and cat.


A word opposite in meaning to another word. For example: happy/sad or dry/wet.


The formation of clear and distinct sounds in speech.

Assessment types

Screening assessment: Given before instruction to inform teachers where (1) to begin teaching core instruction, (2) to differentiate instruction, and (3) to flag students who are at risk for developing reading difficulties and/or who need intervention support.

Diagnostic assessment: Given at any time and designed to provide a more precise and detailed picture of the full range of a child’s knowledge and skill so that instruction can be more precisely planned.

Progress monitoring: Administered frequently throughout instruction to determine whether students are making adequate progress and to determine whether instruction needs to be adjusted. 

Formative assessment: An intentional ongoing process — not a single test. Used during instruction to provide the information needed to effectively direct and target teaching and learning as it occurs.

Interim assessment: Typically used to determine whether students are on track toward proficiency of the content standards. Interim assessments may be selected by teachers in the classroom to meet several instructional purposes, or administered after sufficient teaching and learning has occurred.

Summative assessment: Administered at the end of each year and designed to provide systems-level information for state, district, and school decisionmaking.

Assistive technology (AT)

Any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the capabilities of individuals with disabilities.


The ability to decode words in print correctly and instantly. Automaticity is developed through lots of reading practice.


Background knowledge

The amount of information or knowledge someone has on a particular topic. Background knowledge helps learners make connections with new information and understand new concepts.

Base words

A unit of meaning that can stand alone as a whole word (e.g., friend, bird). It is also called a free morpheme or root word. New words can be created from a base word by adding a prefix or suffix or changing both. For example: view, preview, viewer. Or migrate and immigration.

Bilingual education

A school-based program in which two languages are used to provide content matter instruction. Bilingual education programs vary in their length of time, and in the amount each language is used.


To combine the units of sound (syllables, onsets and rimes, phonemes) to form a word.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

A hierarchical system that categorizes the thinking skills of students, building from the most basic to the most complex: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

Book parts

A component of concepts of print, knowledge of book parts includes the ability to identify front and back covers, title, author, illustrator, spine, and title page.



A decoding strategy for breaking words into manageable parts. For example: yes-ter-day. Chunking also refers to the process of dividing a sentence into smaller phrases where pauses might occur naturally. For example: When the sun appeared after the storm, / the newly fallen snow / shimmered like diamonds.

Close reading

A critical analysis of the form, craft, language, and meaning of a text to determine what it says, how it says it, and what it means in order to understand the deepest intentions of the author and the text’s message.

Closed syllable

A ‘short’ vowel that is followed by one or more consonants. This pattern is called the CVC pattern (consonant – vowel – consonant), although a closed syllable does not always begin with a consonant. For example: at, in, mop, fun, deck, twin, and scratch.


A professional development process of supporting teachers in implementing new classroom practices by providing new content and information, modeling related teaching strategies, and offering ongoing feedback as teachers master new practices.


Words in different languages that share a similar meaning, spelling, and pronunciation. While English may share very few cognates with a language like Chinese, 30-40% of all words in English have a related word in Spanish. For example: familia/family, alfabeto/alphabet, and poema/poem.

Complex sentence

A sentence composed of one independent clause and one dependent clause joined by a subordinate conjunction. For example: When I heard the dog barking, I jumped.

Compound sentence

Two complete sentences joined by a coordinating conjunction. For example: I heard the dog barking and I went outside to see what was happening.


Making meaning from something that is heard (oral comprehension) or from print (reading comprehension). Comprehension includes understanding what is expressed outright or implied as well as interpreting what is viewed, read, or heard by drawing on one’s knowledge and experiences.

Comprehension monitoring

An awareness of one’s understanding of the text being read. Comprehension monitoring is part of a reader’s metacognition — “thinking about thinking” — and knowing what is clear and what is confusing and having the ability to apply cognitive skills to understand a text.

Comprehension strategies

Instructional techniques that strengthen the cognitive skills involved in reading comprehension, including summarization, prediction, and inferring word meanings from context.

Concepts of print

A child’s understanding that printed words carry meaning, and that reading and writing are ways to get information. It is an awareness of how print works and can be categorized into four main components: concept of book (parts of a book), concept of text (letters, words, and sentences), directionality (we read top to bottom and left to right in English), and mechanics (pause with a comma and full stop with a period).

Connected text

Words that are linked in sentences, phrases, and paragraphs. A group of sentences that relate to one another.

Consonant blend

Two or more consecutive consonants which retain their individual sounds. For example: ‘bl’ in black, ‘cr’ in crisp, ‘spr’ in spring, ‘st’ in fast, and ‘nd’ in land.

Consonant digraph

Two consecutive consonants that represent one phoneme, or sound. For example: /ch/, /sh/, and /th/.

Content area literacy

Development of the ability to read, write, and comprehend information in core content areas. Teachers use subject matter texts, and the emphasis is on using instructional strategies that support reading comprehension overall, such as self-monitoring, summarizing, and answering text-dependent questions. (See also disciplinary literacy)

Context clues

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.

Continuous sounds

A sound that can be held for several seconds without distortion. For example: /f/, /m/, and /s/.

Core instruction (Tier 1)

Daily whole classroom instruction where all students receive an evidence-based core reading program that is explicit and systematic. It is sometimes referred to as Universal instruction.

Cumulative instruction

Instruction that builds upon previously learned concepts.

Curriculum-Based Measurement (CBM)

A criterion-referenced assessment that is tied to specific reading skills and is used for screening and benchmarking purposes. A type of progress monitoring conducted on a regular basis to assess student performance throughout an entire year’s curriculum; teachers can use CBM to evaluate not only student progress, but also the effectiveness of their instructional methods.


Decodable text

Text in which a high proportion of words comprise sound–symbol relationships that have already been taught. Decodable texts provide practice applying decoding skills and building fluency with known patterns and words.

Decodable words

Words containing phonic elements that have been previously taught.


The ability to translate a word from print to speech by using your knowledge of sound–symbol (letter) correspondences. It is the act of deciphering a new word by sounding it out.

Diagnostic assessments

Tests that can be used to measure a variety of reading, language, or cognitive skills. Although they can be given as soon as a screening test indicates a child is behind in reading growth, they will usually be given only if a child fails to make adequate progress after being given extra help in learning to read. They are designed to provide a more precise and detailed picture of the full range of a child’s knowledge and skill so that instruction can be more precisely planned.


Rule-governed linguistic systems that compose a language and highlight the variation of its speakers. For example, English is commonly recognized as a language, but there are multiple dialects of English such as Southern U.S., African American Vernacular, or Irish English.

Dialogic reading

A lively, interactive read-aloud technique that is designed to improve reading comprehension. During story reading, the adult asks open-ended questions, adds information (for example, about the setting or a new vocabulary word), and prompts children to connect what they already know and what they are learning about the text.


The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) is a set of assessments designed to measure reading fluency and early literacy skills of elementary students.

Differentiated instruction

Matching instruction to meet the different needs of learners in a given classroom, to ensure that all kids meet grade-level expectations. Instruction may be based on Core (Tier 1) instruction.


A combination of two letters representing one sound. For example: /sh/, /ch/, /th/, /ph/, /ea/, and /ck/.


A combination of two adjacent vowel sounds within the same syllable — sometimes called a “gliding vowel.” The sound begins as one vowel sound and moves towards another. The two most common diphthongs in the English language are the letter combinations ‘oy’ or ‘oi’ as in boy or coin, and ‘ow’ or ‘ou’ as in cloud or cow.

Direct vocabulary instruction

Planned instruction to pre-teach new, important, and difficult words to ensure the quantity and quality of exposures to words that students will encounter in their reading. Direct vocabulary instruction aids reading comprehension.


A component of concepts of print, directionality includes knowledge about how to read an English book or text, including: read top to bottom, read left to right, identify first and last word, tracking, and return sweep.

Disciplinary literacy

Specialized texts and ways of using literacy in the disciplines. Historians, mathematicians, literary critics, and scientists read and write differently because they create different kinds of knowledge and rely on different kinds of evidence. Disciplinary literacy refers to the idea that we should teach the specialized ways of reading, understanding, and thinking used in each academic discipline, such as science, history, or literature.


A learning disability that affects writing abilities. It can manifest itself as difficulties with spelling, poor handwriting and trouble putting thoughts on paper.


A language-based learning disability that affects reading. Children with dyslexia often have poor phonological skills, resulting in difficulties with decoding, reading fluency, and spelling. Dyslexia can also impact reading comprehension and writing.



A part of writing and preparing presentations centered on improving the clarity, organization, conciseness, and correctness of expression in relationship to the task, purpose, and audience. Compare with revising, a smaller-scale activity often associated with surface aspects of a text. See also revising and rewriting.

Elkonin boxes

A tool used during phonemic awareness and encoding instruction. One box is provided for each sound in a target word. For example, the word bat would have three corresponding boxes. A child listens to a pronunciation of the word and then moves a token or coin into one box as they segment each sound or phoneme in the word. Elkonin boxes are sometimes referred to as sound boxes.

Emergent bilinguals

Students who are learning an additional language, usually English. The term is grounded in a strengths-based philosophy, and can be used instead of terms like English language learners, English learners, or limited English proficient.

Emergent literacy

The view that literacy learning begins at birth and is nurtured through meaningful literacy-related activities between children and adults — long before formal reading instruction. Examples include early reading and writing behaviors (e.g., scribble writing and pretend reading), knowledge (e.g., a book is a source of a story or information), and attitudes (e.g., question asking about neighborhood signs).


The ability to translate speech into print (writing) using your knowledge of sound–symbol (letter) correspondences.

English language learner (ELL)

English language learners are students whose first language is not English and who are in the process of learning English. Defined by the U.S. Department of Education as national-origin-minority students who are limited-English-proficient. Often abbreviated as ELLs. See also: Emergent bilingual.

Environmental print

Printed materials that are a part of everyday life, including signs, billboards, labels, and packaging.

Error correction

Immediate corrective feedback during reading instruction.


ESL is the common acronym for English as a Second Language, an educational approach in which English language learners are instructed in the use of the English language.


The origin of a word and the historical development of its meaning. For example: the origin of the word etymology comes from late Middle English: from Old French ethimologie and via Latin from Greek etumologia.

Evidence-based intervention / instruction

Instructional techniques or strategies which have been demonstrated through experimental research or large-scale field studies to be effective.

Evidence-based practices

Practices for teaching reading grounded and proven in research.

Executive function

A set of mental skills that we used every day in school and in life, and include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. Trouble with executive function can make it hard to focus, follow directions, plan, organize, problem-solve, handle emotions, and manage tasks and schedules.

Explicit instruction

Teaching children in a systematic and sequential manner. Explicit instruction is step-by-step, and the actions of the teacher are clear, specific, direct, and related to the learning objective. It often follows the “I do. We do. You do” model. Explicit instruction provides time for lots of practice and cumulative review with the goal of teaching to mastery.

Expository text

Text whose purpose is to present information or ideas about a specific topic, using factual information. It is also called informational text.

Expressive language

Language that is spoken.


Figurative language

Language that departs from its literal meaning — such as, “the snow sparkled like diamonds.” Often one thing is compared to another, and it can be used to add color or intensity to a description. Figurative language is found in all genres, but is most common in poetry. Examples include similes (rusty as a nail), metaphors (“My hair is a garden. And like every good garden, it must be/cared for, every day.”), and personification (the fog comes on little cat feet).

Flexible grouping

Grouping students according to shared instructional needs and abilities, and regrouping as their instructional needs change. Group size and allocated instructional time may vary among groups.

FLoSS(z) rule

When ‘f’, ‘l’, ‘s’, and ‘z’ are at the end of a closed syllable — a syllable with one vowel — the letters are doubled. Examples: puff, will, hiss, and jazz


Fluency is the ability to read a text accurately, at a good pace, and with proper expression and comprehension. Fluency is measured in Word Count Per Minute (WCPM).

Formal assessment

Student assessment that follows a prescribed format for administration and scoring. Scores obtained from formal tests are standardized, meaning that interpretation is based on norms from a comparative sample of children.

Formative assessments

Student assessments used during instruction to provide the information needed to effectively direct and target teaching and learning as it occurs.

Frayer model

An adaptation of the concept map used to teach vocabulary. Students complete a four-quadrant graphic organizer with the word or concept (target term) in the center. Quadrant 1: definition; quadrant 3: provide facts; quadrant 3: add examples; and quadrant 4: provide non-examples or nonessential characteristics. Students can also add a sentence that expands the meaning and/or draw a picture that illustrates the meaning of the word.

Frustrational reading level

The level at which a reader reads at less than a 90% accuracy (i.e., no more than one error per 10 words read). Frustration-level text is difficult text for the reader.


Gradual release of responsibility (GRR)

A teaching methodology that includes “I do” where the teacher models, “We do” where the class works with the teacher or with each other, and “You do” where students work independently.


The set of rules in a language that governs the forms of words used in context (morphology) and how words can be combined in sentences (syntax).


A letter or letter combination that represent a sound (phoneme) in a syllable or word. In English, a grapheme may be one, two, three, or four letters. For example: e, ei, igh, or eigh.

Graphic organizers

Visual frameworks that help structure thinking. They make thinking processes visible by showing connections between data. Examples include concept maps, flowcharts and cause-and-effect patterns.


The relationship between letters and phonemes.

Guided oral reading

Instructional support that includes immediate corrective feedback as students read orally.

Guided practice

Instructional technique where students practice newly learned skills, with the teacher providing prompts and feedback.


Heart words

Irregularly spelled high-frequency words. Because they do not follow the normal rules of spelling, parts of these words need to be explicitly taught in order to “know them by heart.” For example: said, are, and where.

High-frequency words

The most common words found in print. They can be decodable (regularly spelled) or words with irregular spellings (sometimes called “heart words”). Often, they are referred to as “sight words” since automatic recognition of these words is required for fluent reading. They should not be taught by visually memorizing whole words but instead by using decoding to teach the regular or irregular grapheme-phoneme correspondences.


Words that are spelled the same but have different origins and meanings. They may or may not be pronounced the same. For example: can (a metal container) and can (able to).


Words that sound the same but are spelled differently. For example: cents/sense and knight/night.


Words that may or may not be spelled alike but are pronounced the same. These words are of different origins and have different meanings. For example: ate/eight and scale (the covering of a fish) and scale (a device used to weigh things).



A phrase or expression that differs from the literal meaning of the words; a regional or individual expression with a unique meaning. For example: it’s raining cats and dogs.


See Individualized Education Program.

Immediate corrective feedback

An instructional practice where a teacher identifies and corrects a student’s error as it occurs, and explains specifically how to correct the error.

Independent reading level

The level at which a reader can read text with 95% accuracy (i.e., no more than one error per 20 words read). Independent reading level is relatively easy text for the reader.

Indirect vocabulary learning

Words learned through read alouds, independent reading, and conversation.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

A written learning plan for special education services that is designed to meet the specific learning needs of a child.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

The federal law that guarantees all children with disabilities access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). It was first passed in 1975 and most recently updated in 2004.

Informal assessment

Student assessment that does not follow prescribed rules for administration and scoring, and has not undergone technical scrutiny for reliability and validity. Teacher-made tests, end-of-unit tests, and running records are all examples of informal assessment.

Informational text

A nonfiction text whose purpose is to inform/describe/explain to the reader. Informational text is structured with topics, examples, information, and includes text features such as headings, subheadings, captions, diagrams, photos, and tables.It is also called expository text.

Intensive instruction (Tier 3)

Designed for the smaller number of students who need more than targeted (Tier 2) instruction. Intensive instruction should occur in small groups of three. Intervention may include looking at time, intensity, frequency, and group size in order to meet each student’s needs.The focus of instruction is usually on foundational skills that need a lot of strengthening. Progress monitoring occurs every 7-10 days.


Additional small group or individualized instruction that is tailored to children’s needs so they can make progress and be on track to meet grade-level learning goals.

Invented spelling

Sound-based spelling where children create their own nonconventional spelling, based on their knowledge of the spelling system and how it works (e.g., ‘kt’ for cat).

Irregular words

Words that are difficult to sound out because they do not follow common phonic patterns. For example: said, were, was, laugh.



An instructional strategy where students study portions of a text or topic with a small group in order to build expertise, and then meet separately with peers who have studied different portions to teach and learn from them. The goal is that all students learn the entire body of material.



Graphic organizers that help students organize information before, during, and after a unit or a lesson. They are used most frequently with expository text to promote comprehension by engaging students in a new topic, activating prior knowledge, and monitoring learning. The K-W-L chart tracks what a student knows (K), wants to know (W), and has learned (L) about a topic.


Learning disability (LD)

A learning difference that affects a person’s ability to either interpret what they see and hear, or to link information from different parts of the brain.

Letter knowledge

The ability to identify the names and shapes of the letters of the alphabet.

Listening vocabulary

The words needed to understand spoken language.


The ability to understand oral language, read fluently, and write well.


Main idea

The central thought or message of a reading passage.


The process of considering and regulating one’s own learning. While reading, readers think critically about their own understanding as they read. It can be described as “thinking about thinking.” Metacognitive strategies can be taught.


An instruction technique where a teacher explicitly demonstrates a strategy, skill, or concept that students will be learning.


The smallest meaningful unit of language. A morpheme can be one syllable (book) or more than one syllable (seventeen). It can be a whole word or a part of a word such as a prefix or suffix. The word ungrateful contains three morphemes: un, grate, and ful.


The study of word formation patterns and how words are formed by looking at their meaningful parts — prefixes, roots, and suffixes (e.g., mis-spell-ing).

Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS)

A schoolwide framework used to provide targeted support to struggling students. MTSS is a proactive approach that includes universal screening for all students early in each school year, increasing levels of targeted support for those who are struggling, and integrated plans that address students’ academic, behavioral, social, and emotional needs through different levels of intensity.

Multimodal formats

The presentation of information in two or more formats or modes at once, for example, visual and auditory. Examples of multimodal texts include graphic novels (written language and still images), film (moving images, spoken language, audio), websites (still image, moving images, written language, audio), and oral presentations (gestural, spatial, and spoken language).

Multisyllabic words

Words with more than one syllable. A systematic introduction of prefixes, suffixes, and multisyllabic words should occur throughout a reading program. The average number of syllables in the words students read should increase steadily throughout the grades.


Narrative text

A story about fictional or real events. The purpose of a narrative text is to tell the story (real or imagined) of an experience, event, or sequence of events. It is typically structured around story elements such as setting, characters, problem, solution, and theme. Narrative texts can take the form of a song, poetry, drama, or prose.

Nonsense word

A “made-up” word (with no meaning) following regular patterns for reading and spelling words in the English language.

Nonverbal learning disability

A brain-based disability that makes it difficult for a person to understand communication such as body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions.



The natural division of a syllable into two parts. The onset is the initial consonant sound, blend, or digraph, and the rime is the following vowel and all subsequent sounds in the syllable. These words are divided to show the onset and rime: tr-ap, sw-im, h-at, and ch-in. Words that share the same rime are considered rhyming words. For example: fresh, mesh, and flesh.

Open syllable

A syllable that ends in a single vowel that is typically a long vowel sound. For example: me, no, apron, equal, program, and music.

Oral language

Communication through speaking and listening.

Orthographic mapping

The mental process readers use to permanently store words for immediate retrieval. Readers map the sounds (phonemes) of words they already know to the letters in a word and permanently store the sounds, letters, and meanings of these words. Orthographic mapping is required for effortless, accurate, and fluent reading. It explains how children learn to read words by sight, spell words from memory, and acquire vocabulary words from print


The conventional spelling and writing system of a language.


Partner reading

A cooperative or collaborative activity that involves two students turn taking and supporting each other’s oral reading and comprehension of a text.

Phoneme manipulation

Adding, deleting, and substituting sounds in words. For example: add /b/ to oat to make boat; delete /p/ in pat to make at; and substitute /o/ for /a/ in pat to make pot.


The smallest parts of spoken language that combine to form words. For example: the word bat is made up of three phonemes: /b/, /a/, and /t/. If you change the first phoneme in bat from /b/ to /p/, the word becomes pat. Most linguists agree that English has 44 phonemes: 19 vowel phonemes and 25 consonant phonemes.

Phonemic awareness

The ability to notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds in spoken words. One example of how beginning readers show that they have phonemic awareness is combining or blending the separate sounds /c/ /a/ /t/ in the word cat.


Reading instruction that focuses on the alphabetic principle — the systematic, predictable relationship between spoken sounds (phonemes) and written letters (graphemes) — to allow readers to identify or “decode” words.

Phonological awareness

A group of skills related to the ability to recognize the parts of spoken words. Examples include being able to identify words that rhyme, counting the number of syllables in a name, recognizing alliteration, segmenting a sentence into words, and identifying the syllables in a word. The most sophisticated — and last to develop — is phonemic awareness.


A morpheme that precedes a root and that contributes to or modifies the meaning of a word. For example: ‘re’ in reprint.

Print awareness

The knowledge that printed words carry meaning, and that reading and writing are ways to get ideas and information. Print awareness is basic knowledge about print and how it is typically organized on a page. For example: print conveys meaning, print is read left to right, and words are separated by spaces. 

Print structure

A component of concepts of print, print structure includes the knowledge of letters, words, and sentences in a text or book; spaces between words; capitalization; and punctuation.

Prior knowledge

The background knowledge and experience that readers bring to the text.

Progress monitoring

Administered frequently throughout instruction, an assessment used to determine whether students are making adequate progress and to determine whether instruction needs to be adjusted. 


Oral reading expression. Prosody includes pitch, tone, volume, emphasis, and rhythm in oral reading. For example: the rising intonation at the end of a question in English. 


R-controlled syllable

A syllable where ‘r’ follows the vowel. When this happens, the ‘r’ shapes the vowel sound and it makes an unexpected sound. For example: car, bird.

Rapid Automatized Naming (RAN)

The ability to read aloud the names of letters, symbols, words, or familiar objects in a quick and automatic manner.


The speed at which a person reads.

Readability level

Refers to independent, instructional, and frustrational levels of text reading.

Reader’s theater

An oral reading practice activity where students perform parts of a script adapted from literature. Sets, costumes, props, or memorizing are not involved.

Reading centers

Classroom spaces for students to work in small groups or pairs, either cooperatively or individually. Students work in centers while the teacher is conducting small group reading instruction. Each center contains meaningful, purposeful activities that are an extension and reinforcement of what has already been taught by the teacher in larges groups. 

Reading comprehension

The ability to understand what you are reading. Good readers think actively as they read, using their experiences and knowledge of the world, vocabulary, language structure, and reading strategies to make sense of the text. 

Receptive language

Language that is heard.

Reciprocal teaching

An instructional approach for building comprehension. Students learn 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.

Response to Intervention (RTI)

A three-tiered approach designed to address the learning needs of all students. The first tier of support provides all students with high-quality instruction. Those who do not make sufficient learning progress are given additional intervention teaching and, perhaps, special education depending upon their response to the intervention.


Recalling the content of what was read or heard.


A step in the writing process that focuses on reworking of the content of a text relative to task, purpose, and audience. This is different from editing, which is a larger-scale activity often associated with the overall content and structure of a text. 


A part of writing that involves replacing much or all of a previous draft with a new effort, better aligned to task, purpose, and audience, on the same or a similar topic or theme. It involves more substantive change than revising, and is more akin to replacement than refinement.


Words that have the same ending sound.


The vowel plus all the letters after it in a single syllable. For example: ‘at’ in c-at or ‘ip’ in tr-ip.

Root words

A morpheme, usually of Latin or Greek origin, that usually cannot stand alone but is used to form a family of words with related meanings. Most root words need a prefix and/or suffix to create a stand-alone word — for example, the Latin root word aud- meaning “to hear or listen” is not a word on its own, but it is the root of words such as audioaudible, or auditorium. Some root words can be stand-alone words — for example, the Greek root word scope meaning “viewing instrument” in the words microscope and telescope


Scaffolded instruction

Instruction in which adults build upon what children already know and provide temporary support that allows children to perform more complex tasks. Scaffolding may be part of the instructional design, such as starting with simpler skills and building progressively to more difficult skills. Scaffolding is temporary and is used to maintain high levels of learning; it is not having students learning less content or doing easier work.

Scarborough’s Reading Rope

This 2001 model from Dr. Hollis Scarborough identifies the multiple components of oral language comprehension and word recognition necessary to become a skilled reader. The metaphor of a woven rope illustrates the inter-connectedness of each “strand” — as well as the complexity of helping students become skilled readers. See Models of Reading.

Scarborough's Reading Rope diagram showing the subskills of language comprehension and word recognition combining for skilled reading

The prior knowledge and experience that a reader brings to the text.


A “lazy” vowel sound heard in an unstressed syllable in multisyllable words. Schwa most often sounds like /uh/ or the short /u/ sound as opposed to a pure short or long vowel sound. It is represented by the /ə/ symbol. Examples: the ‘a’ in balloon (bəl-loon), the ‘o’ in wagon (wag-ən), or the ‘e’ in elephant (el-ə-phant). All English vowels have a schwa sound.

Science of reading

A comprehensive body of research-based knowledge about how children learn to read that draws on decades of study, with contributions by experts from a wide variety of disciplines including cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, education, linguistics, and neuroscience. From this research, we can develop evidence-based best practices for teaching foundational skills as well as all of the strands of language comprehension.

Scientifically Based Reading Research (SBRR)

Research that employs systematic, empirical methods that draw on observation or experiment; has been accepted by a peer-reviewed journal or approved by a panel of independent experts through a comparably rigorous, objective and scientific review; involves rigorous data analyses that are adequate to test the stated hypotheses and justify the general conclusions drawn; relies on measurements or observational methods that provide valid data across evaluators and observers and across multiple measurements and observations; and can be generalized.

Scope and sequence

A “roadmap” or “blueprint” for teachers that provides an overall picture of an instructional program and includes the range of teaching content and the order or sequence in which it is taught.


An informal inventory that provides the teacher a beginning indication of the student’s preparation for grade level reading instruction. It is a “first alert” that a child may need extra help to make adequate progress in reading during the year.


Separating a word into smaller units, such as syllables, onset-rimes, or individual phonemes.


The mental act of knowing when one understands what one is reading. When students use self-monitoring strategies, they actively think about how they are learning or understanding the material, activities, or reading in which they are engaged.

Semantic feature analysis

A vocabulary and comprehension strategy that uses a grid to explore how a set of things are related to one another. By analyzing the grid, students can see connections, make predictions, and master important concepts. .

Semantic organizers

A type of graphic organizer that looks like a spider web where lines connect a central concept to a variety of related ideas and events. Also called a semantic map.


The study of the meaning of words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs.

Sentence frames

A scaffold using a fill-in-the-blank format designed to help students ask or answer questions verbally or in writing. Sentence frames help students understand what to analyze within a text in order to complete a writing or discussion activity.

Set for variability

A child’s ability to address the mismatch between the decoded form of a word (the oral language result of applying phonics rules to a word) and their stored word pronunication knowledge (how similarly spelled words are pronounced). A child’s set for variability is important for individual word-reading and overall reading ability.

Sight words

Words that a reader recognizes without having to sound them out. These words may be phonetically regular or irregular.

Simple View of Reading

Developed by Gough and Tunmer in 1986 and widely accepted, this model states that reading comprehensiondepends on two basic components: word recognition (decoding) and language comprehension. Decoding (D) x Language Comprehension (LC) = Reading Comprehension (RC). 

Social-emotional learning (SEL)

The process of developing self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making — key skills for success in school, work, and life.

Sound chaining or sound chains

A sound manipulation exercise where you change a single sound from one word to the next. For example: lip to sip to tip to tin to ten). Beginning readers should start with simple CVC words for this activity.

Sound to symbol

Phonics instruction that matches phonemes to graphemes.

Speaking vocabulary

The words used when speaking.


The rate at which a student reads.

Spelling patterns

Refers to digraphs, vowel pairs, word families, and vowel variant spellings.

Stop sounds

A consonant that is pronounced quickly so that the sound is not distorted. For example: /p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /k/, /g/. Words beginning with stop sounds are more difficult for students to sound out than words beginning with a continuous sound.

Story maps

Graphic organizers to help students learn the elements of a book or story. The most basic story maps focus on the beginning, middle, and end of the story. More advanced story maps focus more on plot or character traits.

Story structure

The content and events of a story that create the plo, including setting, characters, initiating events, conflicts, and outcomes. 


A morpheme (meaningful part of a word) attached to the end of a base, root, or stem that changes the meaning or grammatical function of the word. For example: ‘ful’ in joyful or ‘er’ in teacher. 


Identifying the main points in a text. Summarizing is an effective strategy for reading comprehension, helping students to connect central ideas and remember what they read.

Summative assessments

Sometimes called outcome assessments, they are typically given at the end of the school year, and designed to provide systems-level information for state, district, and school decisionmaking. The most common type of summative assessment are standardized tests that are group administered. 


The act of breaking words into syllables.


A word or word part that contains one vowel sound. For example: o-ver, pa-per, bas-ket, or ba-na-na.

Syllable types

There are six syllable types in the English language, represented by the acronym CLOVER:

  • Closed: cat, cobweb
  • Consonant-le: candle, juggle (second syllable)
  • Open: he, silo
  • Vowel pairs (teams): countrain
  • Silent ‘e’ or owel-consonant-e (VCE): like, milestone
  • R-controlled (vowel-R): star, corner

Words that have similar meanings.


The study and understanding of grammar — the system and arrangement of words, phrases, and clauses to form proper sentences. The most basic syntax follows this formula: subject + verb + direct object. For example, “Elena kicked the ball.” Syntax allows us to understand that we wouldn’t write “Kicked Elena the ball.”

Synthetic phonics

An approach to phonics instruction that emphasizes teaching the sounds of letters or groups of letters in isolation and how to blend or synthesize these separate sounds into pronunciations of the words. ‘R” sounds like r-r-r in rat. A-a-a is the middle sound in rat. T-t-t is the final sound of /t/ in rat. Compare with analytic phonics.

Systematic instruction

A plan of instruction (scope and sequence) that takes students through an explicit sequence of learning activities. Lessons build on previously taught information, building from easier to more difficult tasks, and breaking down harder skills into smaller parts.


Target words

Words that are specifically addressed, analyzed, and/or studied in lessons, exercises, and independent activities.

Targeted instruction (Tier 2)

Small groups of 3-7 students who are struggling with Tier instruction. Students receive additional instruction based on Core (Tier 1), and often includes reteaching, differentiated instruction, and more opportunities to practice. Progress monitoring occurs every 10-14 days to measure students’ progress.

Text complexity

How easy or difficult it is to read and understand a particular text. The Standards’ Model of Text Complexity is a three-part model that measures text complexity according to: quantitative factors (e.g., word length, sentence length, text cohesion); qualitative factors (e.g., levels of meaning, purpose, or abstraction); and reader and task (e.g., a reader’s skill and the complexity of the reading task). 

Text feature

An element of a text that aids in the organization or that supports meaning. Text features include page numbers, table of contents, chapter titles, headings, graphics, images, diagrams, captions, labels, lists, special print (e.g. bold, italics), and glossaries.

Text structure

Different ways of organizing the information in texts depending on their purpose. Common text structures include compare and contrast, problem and solution, cause and effect, chronology/sequence, and description.

Text type

The broad categories of writing or genres that present stories, ideas, and information in distinct ways. Each text type has unique characteristics and structures to guide readers and writers. The 5 most common text types include: narrative, descriptive, expository, procedural/instructional, and argumentative/persuasive  


A comprehension strategy that is often practiced during shared read alouds, when teachers reveal their thinking processes by verbalizing: connections, questions, inferences, and predictions.

Timed reading

A way to practice or measure fluency by having a student read a text with a predetermined number of words within a specific amount of time.

Trade books

Books that are published for a general audience and available through online and brick-and-mortar stores.



Knowledge of the meaning and pronunciation of words. 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.

Vowel digraph or vowel pair

Two vowels together that represent one phoneme, or sound. For example: /ea/, /ai/, /oa/. Also called a vowel team.

Vowel variants

The variety of spelling patterns for one sound. For example: long ‘a’ can be spelled spelled -a, -ai, -ay, or -eigh.


Word family

Group of words that share a rime (a vowel plus the consonants that follow). For example: game, name, lame, or pack, sack, tack.

Word learning strategies

Strategies students use to learn words, including analyzing meaningful parts of words, using analogy, using context clues, and using a dictionary, glossary, or other resources.

Word parts

Letters, onsets, rimes, syllables that, when combined, create words with meaning. Word parts include affixes (prefixes and suffixes), base words, and word roots. The ability to recognize various word parts in multisyllabic words is beneficial in decoding unfamiliar words.

Word roots

Words from other languages that are the origin of many English words. About 60 percent of all English words have Latin or Greek origins. Root words hold the most basic meaning of a word. Most root words need a prefix and/or suffix to create a stand-alone word — for example, the Latin root word aud- meaning “to hear or listen” is not a word on its own, but it is the root of words such as audioaudible, or auditorium. Some root words can be stand-alone words — for example, the Greek root word scope meaning “viewing instrument” in the words microscope and telescope

Word study

Instruction that focuses on close investigation of words. Examples include learning to decode more complex words based on associated word meanings and identification of word parts (such as affixes and root words), vocabulary-building exercises, and spelling practice. Word study helps students learn about predictable patterns in English and read new words by applying word analysis and structural analysis skills.