Effective reading instruction builds steadily upon children's developing understanding and use of both spoken and written language. It includes an understanding of a broad range of literacy terms and concepts, listed below. Initially, these words may not feel very concrete — until you begin to use them regularly in your planning, teaching, and reflection.

Alphabetic knowledge

Knowledge of the shapes and names of letters of the alphabet.

Alphabetic principle

Understanding that there is a systematic relationship between the sounds of spoken English words.


Understanding how to read each letter or letter pattern in a word to determine the word's meaning.


Two letters that represent one speech sound. Examples: sh, ch, th, ph. Vowel digraph: two letters that together make one vowel sound. Examples: ai, oo, ow


A grapheme is a written letter or a group of letters representing one speech sound. A grapheme may be just one letter, such as b, d, f, p, s; or several letters, such as ch, sh, th, -ck, ea, -igh.

Irregular/high-frequency words

Recognition of words that appear often in printed English, but are not readily decodable in the early stages of reading instruction.


A morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit of language. The word cat is a morpheme.


A phoneme is the smallest part of spoken language that makes a difference in the meaning of words. English has about 41 phonemes. A few words, such as a or oh, have only one phoneme. Most words, however, have more than one phoneme: The word if has two phonemes (/i/ /f/); check has three phonemes (/ch/ /e/ /k/), and stop has four phonemes (/s/ /t/ /o/ /p/). Sometimes a phoneme is represented by more than one letter.

Phonemic awareness

The ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words.

Phonemic awareness activities

Activities or games that stimulates the growth of phonemic awareness in children. Activities are oral, never written.


Phonics is the understanding that there is a predictable relationship between phonemes (the sounds of spoken language) and graphemes (the letters and spellings that represent those sounds in written language).

Phonological awareness

Includes phonemic awareness (work with phonemes), but is broader. Phonological awareness also includes work with rhymes, words, syllables, and onsets and rimes.

Print awareness

Understanding the relationship between written and spoken language and understanding how print is organized on a page.

Onset and rime

Onsets and rimes are parts of spoken language that are smaller than syllables but larger than phonemes. An onset is the initial consonant or or consonant cluster. In the word name, "n" is the onset; in the word blue, "bl" is the onset. A rime is the vowel or vowel and consonant(s) that follow the onset. In the word name, "ame" is the rime; in the word swim, "im" is the rime).

Reading fluency

Practice in reading a variety of texts so that reading becomes easy, accurate, and expressive.

Reading practice with decodable texts

Application of information about sound-letter relationships to the reading of readily decodable texts.


The vowel sound sometimes heard in an unstressed syllable and is most often sounded as /uh/ or as the short /u/ sound as in cup.

Spelling and writing

Understanding how to translate sound-letter relationships and spelling patterns into written communication.


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

For a full glossary, see Glossary: Reading, Literacy and Reading Instruction.

Reading 101 is a collaboration with the Center for Effective Reading Instruction and The International Dyslexia Association.

"I feel the need of reading. It is a loss to a man not to have grown up among books." —

Abraham Lincoln