Reading Rockets Reading Glossary

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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.

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Academic English

The English language ability required for academic achievement in context-reduced situations, such as classroom lectures and textbook reading assignments. This is sometimes referred to as Cognitive/Academic Language Proficiency (CALP).


Accuracy is the ability to recognize words correctly.


See attention deficit disorder.

Adequate yearly progress

An individual state's measure of yearly progress toward achieving state academic standards. "Adequate Yearly Progress" is the minimum level of improvement that states, school districts and schools must achieve each year.


See attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.


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

Alphabetic principle

The alphabetic principle is the basic idea that written language is a code in which letters represent the sounds in spoken words.

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans With Disabilities Act gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.
Analogy-based phonics

See phonics.

Analytic phonics

See phonics.

Attention deficit disorder (ADD)

Attention deficit disorder is an older name for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is the inability to use skills of attention effectively. Studies suggest that five to ten percent of children, adolescents, and adults may have ADHD.


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. 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.

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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.

Bilingual education

An educational 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.


A blend is a consonant sequence before or after a vowel within a syllable, such as cl, br, or st; it is the written language equivalent of consonant cluster.

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Central auditory processing disorder/deficit (CAPD)

Central auditory processing disorder occurs when the ear and the brain do not coordinate fully. A CAPD is a physical hearing impairment, but one which does not show up as a hearing loss on routine screenings or an audiogram. Instead, it affects the hearing system beyond the ear, whose job it is to separate a meaningful message from non-essential background sound and deliver that information with good clarity to the intellectual centers of the brain (the central nervous system).


Words in different languages related to the same root, e.g. education (English) and educación (Spanish)..

Comprehension strategies

Comprehension strategies are techiniques to teach reading comprehension, including summarization, prediction, and inferring word meanings from context.

Comprehension strategy instruction

Comprehensive strategy instruction is the explicit teaching of techniques that are particularly effective for comprehending text. 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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Decoding is the ability to translate a word from print to speech, usually by employing knowledge of sound-symbol correspondences. It is also the act of deciphering a new word by sounding it out.

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.


Dyslexia is a language-based disability that affects both oral and written language. It may also be referred to as reading disability, reading difference, or reading disorder.

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Embedded phonics

See phonics.

English language learner (ELL)

English language learners are students whose first language is not English and who are in the process of learning English.


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.

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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.

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A grapheme is a letter or letter combination that spells a single phoneme. In English, a grapheme may be one, two, three, or four letters, such as e, ei, igh, or eigh.

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.

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See Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.


See Individualized Education Program.

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.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

An individualized educational program describes the special education and related services specifically designed to meet the unique educational needs of a student with a disability.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is the law that guarantees all children with disabilities access to a free and appropriate public education.


ISD is a common acronym for Independent School District.

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Language learning disability (LLD)

A language learning disability is a disorder that may affect the comprehension and use of spoken or written language as well as nonverbal language, such as eye contact and tone of speech, in both adults and children.


See learning disability.

Learning disability (LD)

A learning disability is a disorder that affects people's ability to either interpret what they see and hear or to link information from different parts of the brain. It may also be referred to as a learning disorder or a learning difference.

Limited English proficient (LEP)

Limited English proficient is the term used by the federal government, most states, and local school districts to identify those students who have insufficient English to succeed in English-only classrooms. Increasingly, English language learner (ELL) or English learner (EL) are used in place of LEP.


Literacy includes reading, writing, and the creative and analytical acts involved in producing and comprehending texts.

Local education agency (LEA)

A local education agency is a public board of education or other public authority within a state that maintains administrative control of public elementary or secondary schools in a city, county, township, school district or other political subdivision of a state.

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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.


A morpheme is 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. For example, the word ungrateful contains three morphemes: un, grate, and ful.

Morphemic relationship

The morphemic relationship is the relationship between one morpheme and another. In the word books, book is a free morpheme (it has meaning by itself) and -s is a bound morpheme (it has meaning only when attached to a free morpheme).


Morphology is the study of how the aspects of language structure are related to the ways words are formed from prefixes, roots, and suffixes (e.g., mis-spell-ing), and how words are related to each other.


Morphophonology is using a word's letter patterns to help determine, in part, the meaning and pronunciation of a word. For example, the morpheme vis in words such as vision and visible is from the Latin root word that means to see; and the ay in stay is pronounced the same in the words gray and play.

Multiple intelligences

The theory of multiple intelligences suggests that the traditional notion of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited. Instead, it proposes eight different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults. These intelligences are: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist.

Multisensory structured language education

Multisensory structured language education uses visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile cues simultaneously to enhance memory and learning. Links are consistently made between the visual (what we see), auditory (what we hear), and kinesthetic-tactile (what we feel) pathways in learning to read and spell.

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Naming speed

Naming speed is the rate at which a child can recite "overlearned" stimuli such as letters and single-digit numbers.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB)

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is the most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education act of 1965. The act contains President George W. Bush's four basic education reform principles: stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents, and an emphasis on teaching methods based on scientifically-based research.

Nonverbal learning disability

Nonverbal learning disability is a neurological disorder which originates in the right hemisphere of the brain. Reception of nonverbal or performance-based information governed by this hemisphere is impaired in varying degrees, causing problems with visual-spatial, intuitive, organizational, evaluative, and holistic processing functions.

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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

See phonics.

Onset-rime segmentation

Onset-rime segmentation is separating a word into the onset, the consonant(s) at the start of a syllable, and the rime, the remainder of the syllable. For example, in swift, sw is the onset and ift is the rime.

Oral language difficulties

A child with oral language difficulties may exhibit poor vocabulary, listening comprehension, or grammatical abilities for his or her age.

Orthographic knowledge

Orthographic knowledge is understanding that the sounds in a language are represented by written or printed symbols.

Orton-Gillingham (O-G)

Orton-Gillingham is a multisensory approach to remediating dyslexia created by Dr. Samuel Orton, a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist, and Anna Gillingham, an educator and psychologist.

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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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Phonics through spelling

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

  • 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.

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 as well as other aspects of spoken language such as rhyming and syllabication.

Print awareness/basic print concepts

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.

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Reading comprehension

See text comprehension.

Reading disability

Reading disability (RD) is another term for dyslexia. It is also sometimes referred to as reading disorder or reading difference.

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.

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Self-monitoring is the mental act of knowing when one does and does not understand what one is reading.

Social English

Often referred to as "playground English" or "survival English", this is the basic language ability required for face-to-face communication, often accompanied by gestures and relying on context to aid understanding. Social English is much more easily and quickly acquired than academic English, but is not sufficient to meet the cognitive and linguistic demands of an academic classroom. Also referred to as Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS).

Speech language pathologist

A speech language pathologist is an expert who can help children and adolescents who have language disorders to understand and give directions, ask and answer questions, convey ideas, and improve the language skills that lead to better academic performance. An SLP can also counsel individuals and families to understand and deal with speech and language disorders.

State education agency (SEA)

A state education agency is the agency primarily responsible for the state supervision of public elementary and secondary schools.

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.

Supplemental services

Students from low-income families who are attending schools that have been identified as in need of improvement for two years will be eligible to receive outside tutoring or academic assistance. Parents can choose the appropriate services for their child from a list of approved providers. The school district will purchase the services.


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


Syllabication is the act of breaking words into syllables.

Synthetic phonics

See phonics.

Systematic and explicit phonics instruction

See phonics.

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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).

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USD is a common acronym for Unified School District.

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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.

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Word attack

Word attack is an aspect of reading instruction that includes intentional strategies for learning to decode, sight read, and recognize written words.

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 percent of all English words have Latin or Greek origins.

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Adapted from: Every Child Reading: A Professional Development Guide. (November, 2000). Learning First Alliance. The Language of Literacy – Some Commonly Used Terms. The Partnership for Reading. Reading Rockets Teachers' Guide. NCELA's Glossary of Terms.

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