Glossary of Reading Terms


affix: A word element that is placed at the beginning (prefix), in the middle (infix), or at the end (suffix) of the root or word stem.

alliteration: The repetition of the same or similar sounds (usually consonants) that are close to one another (e.g. the timid, tiny tadpole).

alphabetic principle: The idea that letters represent sound and that printed letters can be turned into speech (and vice versa).

anecdotal records: An informal, written record (usually positive in tone), based on the observations of the teacher, of a student's progress and/or activities which occur throughout the day.

antonym: A word which is the opposite of another word. Large is the antonym of small.

balanced literacy: Generally, an approach to reading that incorporates both whole language and phonics instruction.

blending: Combining parts of words to form a word. For example, combining pl and ate to form plate.

book talk: When a teacher (or media specialist) gives a brief talk about a particular book to generate interest in the book.

choral reading: Sometimes referred to as unison reading. The whole class reads the same text aloud. Usually the teacher sets the pace. Choral reading helps with the ability to read sight words and builds fluency.

chunking: Reading by grouping portions of text into short, meaningful phrases.

cloze: A procedure whereby a word or words has/have been removed from a sentence and the student must fill in the blank using context clues (clues in the sentence).

consonant: a letter and a sound. Consonants are the letters of the alphabet except for the vowels a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y and w.

consonant blend: two or three consonants grouped together; each sound is retained (heard). For example: st and scr.

consonant digraph: two or more consonants grouped together in which the consonants produce one sound. For example: sh and ch.

consonant cluster: A group of consonants that appear together in a syllable without a vowel between them.

context clues: Bits of information from the text that, when combined with the reader's own knowledge, allow the reader to "read between the lines," figure out the meaning of the text, or determine the meaning of unknown words in the text.

D.E.A.R: Drop Everything and Read. A time set aside during the school day in which everyone (teachers and students) drop everything and read.

decode: to analyze graphic symbols to determine their intended meaning.

duet reading: When a skilled reader and a weaker, less-skilled reader reads the same text aloud. The skilled reader may be a peer, older sibling, parent, or teacher. Duet reading builds confidence and fluency.

easy reader: A short book with appropriately short text. The illustrations amplify the text.

echo reading: When a skilled reader reads a portion of text (sometimes just a sentence) while the less-skilled reader "tracks." The less-skilled reader then imitates or "echoes" the skilled reader.

emergent reader: An emergent reader: has print awareness, reads in a left-to-right and top-to-bottom progression, uses some beginning and ending letter sounds, may tell the story from memory, may invent text, interprets/uses picture clues to help tell the story, is beginning to use high-frequency words.

environmental print: Print that is all around us: street signs, labels on cans or jars, handwritten notes, etc.

expository writing: Text that explains an event, concept, or idea using facts and examples.

fluency: The ability to read at an appropriate rate smoothly. (Also the ability to read expressively if reading aloud.)

fluent reader: A fluent reader: reads quickly, smoothly, and with expression; has a large store of sight words; automatically decodes unknown words, self-corrects.

genre: A type or category of literature marked by conventions of style, format, and/or content. Genres include: mystery, fantasy, epic poetry, etc.

grapheme: The smallest unit of a writing system. A grapheme may be one letter such as t or combination of letters such as sh. A grapheme represents one phoneme.

guided reading: A context wherein the teacher interacts with small groups of students as they read books that present a challenge. The teacher introduces reading strategies, tailoring the instruction to the needs of the students. When the students read, the teacher provides praise and encouragement as well as support when needed. Proponents of guided reading, Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinell, have stated, "The ultimate goal of guided reading is to help children learn how to use independent reading strategies successfully."

homograph: Two words that have the same spelling but different meanings and/or origins and may differ in pronunciation. Example: "the bow of a ship" and "a hair bow"

homonym: A word that has the same spelling or pronunciation as another but different meanings and/or origins. See homograph and homophone.

homophone: Two words that have the same pronunciation but differ in meaning or spelling or both. Example: pause and paws

idiom: a phrase or expression that is (usually) not taken literally. For example, "Don't let the cat out of the bag" means to not tell something one knows, to keep silent.

independent reading: Students self select books to read. A student's "independent reading level" is the level at which the student can read with 96-100% accuracy.

language experience approach: Also referred to as LEA. An approach to literacy instruction in which students orally dictate texts to a teacher (or scribe). The text is then read aloud by the teacher as the students read along silently. Students are then encouraged to read and re-read the text, thus building fluency. The experiences that serve as stimuli/sources for the dictated text can vary from literature discussions to field trips. Generally, the approach involves: a shared experience, discussion, oral dictation, reading, and re-reading. After the shared experience, the scribe helps the student write about the experience. The approach works not only with beginning readers, but non-native speakers of English, and adult learners as well. LEA is not a new approach; It has been studied and used for decades.

learning log: A document wherein students write entries (usually short and ungraded) which reflect upon a lesson, activity, event, discussion, presentation, or experiment.

leveled text: Books are "leveled" (i.e. placed in a certain category) based on the criteria of the person or entity leveling the books. Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell, the developers of Guided Reading, advocate these stages: Emergent Readers (Levels A-E); Early Readers (Levels F-J); Early Fluent Readers (Levels K-P); and Fluent Readers (Levels Q-W). Individual titles of books are then given a "level" based upon certain criteria. The Lexile Framework is another such tool. Lexile measures reader ability and text difficulty by the same standard. The leveling of texts allows teachers to match books with an individual student's reading ability.

literacy: The ability to read, write, communicate, and comprehend.

literacy centers: Stations or areas where literacy activities are set up for use. Centers may also be portable wherein the student takes the "center" to his or her desk. Examples of literacy centers: Reading the Room (a small area where students may obtain a flyswatter, pointer, large glasses, etc. that they can use to "read" the room as them walk around). Writing Centers which have available various types of paper, writing utensils, stamps, etc. For younger children the Writing Center may contain materials which they can use to form letters or words such play dough, fingerpaint, a flat piece of velvet, etc.

literature circles: Student-led book discussion groups. Students choose their own reading material and meet in small, temporary groups with other students who are reading the same book. The teacher acts a facilitator. Literature Circles by Harvey Daniels (Stenhouse Publishers) is considered by many to be the definitive guide on the subject.

main idea: The point the author is making about a topic. Topic and main idea are not the same.

metaphor: A figure of speech in which two things are compared by saying one thing is another.

modeled reading: Wherein the teacher reads aloud a book which is above the students' reading level. Students may or may not have a copy of the text with which to follow along. The purpose of modeled reading is to demonstrate a skill or ability such as: fluency, fix-up strategy, think aloud.

morpheme: the smallest unit of meaning in oral and written language.

narrative writing: Generally, writing about an event in a personal way.

onset: The initial consonant sound (or sounds) that come before the vowel in a syllable. For example, the onset of cat is c. (The remainder of the word—at—is called a rime.)

orthography: the written letters or symbols of a language.

paired reading: see duet reading above

pattern books: Also referred to as predictable books. Books which use repetitive language and/or scenes, sequences, episodes. Predictable books allow early readers to predict what the sentences are going to say, thereby increasing enjoyment and helping to build vocabulary.

phoneme: The smallest unit of speech that affects the meaning of a word. A sound unit. The c in cat and the m in mat are phonemes.

phonemic awareness: The awareness of sounds in spoken words. A subset of phonological awareness. Phonemic awareness and phonics are not the same. Phonemic awareness is the ability to orally hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds or segments of sound in words. Research has identified phonemic awareness as an essential and necessary ability if the child is become a good reader.

phonics: A method of teaching reading that focuses on letter-sound relationships.

phonogram: Also referred to as rime or word family. All the sounds (after the onset) from the vowel to the end of the word.

phonological awareness: 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 includes: phonemic awareness, the ability to appreciate rhyme, and counting syllables among others.

predictable books: Also referred to as pattern books. Books which use repetitive language and/or scenes, sequences, episodes. Predictable books allow early readers to predict what the sentences are going to say, thereby increasing enjoyment and helping to build vocabulary.

prefix: An affix that is added to the front of a word and changes its meaning. For example: un being placed in front of the word developed.

print conventions: The rules of print. For example: In the West one reads from left to right and moves from the top to the bottom of the page. Research shows that three of the most important and fundamental concepts students need to learn to become readers are: knowledge of the alphabet, phonemic awareness, and conventions of print.

prior knowledge: Knowledge which the reader has prior to engaging in the lesson or reading. Sometimes referred to as schema. It is important to activate prior knowledge before the lesson or reading. This allows students to connect what they are learning/reading with what they already know. Additionally, a discussion of prior knowledge alerts the teacher to gaps in the students' knowledge and/or misconceptions the students have.

r controlled vowel: When a vowel is followed by the letter r and this causes the vowel sound to be altered. For example: her.

reading wars: A "war" waged primarily in the 1980s and 1990s over the best way to teach reading. On one side the proponents of phonics; on the other the proponents of whole language. Today, the general consensus among researchers and reading specialists is a balanced approach. A list of online resources concerning the debate may be found here.

reader's workshop: In a reader's workshop the teacher begins by presenting a mini-lesson on a reading skill or concept. Students are then given uninterrupted time to read their various texts. Afterward students respond to what they have read in a reader response journal or reading log. Many reading workshops also include time for sharing. Many teachers first became familiar with reading workshops through Nancy Atwell's classic book In the Middle published in the late 1980s . The latest edition of the book is titled In the Middle : New Understanding About Writing, Reading, and Learning (Boynton-Cook/Heinemann). Another extremely popular book which discusses the reader's workshop is Mosaic of Thought: Teaching Comprehension in a Reader's Workshop by Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmerman (Heinemann).

reading in the content areas:  Concerns the the ability to read, write, speak about (as well as listen to) subject matter across the curriculum. The pioneers on this topic are Richard Vacca and Jo Anne Vacca who wrote Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum (Pearson/Allyn & Bacon).

reading response logs: A notebook or binder wherein students can respond to their reading. Reading response logs may take many forms. Teachers may wish to assign a prompt (or selection of prompts) which the students will then write about. Or, they can be used to document: reflections of the student, feelings about the reading, details of the text which interested the students, etc.

rime: Also referred to word family. All the sounds (after the onset) from the vowel to the end of the word. For example the rime in the word cat is at. (The onset is c.)

running records: In reading, a teacher records the child's reading behavior as he or she reads a book. The teacher may note errors, self-corrections, substitutions, and so forth. Also known as reading assessments. Teachers generally use a standard set of symbols for recording what the reader does while reading.

schwa: the sound "uh." For example, the vowel sound heard at the beginning of the word alone. The schwa is represented by the symbol /a/ and any of the vowel letters (lettuce).

semantics: the branch of linguistics which studies meaning in language.

shared reading: An activity in which the teacher reads a story while the students look at the text being read and follow along. During this time the teacher may introduce print conventions, teach vocabulary, introduce a reading skill, encourage predictions, and more. The shared reading model was developed by Don Holdaway in 1979.

sight word: Words that good readers instantly recognize without having to decode them. Sight words are usually "high-frequency" words. Fry's 300 Instant Words may be found here. (PDF file).

silent, sustained reading: A period of time wherein students read silently from a book or other text of their choice.

suffix: A group of letters added to the end of a word to form a new word. For example: when ful is added to the word help, a new word is formed: helpful.

syllable: a unit of sound or group of letters made up of a vowel sound or a vowel consonant combination. Syllables contain only one vowel.

synonym: A word that has the same meaning as another word. For example: big and large are synonyms.

syntax: the word order pattern in sentences, phrases, etc.

synthesize: The process of combining two separate elements into one new element.

topic: What the text is about. The topic is not the same as the main idea.

vowel: a letter and a sound. The vowels in the alphabet are represented by the letters a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y and w.

vowel digraph: a group of two vowels in which only one sound is heard. For example: height.

vowel diphthong: the blending of two vowel sounds. For example: boil. Also referred to as a vowel blend.

Whole Language Approach: A holistic philosophy of reading instruction which gained momentum during the 1970s, '80s, and early '90s. Emphasizes the use of authentic text, reading for meaning, the integration of all language skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening), and context.

word analysis: The identification and/or decoding or a word the reader does not immediately recognize.

word families: Also known as phonograms, word families are groups of words that have a common pattern. For example, the an word family contains the words fan, pan, ran, plan, man, and so on. Go here for a list of the 37 most common phonograms. These 37 make up 500 words!

word segmentation: The ability to break words into individual syllables.

word wall: An area of the classroom (such as a bulletin board) on which a collection of words are displayed. (Personal word walls can be made using file folders.)
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