University of Iowa

Reading Glossary

A listing of key terms and concepts to provide a better understanding of Iowa Reading Research Center content and a better understanding of literacy research in general.

Academic language

Vocabulary, grammar, and other aspects of communication that students must understand to learn and communicate in a school setting.


A word part added to the beginning or end of a root word to change the meaning (e.g., “un-” meaning not, “-able” meaning capable of, and “-ed” to indicate past tense). 

Alphabet skills

Knowledge and ability to read, write, and say the letters of the alphabet.

Alphabetic principle

The knowledge that (a) words are composed of letters and (b) there is a predictable pattern between specific letters or letter combinations and the sounds they represent.

Assessment practices

The practice and process of gathering data about an area of learning through tests, observations, work samples, and other means to help inform instruction.

Authentic texts

Written work that has been composed for real-life purposes (e.g., letters, newspaper articles, novels), rather than texts written for learning a specific reading skill (e.g., to emphasize a particular phonics pattern or carefully contrived text structure).


The ability to read words effortlessly upon sight.


(a) Combining the sounds of two or more letters to make one fluid sound, or phoneme (e.g., “bl”, “qu”, “ing”); (b) combining phonemes to make one fluidly pronounced word.


Making meaning from text by using prior knowledge, understanding vocabulary and concepts, making inferences, and forming connections between critical ideas. Some examples of comprehension strategies include predicting, summarizing, identifying main ideas and details, visualizing, and understanding an author’s purpose and perspective.

Corrective feedback

Corrective feedback is used to tell students the right way of practicing a skill or activity so that they do not continue to practice the skill or activity in an incorrect way.

Data-based decision making

The process of gathering evidence and data of student literacy learning to inform education and teaching decisions.

Decodable texts

Books or passages written to practice a specific phonics pattern in early literacy instruction. For example, a decodable text written to practice the VCe pattern would contain main words following that pattern such as race, nice, and rose. Decodable texts contain mostly regular words and some high frequency sight words so that students can read independently.


Adapting instruction to fit the needs of all students. This includes providing any necessary supports, resources, or scaffolds to make the lesson appropriately challenging for each student.


Two connected vowel sounds that glide into each other (e.g., “oi” in soil and “ue” in blue).

Explicit Instruction

The form of instruction in which a teacher directly states what it is students are expected to know and be able to do. Skills and strategies are taught to, rather than discovered by, students.


How closely implementation of a literacy intervention or instructional strategy is aligned to the way it was designed to be used.


Reading text at an appropriate pace/rate and with accuracy and expression to build understanding.

Guided Practice

The portion of explicit instruction that follows teacher modeling and that allows students an opportunity to practice the new skill or strategy with the assistance of a teacher. In later stages, guided practice is done with the assistance of a peer, but the teacher still provides positive and corrective feedback.

High frequency words

Decodable and irregular words that occur so frequently in printed English that learning to read them on sight will increase reading fluency.


Words that are spelled the same, but are pronounced differently and have different meanings (e.g., “I tied a bow around the present.” vs. “I took a bow after my performance.”).


Two or more words that sound the same and are spelled the same, but have different meanings (e.g., “I can read and write.” vs. “I poured the soup out of the can.”).


Two or more words that sound alike, but are spelled differently and have different meanings (e.g., there, their, and they’re).


An expression that has a figurative meaning, rather than the literal meaning of the words that make it up (e.g., “raining cats and dogs”).

Independent practice

The part of explicit instruction that follows guided practice and provides students an opportunity to practice a new skill or strategy individually.


A conclusion drawn from gathering evidence and making observations. Text-based inferences rely upon information from the passage that is combined with some form of prior knowledge.

Inferential language

Language that goes beyond what is explicitly stated in the text. This can include interpreting figurative language (including literary devices such as simile, metaphor, allusion, etc.), drawing conclusions, predicting outcomes, determining the mood, and judging the author’s point of view.

Informational text

A type of text with the purpose of telling the reader facts or information about a topic. Informational text also can be called a non-fiction text and includes the categories of literary nonfiction, expository, argument or persuasion, and procedural.

Irregular words

Sight words that do not follow the typical letter-sound correspondences and, therefore, must be recognized automatically (e.g., havethereof).


The system used to communicate has certain syntactic rules about how words should be ordered or sentences arranged and the grammatical structures of those words and sentences. There are also pragmatic language rules about the socially appropriate aspects of communicating in different contexts.

Literal meaning

The accepted definition of a word without interpretation or application of a figurative meaning.

Literary devices

Expressive forms of writing (e.g., figurative language such as simile, metaphor, allusion, etc.) or deliberate constructions within a text (e.g., foreshadowing, flashback, irony) that are used to create deeper meaning and to convey the craft or artistry of the author. Literary devices allow for greater analysis and interpretation of a text.

Literary elements

Parts of narrative writing that are common among all texts in the genre (e.g., plot, theme, character, setting, conflict, etc.).

Literary text

A piece of writing with the purpose of entertaining its audience or telling a story. Literary text will include both literary elements representative of the genre and literary devices.


The process of thinking about one’s own thinking. Students may engage in metacognition when they explain their thinking, ask themselves how they came to a certain answer, etc.


A figure of speech in which a person or thing is described through comparison to another noun, but using a non-literal meaning of the likeness between them (e.g., “She is a shining star.” or “The mall was a zoo.”). Metaphors do not use the words “like” or “as.”


The first phase of explicit instruction in which the teacher demonstrates and articulates for students what they are expected to do when applying a particular skill or strategy.


The smallest part of a word that has meaning (e.g., “the” is a single morpheme; “pretest” has two morphemes- “pre” meaning before, and “test”).


The study of how words are formed using meaningful word parts.

Motivating readers

Formal and informal activities that motivate and support children as they work to become readers. These include reading aloud; reading together; choosing books; choosing ways to respond to books; providing literacy-rich activities; and engaging in wide reading across a variety of genres, formats and settings.

Multimodal text

A text in which more than one of the five systems (linguistic, visual, audio, gestural, and spatial) are used to contribute meaning.

Multi-tiered system of support (MTSS)

Also known as Response to Intervention (RtI), this is a process by which schools use data to identify the academic and behavioral needs of students, match student needs with evidence-based instruction and interventions, and monitor student progress to improve educational outcomes.


The first consonant sound (e.g., /s/ in “sip”, /sh/ in ship) or consonant blend (e.g., /s/ /l/ in slip) in a syllable.

Oral language

Speaking and listening skills are the foundation of literacy development in children. Oral language serves as the basis for written language.


When an inanimate object or animal is given human-like qualities in a text.


The smallest part of a word that makes a single articulated sound (e.g., the phonemes in cat are /k/, /ă/, /t/; the phonemes in fish are /f/, /ĭ/, /sh/).

Phonemic awareness

The ability to isolate and manipulate individual sounds within a spoken word. Phonemic awareness is one of the earliest skills in literacy development, but it is the most difficult skill within the construct of phonological awareness.


Phonics is a teaching and learning process based on applying knowledge of letter-sound correspondences and spelling patterns to learn to read written text.

Phonological awareness

The knowledge of sounds within spoken language. It begins with the recognition of phrases within sentences and progresses to successively smaller units (e.g., words within phrases, syllables within words, onsets and rimes, individual phonemes).

Positive feedback

Instructional information that a teacher provides a student to indicate specifically what the student did correctly and should continue doing to support his/her reading (e.g., “You did a nice job using the features of the syllables to figure out that the vowel is pronounced with its short sound in the word ‘cap’ and its long sound in the word ‘cape.’”)

Pragmatic language

Knowledge of the social uses of words and expressions in different contexts. Pragmatic language ability includes knowing what to say, how to say it, the associated body language, and the appropriateness of the communication when interacting with people in different situations.

Print awareness/concepts of print

A child’s understanding that print has a function. When developing print awareness, children learn that print carries meaning, is organized in a specific way, and that there are rules for how one reads and writes.

Print conventions

Understanding the basics about written text and how it works. For example, knowing that you read from left to right and top to bottom, holding the book the correct way, turning the pages, distinguishing between the words and the pictures, distinguishing between letters and other symbols, etc.

Progress monitoring

The method by which an educator determines if students are benefiting from literacy instruction and research-based practices designed to meet a literacy-related SMART goal. Progress is measured using brief and easy-to-administer assessments.

Progress monitoring assessments

Routine checks of student learning, progress, and growth, administered to students to determine if they are benefiting from instruction or intervention. Progress monitoring is typically done once a week over a period of time to track the child’s progress on targeted reading skills.

Regular word

A word that can be decoded because all of the letters represent their typical sounds.


The vowel and any final consonants in a syllable (e.g., /ĭ//p/ in sipship, and slip).

Root cause

A deep and fundamental reason for a specific literacy challenge or problem. Determining the root cause through a root cause analysis enables the creation of targeted actions to prevent the problem from reoccurring.


The temporary assistance/support by the teacher to help students know how to do something, so that the student can complete a similar task alone. The Gradual Release of Responsibility model is an example of scaffolding.


The depth and breadth of the content to be taught at a specific grade level and the development of the content across grade levels.


To split a word into pieces such as by its phonemes, morphemes, or syllables. Students may use this strategy to identify an unfamiliar word encountered in print or to practice phonological awareness skills with spoken words.


The order in which the content should be taught for the best learning (building on past knowledge) within a grade level and across grade levels.

Sight words

Words that can be recognized "on sight" without applying any decoding or analytic skills. There are two types. The first, includes high frequency words that appear so often in a language that they can be recognized instantly (e.g., at, me, ate, ride). The second type includes the words that do not follow the usual phonics or letter-sound patterns, so the words must be memorized in order to be read correctly (e.g., have, where, two, their).


A figure of speech that uses the words “like” or “as” to describe a person or thing through a non-literal comparison to another noun. (e.g., “He is as free as a bird.” or “They fought like cats and dogs.”).

SMART goal

A specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-specific (SMART) goal set by an individual educator or team to reach a certain realistic literacy achievement.

Speaker turn

Participating in a conversation by appropriately alternating speaking and listening. Skills associated with turn taking can include initiating a conversation, waiting for another speaker to finish, responding to a question or point, and maintaining a topic.


A word or portion of a word that contains one vowel sound and that may contain or more consonant sounds. The six common syllable patterns are closed, open, silent-e, r-controlled, vowel pair/team, and final stable (e.g., consonant-le).


The way words and phrases are arranged and punctuated in a sentence. Syntax can vary from language to language. For example, in English an adjective typically is placed before the noun it is describing (e.g., “the blue house”), but in Spanish the noun typically is placed before the adjective (e.g., “la casa [house] azul [blue]”).

Systematic instruction

A form of instruction that is thoroughly planned and progresses from easier ideas or skills to gradually more complex ideas or skills.

Text features

Common components of texts, aside from the main body, that can give a reader additional information and help with navigating the text (e.g., table of contents, glossary, headings, graphics, captions, bold or italic font, etc.). Text features are often found in informational texts.

Text structure

The organization of and relationship among the ideas in a text (e.g., sequence/chronology, compare and contrast, problem and solution, cause and effect).

Textual evidence

Literal information from the text that can be used to support a claim or inference.


A recurring idea or underlying message in a literary text.

Think aloud

When a teacher orally explains everything s/he is thinking and doing when practicing a particular skill or strategy. Think alouds allow students to hear how a skilled reader processes print or information and to understand what is expected when applying the skill or strategy.

Universal screening assessments

A brief assessment that is done with all students in a grade-level or school to determine which students are on track for proficiency and which need additional, perhaps more intensive, instruction.


Oral vocabulary includes words and concepts understood through listening and speaking. Reading and writing vocabulary includes understanding and using words and concepts when reading and writing text.

Vowel pair/team

When two vowels appear next to each other in a syllable and form one phoneme, or sound (e.g., the ai representing the /ā/ sound in rain, the ea representing the /ē/ or /ĕ/ sound in read).


Writing development includes a variety of skills from forming letters to words and sentences as well as more sophisticated forms of communicating ideas and conveying information.

Writing mechanics

Basic components involved in the act of writing, including handwriting, typing, spelling, grammar, and sentence structure.