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.

Alphabet Skills

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

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.


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.

Data-Based Decision Making

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


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.


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.

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.

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.

Oral language

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


A speech sound. It is the smallest unit of language and has no inherent meaning. Phonemic awareness involves hearing language at the phoneme level.


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 ability to identify, produce, and manipulate individual sounds in words and phrases. From birth, children begin to recognize the sounds of spoken language and develop an understanding of how sounds form sentences. Eventually, children progress to identifying and manipulating individual sounds within words. This most difficult skill is called phonemic awareness.

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.

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.

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.


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).

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.

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.


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.