The following is a glossary of literacy terms and phrases for educators who embrace the science of reading. Use this index as a tool in the quest to eradicate illiteracy.



Alphabetic Principle: the insight that the oral sounds in spoken words are represented by letters in print. It forms the basis of both phonemic decoding and orthographic mapping. (Kilpatrick, 2015)

Anticipatory Set: Prompting students to consider what they know about the topic they are about to read, which yields higher comprehension.

Authentic literature: Texts such as trade books created for the general public. They are not created to facilitate or support reading instruction specifically but rather for reader enjoyment.


Balanced Literacy: A reading instruction approach that incorporates reading, writing, and comprehension utilizing whole language and phonics. This method is not based on the science of reading. Although it does include phonics or word study, the balanced literacy approach often lacks explicit, systematic, and sequential instruction and discourages strategies that embed real reading success.


Choral reading: A reading activity where multiple students read the same text in unison. It can be used to help build fluency, self-confidence, and motivation with beginning or striving students.

Connecting phonics and spelling: Teaching spelling in connection to phonics, enabling students to apply the skills to multiple words that follow the same pattern in spelling and reading.


Decodable text: Text in which a large proportion of the words (approximately 70–80 percent) comprise sound-symbol relationships that have already been taught. Decodable text is used to practice specific decoding skills and form a bridge between learning phonics and applying phonics in independent text. Louis Moats, —Speech to Print

Diagnostic Assessment: This assessment is used to identify a student’s specific skill deficits or behavioral challenges. Data from this assessment is used to make targeted and data-informed intervention plans.

Dictation: Multisensory, guided practice where students practice letter/sound relationships of the skills they are learning. For this activity, the teachers dictate a skill word or sentence to students as they listen and then repeat before writing and reading the word or sentence.

The Discrepancy Model: An outdated model used by some schools to determine if a student will or will not qualify for special education services.

Dyslexia: a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

—Adopted by the IDA Board of Directors, Nov. 12, 2002. Many state education codes, including New Jersey, Ohio, and Utah, have adopted this definition.

Dysgraphia: a learning disability that affects writing abilities. It can manifest itself as difficulties with spelling, poor handwriting, and trouble putting thoughts on paper. Because writing requires a complex set of motor and information-processing skills, saying a student has dysgraphia is insufficient. A student with disorders in written expression will benefit from specific accommodations in the learning environment and additional practice learning the skills required to be an accomplished writer. (National Center for Learning Disabilities)


Echo reading: A reading strategy used to support beginning or striving students, where a teacher or a peer partner reads a line from a passage followed by the other partner(s) repeating the same line. This method supports fluency, oral reading, vocabulary development, and comprehension.

Embedded mnemonics: Using pictures that simultaneously remind children of the letter formation and the sound each letter represents improves learning.

Etymology: the study of the origin of words and how their meanings have changed throughout history.


Five Components of Reading: As identified by the National Reading Panel, the five critical components of reading instruction are: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.


Grapheme: A grapheme is a letter or a combination of letters that represent a sound (phoneme).



I do. We do. You do.: a catchy phrase coined by Anita Archer to remember the explicit gradual release of the responsibility model that is foundational to effective instruction.




LEA: This stands for Local Education Agency and is a public board of education or other public authority to lead public school districts in planning and decision-making.

Leveled text: Texts with characteristics of high-frequency texts and predictable texts. They are assigned a rank (level) on a difficulty scale, such as A–Z, according to four characteristics: 1. book and print features; 2. content, themes, and ideas; 3. text structure; and 4. language and literacy elements. LETRS, pg. 217.


Morphology: the study of meaningful units of language and how they are combined in word formation. (Moats, 2000)

MTSS: Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) is a framework that helps educators provide academic and behavioral strategies for students with various needs. Key components of MTSS include the following:

  • Universal screening of all students early in the school year
  • Tiers of interventions that can be amplified in response to levels of need
  • Ongoing data collection and continual assessment
  • Schoolwide approach to expectations and supports
  • Parent involvement

Multi-modal Learning: Multiple methods and modalities of learning are used to engage the language centers’ input and output, including listening, speaking, reading, writing, and kinesthetic.



Orthographic Mapping: The cognitive process by which readers associate speech sounds with written letters (phoneme-grapheme associations) in written words to store them for immediate retrieval “on sight.”

Orthography: The system of marks that make up printed language.

Outcome Assessment: This assessment is used to determine whether a student met the learning or intervention objective as a result of instruction.


Partner reading: A reading activity where two students take turns reading the same text while the other listens and provides feedback. Using this strategy helps build fluency, cooperative learning, and metacognition.

Phoneme: A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in a language.

Phonemic Awareness: The ability to identify and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words.

Phonemic Proficiency: Phonemic proficiency involves instant, automatic access to the phonemic properties of spoken words.

Phonics: Reading instruction that teaches the relationships between the letters of written language and the sounds of spoken language. The National Reading Panel explains that phonics instruction should be explicit and systematically planned, and sequenced from the most simple components to the most complex.

Phonological Awareness: Phonological awareness is a broad skill that includes identifying and manipulating units of oral language, parts such as words, syllables, and onsets and rimes.

Progress Monitoring: Progress monitoring is used to assess student progress or performance in those areas in which they were identified by universal screening as at-risk for failure (e.g., reading, mathematics, social behavior). See www.RTInetwork.org for more information.



Retrieval Practice: A learning opportunity that increases student performance by having them recall information from long-term memory rather than cramming.

RTI: Response to intervention is a multi-tiered approach to early identification and support of students with learning and behavior needs. It’s generally thought of in the tiers of support listed below.

Tier 1: High-quality classroom instruction, screening, and group intervention

Tier 2: Targeted interventions

Tier 3: Intensive intervention and comprehensive evaluation

For more information, see www.RTInetwork.org.


Science of Reading: Dr. Louisa Moats explains, “The body of work referred to as the ‘science of reading’ is not an ideology, a philosophy, a political agenda, a one-size-fits-all approach, a program of instruction, nor a specific component of instruction. It is the emerging consensus from many related disciplines, based on literally thousands of studies, supported by hundreds of millions of research dollars, conducted across the world in many languages. These studies have revealed a great deal about how we learn to read, what goes wrong when students don’t learn, and what kind of instruction is most likely to work the best for the most students.”

Self-Teaching Hypothesis: The idea that once learners have established their knowledge of grapheme-phoneme correspondences and the essential process of segmenting and blending, they begin to apply this knowledge to new and novel words. Proficient decoders can do this because the reader can pay attention to the order and identity of letters and how they map onto the phonological representations or spoken form of the word.

Semantics: The aspect of language concerned with the meaning of a word, phrase, sentence, or text.

Sight Word: Any word stored in long-term memory and instantly recognized so that its pronunciation and meaning are triggered, regardless of word’s frequency or degree of phonetic regularity.

Sound Wall: Sound walls are a visual display of sound articulation of phonemes and the various letters or letter combinations used to represent those sounds.

Spaced practice: Studying and practicing a new skill over multiple sessions.

Structured Literacy: Structured literacy teaching is the most effective approach for students who experience unusual difficulty learning to read and spell printed words. The term refers to both the content and methods or principles of instruction. It means the same kind of instruction as multisensory structured language education and structured language and literacy.

Structured literacy teaching stands in contrast with popular approaches in many schools but do not teach oral and written language skills in an explicit, systematic manner. Evidence is strong that most students learn to read better with structured teaching of basic language skills and that the components and methods of Structured literacy are critical for students with reading disabilities, including dyslexia. (Structured Literacy: Effective Instruction for Students with Dyslexia and Related Reading Difficulties, IDA website, 3/29/22)

Syntax: The set of principles that dictate the sequence and function of words in a sentence to convey meaning. This includes grammar, sentence variation, and the mechanics of language. (Reading Rockets)


Temporary spelling/Inventive spelling: Students’ spelling attempts using their best judgments before mastering the correct spelling.

Three Cueing System: An instructional and assessment method based on the theory that students use meaning, structure, and visual information sources for cueing their reading of words. This debunked theory implies that readers guess words more than applying orthographic-phonemic cues to read. The Three Cueing System impedes real reading as students are instructed to guess at words instead of being taught to orthographically map words as needed to enter the brain’s long-term memory.


Universal Screening: Universal screening is the process of providing a brief assessment to all students to identify those who may experience lower-than-expected academic outcomes. It is the first step in the RTI process. See www.RTInetwork.org.



Word Wall: Word walls are most commonly referred to as a visual display of high-frequency words, organized alphabetically by the first letter.

Withitness: A skill teachers have that allows them to use their deep knowledge of their students and the content they are teaching to manage the classroom and create successful academic and behavioral outcomes. It is “the art of running a classroom while having eyes in the back of your head”(aaeteachers.org).