Literacy Terminology that all Teachers Should Know

Reading is a complex process with many interconnected components and there is an absolutely massive volume of research relating to it. As with any widely researched area, there is also a plethora of terminology to go along with it! It would be impossible for teachers to know ALL of the terminology relating to literacy instruction as it is just so vast, but there are some basic terms that every teacher should know, as an understanding of these is essential for effective literacy instruction.

I am not a literacy expert, but I do try to stay up-to-date with research in this area and I make sure that I know the basic science of how children learn to read and methods of effective literacy instruction (if this is an area that you would like to improve your skills in, there are many wonderful books, podcasts, and CPD courses available). In this post, I want to share some of the most basic and essential terminology relating to literacy that  every teacher should be familiar with. I hope if will provide a useful reference, and perhaps a starting point from which you can expand your own understanding of literacy instruction.

  • Fluency: The ability to read accurately, quickly, and with expression (prosody).
  • Comprehension: Understanding the meaning of what is read (the goal of reading!).
  • Vocabulary: The set of words known and used by a person.
  • Phoneme: The smallest unit of sound in spoken language. Phonemes combine to form syllables and words. The word cat has 3 phonemes: /c/, /a/, and /t/.
  • Grapheme: The written representation of a phoneme, usually a letter or combination of letters.
  • Grapheme-phoneme correspondence. The ability to map a phoneme to a grapheme and vice versa.
  • Phonics: A method of teaching reading that teaches students how sounds and letters map onto one another.
  • Blending: The process of combining individual phonemes together to pronounce a word. For example, blending the sounds /c/, /a/, and /t/ to form the word “cat.”
  • Segmenting: The process of breaking a word into its individual phonemes. For example, segmenting the word “cat” into /c/, /a/, and /t/.
  • Digraph: Two letters that represent a single sound. Examples include “sh,” “ch,” and “th.”
  • Trigraph: Three letters that represent a single sound. An example is “igh” in “high.”
  • Sight Words: Commonly used words that students are encouraged to recognise instantly without having to sound them out.
  • Decoding: Using knowledge of letter-sound relationships to read words.
  • Encoding: Using knowledge of letter-sound relationships to spell words.
  • Syntax: The arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language.
  • Phonological awareness: The understanding that speech is composed of sub-parts: sentences are comprised of words, words are comprised of syllables, syllables are comprised of onsets and rimes, and can be further broken down to phonemes.
  • Phoneme awareness: A subset of phonological awareness: the knowledge that spoken words consist of a sequence of individual sounds, and the understanding that phonemes are rearranged and substituted to create new words.
  • Alphabetic Principle: The understanding that letters represent sounds, and that these sounds are blended together to form words.
  • Decodable texts: Texts which do not contain irregular words. These texts are usually designed to reinforce certain “rules” that have previously been taught in phonics lessons.
  • Onset and Rime: The onset is the initial consonant or consonant blend of a word, while the rime is the vowel and any subsequent consonants.
  • CVC: The term “CVC” stands for Consonant-Vowel-Consonant, which describes the pattern of sounds in these words. Examples of CVC words include “cat,” “dog,” “man,” and “pen.” These words are often used in early reading instruction because they have a straightforward phonetic structure that helps young children learn to decode and blend sounds.
  • Morphology: The study of the structure and formation of words, including the use of prefixes, suffixes, and root words.
  • Orthography: The conventional spelling system of a language. English is known as a deep orthography i.e. each letter in the English alphabet maps onto lots of different potential sounds.
  • Etymology: The study of the origin and history of words, including how their forms and meanings have changed over time. It involves tracing the development of words from their earliest known uses through various languages and historical periods.

This post has included some of the most common literacy terms and ones that I feel every teacher should know. Are there any others that you would include? Let me know in the comments!

References and Further Reading:

Quigley, A., 2018. Closing the Vocabulary Gap. Oxford: Routledge.

SEDL, n.d. Glossary of Reading Terms. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 15 May 2024].

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