Accuracy: Reading words without errors.

Alphabetic principle: The concept that letters and sounds work together in systematic ways to form words.

Auditory drill:  Quick-paced practice of matching sounds (phonemes) to letters or letter combinations (graphemes).  Presented with a sound, the student repeats the sound and says the name of its associated letter(s).

Automaticity: Reading without conscious effort or conscious attention to decoding.


Background knowledge: Forming connections between the text and the information and experiences of the reader.

Base Word: A unit of meaning that can stand alone as a whole word (e.g., friend, pig). Also called a free morpheme.

Blending: The task of combining sounds rapidly to accurately represent the word.

Blending drill:  Quick-paced practice in which the student combines the sounds of two or more phonemes to make a word or nonword.


Closed syllable: A syllable with only one vowel, where the vowel is followed by one or more consonants. The vowel sound is short (cat, cobweb).

Consonant:  A speech sound produced by at least partly obstructing the airflow. Not a vowel.

Consonant blend: Two or more consecutive consonants which retain their individual sounds (e.g., /bl/ in block; /str/ in string).

Consonant digraph: Two consecutive consonants that represent one phoneme, or sound (e.g., /ch/, /sh/).


Decodable text or book: Text in which a high proportion of words (80%-90%) comprise sound-symbol relationships that have already been taught. It is used for the purpose of providing practice with specific decoding skills and is a bridge between learning phonics and the application of phonics in independent reading.

Decoding: The ability to translate a word from print to speech, usually by employing knowledge of sound symbol correspondences; also the act of deciphering a new word by sounding it out.

Digraph: A group of two consecutive letters whose phonetic value is a single sound (e.g., /ea/ in bread; /ch/ in chat; /ng/ in sing).

Diphthong: A vowel produced by the tongue shifting position during articulation; a vowel that feels as if it has two parts, especially the vowels spelled ow, oy, ou, and oi.


Elkonin boxes: A framework used during phonemic awareness instruction. Elkonin Boxes are sometimes referred to as Sound Boxes. When working with words, the teacher can draw one box per sound for a target word. 

Encoding: Spelling, or the ability to translate a word from speech to print.


Fluency: Ability to read text quickly, accurately, and with proper expression. Fluency provides a bridge between word recognition and comprehension.


Grapheme: A letter or letter combination that spells a phoneme; can be one, two, three, or four letters in English (e.g., e, ei, igh, eigh).


Irregular words: Words that contain letters that stray from the most common sound pronunciation; words that do not follow common phonic patterns (e.g., were, was, laugh, been). Sometimes referred to as Heart Words.


Letter-sound correspondence: The matching of an oral sound to its corresponding letter or group of letters.

Long vowel:  A term used by educators to denote a tense vowel sound. The vowel says its name: ā.


Morpheme: The smallest meaningful unit of language. Includes prefixes, suffixes, and roots.

Morphology:  The study of the forms of words and the meaningful parts (morphemes) that make up words.

Multisyllabic words: These are words with more than one syllable.


Onset and Rime: In a syllable, the onset is the initial consonant or consonants, and the rime is the vowel and any consonants that follow it (e.g., the word sat, the onset is “s” and the rime is “at”. In the word flip, the onset is “fl” and the rime is “ip”).

Open syllable
:  A syllable with only one vowel, which is the last letter in the syllable. The vowel sound is long (he, silo).


Phoneme: The smallest unit of sound within our language system. A phoneme combines with other phonemes to make words.

Phoneme-grapheme correspondence: The matching of a spoken sound (phoneme) to its corresponding letter or group of letters (grapheme).

Phoneme Isolation: Recognizing individual sounds in a word (e.g., /p/ is the first sound in pan).

Phoneme manipulation: Adding, deleting, and substituting sounds in words (e.g., add /b/ to oat to make boat; delete /p/ in pat to make at; substitute /o/ for /a/ in pat to make pot).

Phonemic awareness: The ability to notice, think about, or manipulate the individual phonemes (sounds) in words. The ability to understand that sounds in spoken language work together to make words. This term is used to refer to the highest level of phonological awareness: awareness of individual phonemes in words.

Phonics: The study of the relationships between letters and the sounds they represent; also used to describe reading instruction that teaches sound-symbol correspondences.

Phonological awareness: One’s sensitivity to, or explicit awareness of, the sound structure of words in language. This is an “umbrella” term that is used to refer to a student’s sensitivity to any aspect of phonological structure in language. It encompasses awareness of individual words in sentences, syllables, and onset-rime segments, as well as awareness of individual phonemes.

Prefix: A morpheme that precedes a root and that contributes to or modifies the meaning of a word as “re” in reprint.

Prosody: Reading with expression, proper intonation, and phrasing. This helps readers to sound as if they are speaking the part they are reading. It is also this element of fluency that sets it apart from automaticity.


Regular words: Any word in which each letter represents its respective, most common sound (e.g., sat, fantastic).


Visual drill:  Quick-paced practice of matching letters or letter combinations (graphemes) to sounds (phonemes).  Presented with a grapheme, the student says its name and its associated phoneme(s).

Vowel:  A speech sound produced without obstruction of airflow, with vibration of the vocal cords. (a, e, i, o, u, sometimes y)

Vowel-consonant-e (VCE) syllable
: A syllable that contains a pattern with a vowel, followed by a single consonant and a silent e.  The first vowel has a long sound (like, milestone).

Vowel team:  A combination of letters that, together, represent one vowel sound.  Can be a vowel digraph (e.g., ai, ea), a diphthong (e.g., oi, ou), or a longer combination that can include consonant letters (e.g., igh, ough).


Word family: Group of words that share a rime (a vowel plus the consonants that follow; e.g., -ame, -ick, -out).

Word work: The act of deliberately analyzing words, generally for practice in decoding or encoding.

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