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Adolescent Literacy Glossary

Adequate Yearly ProgressSmall Learning CommunitiesExplicit Instruction — do you know what these phrases mean? Find these and other commonly used terms related to reading, literacy, and reading instruction in our glossary.


Academic English
The English language ability required for academic achievement in context-reduced situations, such as classroom lectures and textbook reading assignments. This is sometimes referred to as Cognitive/Academic Language Proficiency (CALP).
Techniques, tools, technology, and materials that allow individuals with LD to complete school or work tasks with greater ease and effectiveness. Examples include spellcheckers, tape recorders, and extended time for completing assignments and tests.
The ability to recognize words correctly when reading.
Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)
An individual state’s measure of yearly progress toward achieving state academic standards. Adequate Yearly Progress is the minimum level of improvement that states, school districts and public schools must achieve each year according to the No Child Left Behind Act.
The part of a word that is “fixed to” either the beginning of the word (prefix) or the ending of the word (suffix). For example, the word disrespectful has two affixes, a prefix (dis-) and a suffix (-ful).
Age Equivalent Score
In a norm-referenced assessment, individual students’ scores are reported relative to those of the norming population. This can be done in a variety of ways, but one way is to report the average age of people who received the same score as the individual child. Thus, an individual child’s score is described as being the same as students that are younger, the same age, or older than that student (e.g., a nine-year-old student my receive the same score that an average 13-year-old student does, suggesting that this student is quite advanced).
Alphabetic Principle
The basic idea that written language is a code in which letters represent the sounds in spoken words.
Analogical Problem Solving
A problem solving approach that involves remembering a similar (or analogous) problem that was solved previously and applying the solution to the current problem.
The process of identifying a student’s knowledge, strengths and needs to assist in determining student placement, instructional delivery, and need for interventions. There are several types of assessments that serve different purposes; to learn more see formal assessment, formative assessment, placement assessment, portfolio assessment, and summative assessment.
Assistive Technology
A device, piece of equipment or system that helps bypass, work around or compensate for an individual’s specific learning disabilities.
Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
A neurobehavioral disorder that causes an individual to be inattentive or hperactive/impulsive, or to display a combination of those symptoms.
Auditory Discrimination
The ability to identify the differences between spoken words and sounds that are similar.
Auditory Processing
The ability to understand spoken language.
Authentic Assessment
Authentic assessment presents students with real-world challenges that require them to apply their relevant skills and knowledge. Authentic assessments are typically criterion-referenced rather than norm-referenced; such evaluation identifies strengths and weaknesses, but does not compare or rank students. Students are asked to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, or competencies in whatever way they find appropriate.
Automaticity is a general term that refers to any skilled and complex skill that can be performed automatically and with little attention, effort, or conscious awareness. With practice and good instruction, students become automatic at word recognition and decoding, and are able to focus attention on constructing meaning from the text.


Background Knowledge
Factual knowledge a student already understands and can build upon when exposed to new content and concepts.
Base Words
Words from which many other words are formed. For example, many words can be formed from the base word migrate: migration, migrant, immigration, immigrant, migrating, migratory.
Bilingual Education
An educational program in which two languages are used to provide content matter instruction. Bilingual education programs vary in their length of time, and in the amount each language is used.
A consonant sequence before or after a vowel within a syllable, such as cl, br, or st; it is the written language equivalent of consonant cluster.


Cloze Passage
A cloze passage is a reading comprehension exercise in which words have been omitted in a systematic fashion. Students fill in the blanks, and their responses are counted correct if they are exact matches for the missing words. Cloze exercises assess comprehension and background knowledge, and they are also excellent indicators of whether the reading level and language level of the text are appropriate for a given student.
Words in different languages related to the same root, e.g. education (English) and educación (Spanish).
Understanding the meaning of text by reading actively and with purpose (for learning, understanding, or enjoyment).
Comprehension Strategies
Techniques to teach reading comprehension, including summarization, prediction, and inferring word meanings from context.
Comprehension Strategy Instruction

The explicit teaching of techniques that are particularly effective for comprehending text. The steps of explicit instruction include direct explanation, teacher modeling (“think aloud”), guided practice, and application.

  • Direct Explanation - the teacher explains to students why the strategy helps comprehension and when to apply the strategy.
  • Modeling - the teacher models, or demonstrates, how to apply the strategy, usually by “thinking aloud” while reading the text that the students are using.
  • Guided Practice - the teacher guides and assists students as they learn how and when to apply the strategy.
  • Application - the teacher helps students practice the strategy until they can apply it independently.
Connected Instruction
A systematic teaching method in which the teacher continually explains to students the relationship between what they have learned, what they’re in the process of learning, and what they will learn in the future.
Constructing Meaning
A process of making sense of text. By connecting one’s own knowledge with the print, readers “build” an understanding of what the text is about.
Context Clues
Sources of information outside of words that readers may use to predict the identities and meanings of unknown words. Context clues may be drawn from the immediate sentence containing the word, from text already read, from pictures accompanying the text, or from definitions, restatements, examples, or descriptions in the text.
Continuous Assessment
An element of responsive instruction in which the teacher regularly monitors student performance to determine how closely it matches the instructional goal.
Cooperative Learning
A teaching model involving students working together as partners or in small groups on clearly defined tasks. It has been used successfully to teach comprehension strategies in content-area subjects.
Critical Literacy
An instructional approach that advocates the adoption of critical perspectives toward text. Critical literacy encourages readers to actively and flexibly analyze texts, and to discuss various interpretations and meanings.
Curriculum-based Assessment
A type of informal assessment in which the procedures directly assess student performance in learning-targeted content in order to make decisions about how to better address a student’s instructional needs.


The ability to translate a word from print to speech, usually by employing knowledge of sound-symbol correspondences. It is also the act of deciphering a new word by sounding it out.
Developmental Spelling
A recognition that the invented spellings of children follow a developmental pattern. As students learn about written words, their attempts at spelling reflect an increased awareness of orthographic patterns.
Differentiated Instruction
An approach to teaching that includes planning out and executing various approaches to content, process, and product. Differentiated instruction is used to meet the needs of student differences in readiness, interests, and learning needs.
Digital Literacy
The ability to learn and use the computer skills required to function in the workplace and in educational settings. Many researchers believe it will become increasingly necessary to be digitally literate to succeed in an Internet-connected economy.
Direct Instruction
A teaching method that features highly scripted lessons and repetitive, interactive activities that teachers present to groups of students. The method is designed to increase student skills through carefully sequenced curriculum.
Direct Vocabulary Learning
Explicit instruction in both the meanings of individual words and word-learning strategies. Direct vocabulary instruction aids reading comprehension.
Discipline-Area Literacy
(Also called Content-Area Literacy) - The advanced literacy skills required to master academic content areas, particularly the areas of math, science, English, and history. Content-area literacy is necessary for success at the secondary level and requires knowledge and understanding of the language, terminology, structure, and patterns of specific academic subject areas.
Double-Entry Journals
Also called two-column notes. With this strategy, a student writes two kinds of notes in two columns or on facing pages. On the left are the key ideas in the assigned reading selection, with the page on which they occur, either directly quoted or paraphrased; on the right, the student writes his thoughts about those ideas. Double-entry journals can be completed on paper or using word processing or other software.
Difficulty writing legibly and with age-appropriate speed.
A language-based learning disability that affects both oral and written language. It may also be referred to as reading disability, reading difference, or reading disorder. Dyslexia can also cause difficulty with writing, spelling, listening, speaking, and math.
Difficulty remembering names or recalling specific words; sometimes called a “word-retrieval” problem.


English as a Second Language (ESL)
English learned in an environment where it is the predominant language of communication.
English Language Learner (ELL)
A student whose first language is not English and who are in the process of learning English.
Explicit Instruction
The intentional design and delivery of information by the teacher to the students. It begins with the teacher’s modeling or demonstration of the skill or strategy; a structured and substantial opportunity for students to practice and apply newly taught skills and knowledge under the teacher’s direction and guidance; an opportunity for feedback; and an opportunity for independent practice.
Expository Reading
Text that explains, informs, describes, or persuades the reader. Textbooks are an example of expository reading. Students must understand how expository reading is constructed if they are to extract its meaning accurately.
Expressive Language
The aspect of spoken langauge that includes speaking and the aspect of written language that includes composing or writing.


The ability to read a text accurately, quickly, and with proper expression and comprehension. Because fluent readers do not have to concentrate on decoding words, they can focus their attention on what the text means.
Formal Assessment
The process of gathering information using standardized, published tests or instruments in conjunction with specific administration and interpretation procedures, and used to make general instructional decisions.
Formative Assessment
A technique teachers use to evaluate students on a frequent basis so instruction can be adjusted to help them reach target achievement goals. In this dynamic approach, teachers check in with students during lessons, and then adapt their instruction “on the fly” to better meet student needs.
A writing exercise used for brainstorming and to develop writing fluency. Students write non-stop for five to ten minutes, expressing their ideas go without concern for revision, editing, or controlling the words.
Frustrational Reading Level
The level at which a readers reads at less than a 90% accuracy.


Grade Equivalent Scores
In a norm-referenced assessment, individual students’ scores are reported relative to those of the norming population. This can be done in a variety of ways, but one way is to report the average grade level of students who received the same score as the individual child. Thus, an individual child’s score is described as being the same as students in higher, the same, or lower grades than that student For example, a student in 2nd grade may earn the same score that an average fourth grade student does, suggesting that this student is quite advanced.
A letter or letter combination that spells a single phoneme. In English, a grapheme may be one, two, three, or four letters, such as e, ei, igh, or eigh.
Graphic Organizer
A text, diagram or other pictorial device that summarizes, organizes, and illustrates interrelationships among concepts in a text. Graphic organizers are often known as maps, webs, graphs, charts, frames, or clusters.


High-Stakes Assessment
High stakes assessments determine important outcomes (such as graduating from high schoo) for an individual student. High stakes tests differ from tests given by schools to meet the requirements under No Child Left Behind. Those tests hold states and districts accountable for porr student performane, but do not require statea to impose personal accountability on students.


Independent Reading Level
The level at which a reader reads with about 95% accuracy.
Independent School District (ISD)
ISD is a common acronym for Independent School District, which refers to the school system the student attends.
Indirect Vocabulary Learning
Vocabulary learning that occurs when students hear or see words used in many different contexts – for example, through conversations with adults, being read to, and reading extensively on their own.
Individualized Education Program (IEP)
A written plan which documents the unique educational needs of a child with a disability who requires special education services to benefit from the general edcuation program; applies to students enrolled in public schools.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004)
The federal law that provides for special education and related services to eligible students with disabilities; applies to students enrolled in public schools.
Informal Assessment
The process of collecting information to make specific instructional decisions, using procedures largely designed by teachers and based on the current instructional situation.
Inquiry Chart
A type of graphic organizer (also called I-chart) that gives students a framework for examining critical questions by integrating what they already know about a topic with additional information from several sources. This strategy helps students resolve competing ideas found in separate sources and develop new questions to explore based on any conflicting or incomplete information they find.
Instructional Reading Level
The level at which a reader reads with about 90% accuracy.


A cooperative classroom learning strategy in which each member of a group leaves her home-base group to join another group with an expert in some other aspect of a topic.


Learning Disability (LD)
A neurobiological disorder that affects the way a person of average to above-average intelligence receives, processes, or expresses information. LD can impact one’s ability to learn the basic skills of reading, writing, or math.
Limited English Proficient (LEP)
The term used by the federal government, most states, and local school districts to identify students who have insufficient English language skills to succeed in English-only classrooms. Increasingly, English language learner (ELL) or English learner (EL) are used in place of LEP.
Listening Comprehension
Understanding speech. Listening comprehension, as with reading comprehension, can be described in “levels” – lower levels of listening comprehension would include understanding only the facts explicitly stated in a spoken passage that has very simple syntax and uncomplicated vocabulary. Advanced levels of listening comprehension would include implicit understanding and drawing inferences from spoken passages that feature more complicated syntax and more advanced vocabulary.
Reading, writing, and the creative and analytical acts involved in producing and comprehending texts.
Literacy Coach
A reading coach or a literacy coach is a reading specialist who focuses on providing professional development for teachers by providing them with the additional support needed to implement various instructional programs and practices. They provide essential leadership for the school’s entire literacy program by helping create and supervise a long-term staff development process that supports both the development and implementation of the literacy program over months and years.

For more information visit the International Reading Association(opens in a new window) website.
Local Education Agency (LEA)
A public board of education or other public authority within a state that maintains administrative control of public elementary or secondary schools in a city, county, township, school district or other political subdivision of a state.


Media Literacy
From the Center for Media Literacy (opens in a new window), “Media Literacy is a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, and create messages in a variety of forms, from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.”
Metacognition is the process of thinking about thinking. For example, good readers use metacognition before reading when they clarify their purpose for reading and preview the text.
The smallest meaningful unit of language. A morpheme can be one syllable (book) or more than one syllable (seventeen). It can be a whole word or a part of a word such as a prefix or suffix. For example, the word ungrateful contains three morphemes: un, grate, and ful.
The study of how the aspects of language structure are related to the ways words are formed from prefixes, roots, and suffixes (e.g., mis-spell-ing), and how words are related to each other.
Using a word’s letter patterns to help determine, in part, the meaning and pronunciation of a word. For example, the morpheme vis in words such as vision and visible is from the Latin root word that means to see; and the ay in stay is pronounced the same in the words gray and play.
Multiple Intelligences
A theory that suggests that the traditional notion of intelligence, based on IQ testing, is far too limited. Instead, it proposes eight different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults. These intelligences are: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist.


No Child Left Behind (NCLB)
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is the most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education act of 1965. The act contains President George W. Bush’s four basic education reform principles: stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents, and an emphasis on teaching methods based on scientifically-based research.
Nonverbal Learning Disability
A neurological disorder which originates in the right hemisphere of the brain. Reception of nonverbal or performance-based information governed by this hemisphere is impaired in varying degrees, causing problems with visual-spatial, intuitive, organizational, evaluative, and holistic processing functions.
Norm-referenced Assessment
A type of assessment that compares an individual child’s score against the scores of other children who have previously taken the same assessment. With a norm-referenced assessment, the child’s raw score can be converted into a comparative score such as a percentile rank or a stanine.


P-16 and P-20 Councils
State coordinating councils created to align the standards of primary schools (preschool through Grade 12) with postsecondary (college, years 13-16) requirements, and link to workplace success after college graduation (years 17-20). The goal of these councils is to ensure a seamless educational process for students as they move from one level to the next, and prepare them for success after graduation.
Peer Mentoring
An arrangement in which an older youth (mentor) provides a younger student with support and/or tutoring in a one-on-one relationship. The mentor serves as a role model for a younger student who needs help.
The smallest unit of speech that serves to distinguish one utterance from another in a language.
Phonemic Awareness
The ability to notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds in spoken words. For example, beginning readers display phonemic awareness by combining or blending the separate sounds of a word to say the word (/c/ /a/ /t/ – cat).
A form of instruction to cultivate the understanding and use of the alphabetic principle; that there is a predictable relationship between phonemes (the sounds in spoken language) and graphemes, the letters that represent those sounds in written language, and that this information can be used to read or decode words.
Phonological Awareness
A range of understandings related to the sounds of words and word parts, including identifying and manipulating larger parts of spoken language such as words, syllables, and onset and rime. It also includes phonemic awareness as well as other aspects of spoken language such as rhyming and syllabication.
Placement Assessment
An assessment used to determine the most appropriate academic placement (grade level, setting, and special services) for an individual student.
Plateau Effect
This occurs when teaching methods that have formerly helped a student learn and progress are no longer effective. The child’s upward learning curve “flattens out”(reaches a plateau).
Portfolio Assessment
A systematic collection of a variety of teacher observations and a student’s work, collected over time, that reflect growth of the student’s knowledge, skills, and attitudes in a specific subject area. Portfolios can be print-based or digital.
Print Awareness
The understanding that written language contains information and is related to oral language. This connection motivates and directs readers.
Progress Monitoring
A practice teachers use to assess students’ academic performance, evaluate the effectiveness of instruction, and adjust teaching techniques accordingly. Students’ current levels of performance are determined and future learning goals are identified. Progress in specific skill areas is monitored and measured using worksheets and other tools on a regular basis (weekly or monthly).


Reader's Theatre
A strategy in which students read story scripts aloud during an informal skit or performance. In this active approach to reading, a student assumes the role of a character and reads his script aloud. A teacher works with small groups of students to help them read their scripts accurately, fluently, and with proper inflection. This experience can improve a child’s reading fluency, comprehension and self-confidence.
Reading Across the Curriculum
Teaching reading strategies in all classrooms and subjects, not just in reading and language arts classes. This helps students access and understand texts that are specific to subjects such as science, math, and history.
Reading Disability
Another term for dyslexia, sometimes referred to as reading disorder or reading difference.
Receptive Language
The aspect of spoken language that includes listening, and the aspect of written language that includes reading.
Reciprocal Teaching
Reciprocal teaching is a multiple-strategy instructional approach for teaching comprehension skills to students. Teachers teach students four strategies: asking questions about the text they are reading; summarizing parts of the text; clarifying words and sentences they don’t understand; and predicting what might occur next in the text.
Response to Intervention (RTI)
Response to Intervention is a process whereby local education agencies (LEAs) document a child’s response to scientific, research-based intervention using a tiered approach. In contrast to the discrepancy criterion model, RTI provides early intervention for students experiencing difficulty learning to read. RTI was authorized for use in December 2004 as part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Responsive Instruction
A way of making teaching decisions in which a student’s reaction to instruction directly shapes how future instruction is provided.
The vowel and all that follows it in a monosyllabic (one-syllable) word. For example, the rime of bag is -ag; and the rime of swim is -im.
Root Word
Words from other languages that are the origin of many English words. About 60 percent of all English words have Latin or Greek origins.


A way of teaching in which the teacher provides support in the form of modeling, prompts, direct explanations, and targeted questions – offering a teacher-guided approach at first. As students begin to acquire mastery of targeted objectives, direct supports are reduced and the learning becomes more student-guided.
The development of specific skills and self-awareness that enable children and adults to explain their specific learning disabilities, as well as their strengths and needs to peers, parents, teachers, and employers.
The mental act of knowing when one does and does not understand what one is reading.
Semantic Maps
Semantic maps are a strategy for graphically representing relationships between and among concepts. Researchers consider this an excellent technique for increasing vocabulary and improving reading comprehension.
Service Learning
Structured programs in which students participate in the civic and political life of their community, which enhances the students’ academic success, social behaviors, leadership skills, and community awareness.
Sight Words
Words that a reader recognizes without having to sound them out. Some sight words are “irregular,” or have letter-sound relationships that are uncommon. Some examples of sight words are you, are, have and said.
Small Learning Communities
Small learning communities are an increasingly popular approach for teaching adolescents. This approach uses personalized classroom environments where teachers know each individual student and can tailor instruction to meet their academic and social/emotional needs. The goal is to increase students’ sense of belonging, participation, and commitment to school.
Special Education (SPED)
Services offered to public school students who possess one or more of the following disabilities: specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, multiple disabilities, hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, visual impairments, autism, combined deafness and blindness, traumatic brain injury, and other health impairments. For such children to receive special education services, it must be determined that they require such services to benefit from the general education program.
Story Grammar
Story grammars seek to heighten student awareness of the structure of narrative stories. As an instructional technique, teachers use story grammars to help students identify the basic elements of narrative text, including setting, theme, plot, and resolution.
Strategic Instruction Model (SIM)
SIM promotes effective teaching and learning of critical content in schools. This model helps teachers decide what is of greatest importance, what they can teach students to help them learn, and how to teach them well.

For more information visit the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning(opens in a new window) website.
Striving Readers Act
Striving Readers is aimed at improving the reading skills of middle school- and high school-aged students who are reading below grade level. Striving Readers supports the implementation and evaluation of research-based reading interventions for struggling readers in Title I eligible schools that are at risk of not meeting — or are not meeting — adequate yearly progress (AYP) requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act, or that have significant percentages or number of students reading below grade level, or both.

For more information visit the USDOE(opens in a new window) website.
Study Strategies
A broad term that refers to strategies students use to improve their comprehension. Study strategies help students acquire, process, organize, and remember new information.
Summative Assessment
Summative assessment is generally carried out at the end of a course or project. In an educational setting, summative assessments are typically used to assign students a course grade.
Supplemental Services
Services offered to students from low-income families who are attending schools that have been identified as in need of improvement for two consecutive years. Parents can choose the appropriate services (tutoring, academic assistance, etc.) from a list of approved providers, which are paid for by the school district.
The act of breaking words into syllables.
A part of a word that contains a vowel or, in spoken language, a vowel sound (e-vent, news-pa-per).


Technical Vocabulary
Refers to vocabulary specific to a particular topic.
Text Comprehension
The reason for reading: understanding what is read by reading actively (making sense from text) and with purpose (for learning, understanding, or enjoyment).
Text Structure
Text structure refers to the semantic and syntactic organizational arrangements used to present written information. Common formats for text structure include compare/contrast, cause and effect, and sequencing.
Thematic Teaching
Thematic teaching is interdisciplinary teaching that organizes instruction around, and delivers curriculum through, the exploration of major topics or themes.
Transcription Skills
Skills involved in the process of writing; examples: handwriting, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.
Commonly used to refer to the change from secondary school to postsecondary programs, work, and independent living typical of young adults. Also used to describe other periods of major change such as from early childhood to school or from more specialized to mainstreamed settings.


Word knowledge. Listening vocabulary refers to the words a person recognizes when he hears them in oral speech. Speaking vocabulary refers to the words he uses when speaking. Reading vocabulary refers to the words a person knows when he sees them in print. Writing vocabulary refers to the words he uses in writing.


A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web. A critical aspect of WebQuest design is finding good resources on the Web.
Word Attack
An aspect of reading instruction that includes intentional strategies for learning to decode, sight read, and recognize written words.
Word Recognition
The ability to automatically recognize a previously-learned word.
Word Study
Instruction that helps a student focus on the parts of a word. This approach helps him break apart words and identify parts such as root words, prefixes, and suffixes to discover the meaning of the word.