A Quick Guide to Literacy Lingo in the Classroom

Keep up with the rapidly advancing vocabulary your child is learning.



A Quick Guide to Literacy Lingo in the Classroom

A conversation with my children about their reading and writing activities at school can leave me feeling like I’m the one who needs a vocabulary lesson. The approach to literacy currently taught in most American classrooms includes a balance of whole language and phonics, and a long list of buzzwords that often sounds like a secret code between teachers and students. Fortunately, decoding “Quickwrites” and “Grand Conversations” is as easy as ABC.

Keep this classroom literacy glossary handy (or bookmark it):

  • Big Books: Oversized versions of picture books that teachers read to students during a Shared Reading. Usually, the students follow along in their own smaller copies.
  • Emerging Reader/Emergent Literacy: A reader in the early stages of literacy development or the early stages of reading and writing development. 
  • Grand Conversation: A discussion among the entire class or a smaller group about something they’ve read or are studying.
  • Guided Reading: Working in small groups, students read a book or story chosen by the teacher. Often the teacher will read individually with each student in the group to assess reading ability and offer strategies. 
  • High Frequency Words: The most common words in the English language, usually listed as the top 100 or 300. Each grade level has a list of High Frequency Words that students should be able to read and write.
  • Independent Reading Level: The level at which a person can read and understand a text with 95 to 100 percent accuracy. Students are often grouped according to their reading ability and comprehension and assigned books appropriate to their level. 
  • Instructional Reading Level: The level at which a person can read and understand a text with a teacher’s help with 90 to 94 percent accuracy.
  • Interactive Writing: A writing activity in which the class, along with the teacher, writes something together. The students do the majority of the writing with guidance and assistance from the teacher.
  • Invented Spelling: The way in which students spell words as their literacy skills are developing. Often Invented Spelling is encouraged to help Emerging Readers become comfortable with writing.
  • Just Right Books: Books that are appropriate for a student’s Independent Reading Level. In a Just Right Book, a student should understand all but one or two words on a page.  
  • KWL Chart: A chart created by students or a class to integrate background knowledge into a new reading or lesson. In the first column students record what I/We Know, in the second what I/We Want to Know or Wonder, and in the third, after the reading or lesson, what I/We Learned.
  • Language Experience Approach (LEA): In this approach to literacy, a student, often an emergent reader, dictates a story to the teacher, who writes it down. The teacher and student then use the dictated story as a reading text.
  • Literacy: The ability to read, write, and understand written text.
  • Literature Circle: Small group literature discussions.
  • Mini-Lesson: Instruction about literacy concepts, skills, or strategies often given to the class before a more interactive or independent activity.
  • Phonics: The relationship between sounds and letters in spelling and reading.
  • Prereading: The steps taken before actually reading a text, for example, creating a KWL chart.
  • Prewriting: The steps taken before actually writing, including developing and organizing ideas.
  • Publishing: Producing a final copy of a piece of writing and sharing it with others.
  • Quickwriting: An impromptu writing exercise, often at the beginning of a discussion of a new topic or text.
  • Read Aloud: The teacher reads a text to the students, usually as a whole class.
  • Running Record: A method of assessment of a student’s oral reading fluency.
  • Scaffolding: The background information that must be supplied for students to understand and retain new material.
  • Shared Reading: Students follow along in their own books as the teacher reads aloud to a small group or the entire class (often from a Big Book).
  • Think Aloud: The teacher or a student explains her thinking process as she reads, explaining strategies and demonstrating how readers make sense of text.
  • Whole Language Approach: An approach to literacy instruction that emphasizes meaning, interpretation, and expression, and in which phonics, grammar, spelling, and punctuation are taught contextually.
  • Word Sort: An activity in which students group the words in a list or text into categories.
  • Word Wall: A highly visible chart or board in the classroom listing words the class is learning to use, read, and spell.
Reading Comprehension
Parent-Teacher Partnerships
Age 5
Age 7
Age 6
Parent and Teacher Communication
Guided Reading