Reading Buzzwords

As your child learns how to read, you’ll hear about things like sight words, leveled reading, and possibly reading intervention. Here are resources to get you up to speed and questions to ask your child’s teacher for information about how these topics relate to your reader.


Kids in school today will take a variety of assessments, from annual End of Grade (EOG) tests starting in 3rdgrade to ongoing assessments about what they’re learning in the curriculum. There are a range of reading assessments that teachers will use to make sure kids are on track with their reading skills. Some include DIBELS, STAR, AimsWeb, and NWEA MAP.

  • Resource: Resource guide for parents on assessment:
  • Ask the teacher: What assessments will my child take? What information does this assessment give you? How are you changing instruction based on the information from this assessment? What can I do at home to improve those skills?
Balanced Literacy

Balanced literacy is an approach to organizing reading instruction that includes reading aloud, guided reading, shared reading, interactive writing, and shared writing, as well as word study and reading and writing workshop.

  • Resource: This guide from has information about what balanced literacy is as well as how the components connect to each other.
  • Ask the teacher: How do you organize the reading block? How much time to kids spend in each aspect of balanced literacy? How much time in the reading block is reserved for teaching specific knowledge and skills, like letter sounds?

Comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading. When children have strong comprehension skills they can make sense of what they read, identify the main idea and details, retell a story or summarize and article, and know when they are not understanding and take steps, like rereading, to fix their comprehension.

  • Reading comprehension is linked to listening comprehension, and listening comprehension is developed through read aloud experiences.
  • Strong comprehenders connect what they are reading to other texts, experiences, and knowledge that they have about the world.
  • Reading comprehension involves some metacognition, or thinking about thinking. For reading, this means being aware of what they are thinking as they read and have control over their reading. For example, they may realize that while they have decoded words on the page, they don’t understand what they’re reading and need to go back to the previous page to reread a section slower.
  • Perhaps the best way to improve comprehension is by reading, a lot. There are strategies that children can do before, during, and after reading that build comprehension:
    • Activating prior knowledge
    • Answering and generating questions
    • Making and verifying predictions
    • Using mental imagery and visualization
    • Monitoring comprehension
  • This video explains how tutors can teach four reading comprehension strategies: making connections, retelling, asking questions, and making predictions.
  • This video shows the Four Square retelling strategy that can be used to retell narrative text.
  • This video shows how one teacher engages students in questioning before, during, and after reading.

Children read fluently when they read words at apace that is fast enough to be understood and are not stopping often to sound out words. Fluent readers also add expression to what they read, by reading punctuation (for example, when their voice rises to indicate a question mark)and dialogue. The key to developing fluency is by reading…a lot.

Guided reading

Teachers group students into small group based on the skills they’re working on to focus instruction on what students need to be taught.

Leveled reading

Children are given a reading level based on an assessment of their reading skill. Then, they are given books to read that are on and around their reading level.

  • Resource: This article from Scholastic provides an overview of the different reading level approaches. A list of reading levels has an overview of the levels students are expected to read at throughout elementary school for the common Fountas and Pinnell system. And, because there are multiple leveling systems, this chart from Reading A to Z provides multiple leveling systems at once.
  • Ask the Teacher: What level is my child reading on? What skills is he working on at that level? What skills does he need to work on to move to the next reading level? What books at his reading level would he be most interested in?

A Lexile level is a way to understand how difficult a text is. It considers the words used, how complex sentences are.

  • Resource: This video from Lexile explains how Lexile levels are calculated and what parents need to know.

  • Ask the teacher: What is my child’s Lexile level? What skills is he working on at that level? What skills does he need to master to reach the next level? How do you use Lexile levels?

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is a child’s ability to hear the individual sounds in words. For example, knowing that the word /cat/ has three sounds /c/ /a/ and /t/. When a child has strong phonemic awareness, he can pull apart words into individual sounds and substitute new sounds into a word, changing “cat” to “mat” and “sat.”

  • This video provides an overview of phonemic awareness.
  • This video explains both phonological and phonemic awareness.
  • This video provides an explanation of how to teach phonemic awareness using chips to represent sounds.
  • This video provides examples of the different types of sounds, “stretchy” or sounds, like /v/ and /l/ that can be drawn out, “bouncy” or sounds that have a hard sound, like /b/ /d/ and /c/ and cannot be drawn out, long vowels, and less frequent sounds.
  • This video provides models of digraphs (two letters together, /sh/ and /ng/) and trigraphs (three sounds together, /thr/).
  • CVC or consonant-vowel-consonant words, like jog, bug, and sit, are some of the first words that students read. This Teaching Channel video shows how one teacher teaches CVC words.

Knowledge of phonics means that students understand the relationship between letters and the sounds they represent. This means recognizing letter combinations and sounds as well as word parts (prefixes, root words, and suffixes). A child with strong phonics knowledge will be able to sound out words, such as “chain” by reading the individual sounds “ch” “ai” “n” and pull apart longer words into word parts, reading “unopened” by breaking it into “un” “open” “ed.”

  • Phonics instruction teaches kids to recognize and read words (decoding) and connect those words to meaning. This overview from the Florida Center for Reading Research has an overview of phonics, how kids struggle, and how instruction addresses phonics
  • Phonics instruction should be explicit in that letter-sound relationships are taught one at a time, letter sounds are then blended into whole words, and words are practiced in decodable text or text that only has the letter sounds that students are able to read by that point.
  • This article by Scholastic explains phonics, how children might struggle with phonics and how to structure phonics instruction.
Response to Intervention

Response to Intervention (RTI) is a process that helps schools ensure that children who need additional help are getting it. When a child is not developing reading skills at the rate teachers expect, they may receive reading intervention or extra help. This help can come in the form of a small group in their regular classroom, one-on-one tutoring outside of class, or another arrangement. For more information, see Response to Intervention.

  • Resource: This guide from the New Hampshire Department of Education or this guide from provide an overview of the process.

  • Ask the teacher: What skills does my child need to focus on? What interventions are being provided? Why were those interventions chosen? How long will the interventions be in place? How will I be involved in this process? How can I support the intervention at home?

Sight Words

Sight words are words that children learn to read as whole words, like “is” “it” “was” and “there.” Children do not typically learn the spelling patterns for these words but memorize them.

  • Resource: The Fry Sight Word and Dolch Sight Word lists are two common lists that are used to organize and teach these common words.

  • Ask the teacher: What sight words is my child learning this week? How can I practice sight words with my child at home?


Vocabulary refers to the number of words that a child knows. This includes common words (often called Tier 1 words) that are used in everyday language, as well as less common (Tier 2) words that are often found in picture books and text, and content-specific words (Tier 3), such as words related to biology (cell, ecosystem, etc) are less common.

  • The Georgia Pathway to Language and Literacy has an explanation of Tier 1, 2, and 3 words and an example of how they are incorporated into a lesson.

  • This lesson from Teaching Channel shows how one teacher uses pictures to teach students new words and practice phonemic awareness.

  • This article from Colorin Colorado explains how to select words to teach English language learners.