The Most Common Reading Terms Every Parent Should Know

16 reading terms every parent should know

Here are some of the most common reading terms every parent should know when it comes to their child’s literacy development. This may even help guide you through those conversations with educational professionals and educators!

Learning about literacy and all that it encompasses can be a daunting yet exhilarating journey for parents. There is so much to learn! Though, does it ever feel like the more information that you acquire, the more questions you have? Educators and researchers use a certain literacy terminology so fluently and naturally that sometimes it feels like they are speaking a special language. This is because, over the past decade, reading research has really begun making its way into the education realm.

Well, I’ve compiled a list of common terms that you will want to know. Included will be terms that I have frequently come across in reading research. Some of these concepts I go a little in-depth with however, the purpose of this post is to give you a little snippet of the term for quick reference.

Be sure to download the FREE handy dandy quick reference sheet below. Print it out and share with your friends. Also, if you love this list, please be sure to leave a comment below letting me know what you think! I’d love to connect with you or answer any questions you may have.

Click to download reading tips and common reading terms every parent should know

Reading Terms Every Parent Should Know

Approaches to Reading


A method of teaching reading and writing that systematically introduces sounds with their corresponding letters or groups of letters in an alphabetic writing system.

Whole Language

A method of teaching reading and writing that emphasizes learning whole words and phrases by encountering them in meaningful contexts rather than by phonics exercises.

Balanced Literacy

A method of teaching reading that integrates several reading methods, such as whole language and phonics together, in an attempt to reach a child’s maximum learning potential.

Emergent Reader

A child who has grasped fundamental pre-reading skills such as the awareness of sounds of their spoken language, print awareness, book handling skills, and short-term memory skills. These skills are typically developed during your child’s preschool years before any formal reading instruction begins.

Speech and Language


Phonemes are the smallest units of speech sounds in words.

For instance, the word ‘fish’ has 3 phonemes: /f/ /i/ /sh/. ‘Sh’ is a digraph. It has two letters [or graphemes] to represent 1 speech sound [or phoneme].

Phonemes are not to be confused with graphemes. English does not have a 1-1 orthographic correspondence like Spanish or Italian. For more on phonemes and phonemic awareness, read here!

Phonemic Awareness

The ability to distinguish and manipulate the smallest sounds in spoken words. Considered to be an important pre-reading skill that focuses on sounds heard in language.

Phonological Awareness

The ability to identify, distinguish, and manipulate sounds within a spoken language. This is an umbrella term encompasses phonemic awareness and other skills such as syllable breaking and on-set rimes.

Visual-Spatial Ability

The ability to imagine or visualize in one’s mind the positions of objects, their shapes, their spatial relations to one another and the movement they make to form new spatial relations. Check out this site for more information.

Reading and Writing Skills


Fluency refers to reading speed. It is the ability to read texts quickly and accurately as well as effortlessly with good understanding. It can be extended to include intonation and rhythm of speech while reading. 

Decoding Words

This process occurs during reading by which a child uses their letter-sound knowledge to sound out individual phonemes and/or word elements [such as vowel digraphs, prefixes and suffixes] in order to translate print to speech.

Encoding Words

This process occurs during spelling by which the child uses their letter-sound knowledge to accurately produce words. Think of it as the opposite of decoding words. 

Orthographic Lexicon

Your orthographic lexicon is all of the words or word parts stored in long-term memory through repetitive word decoding. Look at it as a type of database in the memory that stores sight words and spelling information.

This memory database fires instantaneously during reading and writing. If you are reading this page with ease, you have a LOT of words in your lexicon!

Interesting fact: Around the age of ten, children’s eye movements during reading are nearly indistinguishable from adult eye movements. The timing and number of fixations track the patterns seen in adult readers are similar among children reading grade-level text (Ashby, 2016).

Lexile Reading Level

A student’s reading level is defined by where they place along the Lexile Scale. This is a developmental scale and it ranges from 0 Lexiles (L) to a high of 2000L (Archer, 2011).

Lexile was created in the ’90s by the company called MetaMetrics. It rapidly took root as an educational measurement and assessment tool across the nation. It allows everyone to monitor their child’s reading ability growth over time. 

According to, more than 35 million students in all 50 states receive Lexile measures through a number of standardized tests. Every major test publishing company has linked its norm-referenced reading tests to a Lexile scale. 

Millions of books, articles, and websites have Lexile measures! Find a book that matches your child’s Lexile reading level here.

It is important to note that MetaMetrics carefully reminds readers that their Lexile levels should not be interpreted as a guide for identifying grade-level text. In other words, Grade-level designations can be distinct, however, the Lexile ranges for the grade levels overlap. For instance, the recommended Lexile levels for Grade 3 range from ~330L to 700L while Grade 4 ranges from ~445 to 810L (Archer, 2011).

*Most charts I’ve come across vary slightly which only highlights the fact that Lexile levels are on a continuum and should not be interpreted as concrete.

Print Reading Skills


The theme of a story is the message the author is attempting to pass on to their readers. Humans are story-tellers! We use stories to explore ideas and elements of the human condition.

For example, one of my favorite themes is one that is woven into each Harry Potter book. Love and loyalty always win against evil and tyranny. Fiction and non-fiction works can have many themes woven into them. What are some of your favorites?

Context Clues

Context clues are ‘hints’ that an author provides their readers to help define a difficult or unusual word within a book. These clues are often referred to when a child is attempting to define an unfamiliar they’ve encountered during reading.

Making Inferences

A skill that readers use to “read between the lines”. It is a process of combining evidence from the text to draw out meaning and conclusions without all the information having been spelled out. 

Fun fact: You make inferences all the time even when you are not reading a book! As a matter of fact, we rely on our inferencing skills across all contexts! The way we speak to one another is very indirect and implicit. We rely on speaker meaning. This means that the speaker assumes the hearer can interpret additional meaning based on the context or situation the communication is occurring in. 

When it comes to reading, authors have a way of writing that automatically places the reader in the context of which they purposefully constructed. This makes it so their readers do not have to rely on explicitly written details to understand the author’s purpose. It’s up to you as the reader to fill in the blanks using your imagination and inferencing skills. Cool, huh?


Archer, L. (2011) Lexile reading growth as a function of starting level in at-risk middle school students. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 54(4), 281-290.

Ashby, J. (2016) Why does prosody accompany fluency? Re-conceptualizing the role of phonology in reading. In Breznitz, Z., Khatab, A., & Bar-Kochva, I.(Eds.), Reading fluency: Current insights from neurocognitive research and intervention studies (pp. 65-89).Switzerland: Springer.