Learning Difficulties Australia


Understanding Terminology of Grammar and Phonics


Accuracy, in relation to decoding and encoding words, is the ability to recognize and to spell words correctly.


Alphabetic principle
The alphabetic principle is the basic idea that written language is a code in which written letters (graphemes) represent the sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. The English Alphabetic Code uses the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet to represent the 44 basic sounds of spoken English. A number of graphemes are sometimes combined into digraphs, trigraphs and tetragraphs, but still represent one sound. The letter ‘q’ is represented in the digraph ‘qu’.  There are relatively few trigraphs and tetragraphs in the English language (see also digraph, trigraph and tetragraph). 
For a detailed explanation of the Alphabetic Principle including what teachers should know and be able to do see: http://reading.uoregon.edu/big_ideas/au/au_what.php


Analogy phonics
Analogy phonics is a type of analytical phonics in which phonograms (a letter or combination of letters that represent sound in speech) and word families (consistent graphophonic rhyming word patterns such as cat, hat, fat – etc) are learned and then used to analyse and decode unknown words. 

Analytical phonics 
Learning to use known letter-sound relationships from previously learned words to analyse unknown words without pronouncing the sounds in isolation or blending sounds ‘all-through-the-word’. Consonant blends and some other letter combinations such as ough and ing are taught in units. For a comparison of analytic phonics and synthetic phonics see: http://www.getreadingright.com.au/analytic-phonics-vs-synthetic-phonics/


A blend is a consonant letter sequence before or after a vowel within a syllable, such as cl, br, or st. It is the written language equivalent of consonant cluster.

Blending (synthesising)
Synthetic phonics teaches children to blend independent sounds in order to arrive at the pronunciation for a printed word. The teacher does not pronounce the word because the point of blending is to allow learners to work the word out (decode the word) for themselves. For a concise list of synthetic phonics terms.

See: http://www.getreadingright.com.au/synthetic-phonics-glossary/


Bottom Up Reading Instruction
Phonics advocates argue that if a person is able to correctly decode text, meaning and understanding will follow.  The text contains the message, and through the act of decoding the text, the reader discovers what that message is.



To analyse spoken or graphic symbols of a familiar language to ascertain their intended meaning.  Using knowledge of the sound/letter correspondences of the English Alphabetic Code for reading. In reading practice, the term is used primarily to refer to word identification rather than to identification of higher units of meaning.


Decoding is 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.

Decodable texts 
Texts which contain very few words that cannot be decoded. Non-decodable words (also known as irregular words) will likely be high frequency words such as I, a, said, the.  These texts are usually designed to reinforce certain "rules" that have previously been taught in phonics lessons.


Deep orthography (also known as Opaque orthography)
Deep orthography refers to a writing system that does not have consistent or one-to-one correspondence between the phonemes in speech and the written code, such as English -- no phoneme is consistently represented by the same letter in all words. Only the one letter “v” consistently corresponds to a specific phoneme. Examples of shallow orthographies would include Spanish and Finnish in which there is one-to-one sound / symbol correspondence.

A pair of written characters used to represent one phoneme (distinct sound) or a sequence of phonemes that do not correspond to the normal values of the two characters combined (sh, ch, ai, ee). The sound is often, but not necessarily, one which cannot be expressed using a single character in the orthography used by the language. Usually, the term "digraph" is reserved for graphemes whose pronunciation is always or nearly always the same. For example, ‹qu› usually represents /kw/; ‹q› is conventionally followed by u in native words.

Embedded phonics
Children learn letter-sound relationships during the reading of connected text, usually when the teacher notices that a child is struggling to read a particular word. Letter-sound relationships are taught as part of sight word reading. If the sequence of letter-sounds is not prescribed and sequenced, but is determined by whatever words are encountered in text, then the program is not systematic or explicit. This approach is sometimes called incidental phonics in reference to the Whole Language teaching of reading.

Fluency is the ability to read a text accurately, quickly, and with appropriate expression and comprehension. Because fluent readers do not have to concentrate on decoding words, they can focus their attention on what the text means. 

A grapheme is a written letter or letter combination that spells/represents a single phoneme (sound). In English, a grapheme may be one letter, or combination of two, three, or four letters, such as e, ei, igh, or eigh, but representing one phoneme. 

Graphophonic refers to the letter /sound relationship between the orthography (symbols) and phonology (sounds) of a language.

Homophones are words that are spelled differently and have different meanings, but sound the same – such as there and their, or two, to and too.

Letter recognition 
The ability to name a letter when shown the symbol or to find the symbol that goes with a letter name. 

Letter-sound correspondence 
The association of a letter with a speech sound. A child who can say or write the correct letter(s) for a speech sound is said to understand letter-sound correspondence. 

Linguistic phonics
Linguistic phonics is a term that has been used to describe programs that approach the teaching of beginning reading by focusing first on converting sounds to letters (encoding, as in spelling) rather than on converting letters to sounds (decoding, as in reading).  Examples of programs based on linguistic phonics are the Phono-Graphix program, the Sounds-Write program, and the linguistic phonics program developed by the Belfast Education and Library Board. These programs are contrasted with traditional or synthetic phonics programs, where the focus is on teaching the letters and the sounds associated with letters or combinations of letters, and then sounding out letters to produce words. However, the term is also used interchangeably with the term synthetic phonics to describe programs that focus on systematic teaching of the 40+ sounds of the English language, together with their most common or likely spellings, as well as alternative spellings. 

A logographic writing system is when each spoken word in the language is represented by a unique symbol. Chinese is an example of a logographic writing system.

A morpheme is the smallest meaningful word 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


Onset And Rime 
Onsets and rimes are parts of monosyllabic words in spoken language. These units are smaller than syllables but may be larger than phonemes. An onset is the initial consonant sound of a syllable (the onset of bag is b-; of swim is sw-). The rime is the part of a syllable that contains the vowel and all that follows it (the rime of bag is -ag; of swim is -im). 

Onset-rime Phonics Instruction 
In this approach, students learn to break monosyllabic words into their onsets (consonants preceding the vowel) and rimes (vowel and following consonants). They read each part separately and then blend the parts to say the whole word. 

Onset-rime Segmentation 
Onset-rime segmentation is separating a word into the onset, the consonant(s) at the start of a syllable, and the rime, the remainder of the syllable. For example, in swift, sw is the onset and ift is the rime. 

Orthographic knowledge
Orthographic knowledge understands that the speech sounds in a language are represented by written or printed symbols associated with spelling, but also knowledge of hyphenation, capitalization, word breaks and punctuation.

Phonemes are the smallest units of sound on language that change the meanings of spoken words. For example, if you change the first phoneme in bat from /b/ to /p/, the word bat changes to pat. English has about 41-44 phonemes. A few words, such as a or oh, have only one phoneme. Most words have more than one phoneme. The word if has two phonemes /i/ and /f/.

Phonemic awareness
Phonemic awareness is the ability to notice, think about, and work with and manipulate the individual sounds in spoken words. An example of how beginning readers show us they have phonemic awareness is combining or blending the separate sounds of a word to say the word ("/c/ /a/ /t/ - cat.") 

Phonics is not a method of teaching reading rather it is a body of knowledge consisting of 26 letters used to symbolize 44 English speech sounds. There are about 70 most common spellings for these speech sounds.  

When children learn phonics they learn 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.

See: http://www.fivefromfive.org.au/phonics-3/

The Essence of Phonics by Dr. Patrick Groff
For parents who may not understand what phonics information is, this may give confidence they can teach it. The essence of what you need to know to teach phonics information can be expressed "on the back of an envelope": http://www.nrrf.org/dr-pat-groff-applying-findings-report-nrp/   See also Analogy-based phonics, Analytic phonics, Embedded phonics, Onset-rime phonics instruction, Synthetic phonics, Systematic and explicit phonics instruction.

Phonograms are a succession of letters that represent the same phonological / sound unit in different words, such as IGHT in FLIGHT, MIGHT and TIGHT. Phonograms rhyme.

Phonological awareness
Phonological awareness covers 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 onsets and rimes. It also includes phonemic awareness as well as other aspects of spoken language such as rhyming and syllabication. 

A word which is spelled the same as another word, but which sounds different when pronounced. For example, you can WIND a watch, and the WIND blows hard.

Pseudoword (non-word)
A pseudoword is a pronounceable string of letters which has no meaning; also called invented words, nonsense words, or made-up words. For example, MIVIT, HEASE, and MIVE are all pronounceable if you know the sound/symbol phonetic rules, but don't mean anything. The degree of skill pronouncing nonsense words is a good indicator of automatic decoding skills and can also indicate error patterns to inform explicit teaching. 

The vowel and all that follows it in a monosyllabic word (the rime of bag is -ag; of swim is -im). 

Rote learning
Rote learning requires memorising facts by repetition for quick recall, with or without comprehension, and can be useful for mastery of foundational knowledge, e.g., phonics in reading, multiplication tables in maths, the periodic table in chemistry and basic formulas in science. As comprehension is not a requirement of rote learning, used exclusively it is ineffective tool in mastering any complex subject at an advanced level.

In English, the midcentral vowel sound in an unaccented or unstressed syllable in words of more than one syllable; as the first vowel sound in alone or the ‘e’ in synthesis. It is sometimes signified by the pronunciation "uh". See also short vowel


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. 

A suffix is a word part that is added to the end of a root word. The four most frequent suffixes account for 97 percent of suffixed words in printed school English. These include -ing, -ed, -ly, and -es." 

A syllable is a word part that always contains a vowel - e-vent, news-pa-per. There are open and closed syllables which govern the sound of the vowel. See: http://www.allaboutlearningpress.com/how-to-teach-closed-and-open-syllables  


Synthetic phonics 
In this instructional approach, children learn how to convert letters or letter combinations into a sequence of sounds, and then how to blend the sounds together to form recognizable words. 
According to the Clackmannanshire 7 year longitudinal study, '[Synthetic phonics] is a very accelerated form of phonics that does not begin by establishing an initial sight vocabulary. With this approach, before children are introduced to books, they are taught letter sounds. After the first few of these have been taught they are shown how these sounds can be blended together to build up words (Feitelson, 1988). 

For example, when taught the letter sounds /t/ /p/ /a/ and /s/, the children can build up the words tap, pat, pats, taps, sat, etc. Each letter is sounded out in turn and synthesised together in order to generate the pronunciation of the word. Thus the children construct the pronunciation for themselves. Most of the letter sound correspondences, including the consonant and vowel digraphs, can be taught in the space of a few months at the start of their first year at school. This means that children can read many of the unfamiliar words they meet in text for themselves.  

See: http://www.getreadingright.com.au/synthetic-phonics/

Systematic and explicit phonics instruction 
A program is systematic if the plan of instruction includes a carefully selected set of letter-sound relationships that are organized into a logical sequence. Explicit means the programs provide teachers with precise directions for the teaching of these relationships. See Direct and Explicit instruction.

A sequence of four letters used to represent a single sound (phoneme), or a combination of sounds, that do not necessarily correspond to the individual values of the letters. English does not have tetragraphs in native words, the closest is perhaps the sequence – ough in words like through, but chth is a true tetragraph when found initially in words of Greek origin such as chthonian.

A group of three letters used to represent a single sound or a combination of sounds that does not correspond to the written letters combined. For example, the word beautiful, the sequence eau is pronounced /uː/. It is sometimes difficult to determine whether a sequence of letters in English is a trigraph, because of the complicating role of silent letters. There are few productive trigraphs in English; one is tch as in watch.

Whole-word phonics
An analytic approach to reading instruction in which the sounds represented by certain letters and groups of letters within whole words are compared and contrasted to those in other whole words, avoiding the separate sounding of word parts. 

Word attack
Word attack is an aspect of reading instruction that includes teaching of strategies for decoding as well as recognition of frequently occurring and irregular words by sight.  

Word bank 
A file of words mastered or being studied by a student, or a personal dictionary of the student's own record of words used for various reasons, for example domain or theme specific vocabulary, or words used in constructing messages.  Also used to refer to all the words a learner knows how to write with reasonable accuracy. These words are not necessarily written in any list.

Word-by-word reading 
Word-by-word reading is slow reading, usually associated with difficulty in decoding text, or in some cases difficulty in understanding complex or unfamiliar text.  Difficulty in decoding text may also interfere with comprehension of text.  

Word families
A collection of words that share common orthographic rimes, such as HIKE, BIKE, LIKE, etc.

Word Map
Word mapping is a strategy that uses a visual organizer to develop depth and dimension of word knowledge, especially in connection with a specific topic, theme or concept.  This can be used to handle new vocabulary as either a pre reading or post reading activity.  Maps can be used in large or small groups, although it should be modelled a number of times before students use the maps without teacher direction. See: http://www.readingrockets.org/strategies/word_maps

Word parts
Word parts include affixes (prefixes and suffixes), base words, and word roots.

Word roots
Word roots are words from other languages that are the origin of many English words. About 60 percent of all English words have Latin or Greek origins.

Word Wall
One component of a four-part instructional strategy in reading.  A word wall is a systematically organized collection of words related to each other in some way, displayed in large letters on a wall or other large display place in the classroom.  It is a tool to use to teach a language concept, not just a display. Word walls are designed to promote group learning and be shared by a classroom of children.  Word walls let students know that words are important, interesting and worth discovering and learning.

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