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Literacy jargon buster

Our parent-friendly guide to some of the common literacy terms and phrases used by primary schools:

  • Alphabetic code: The code shows us the relationship between the sounds of our speech and the written letter(s) of the alphabet and how these are used to match those sounds.
  • Baseline Test: Many schools will carry out a short test on entry to Reception. Children are tested in the core areas of literacy and numeracy so that they can be supported to reach their goals by the end of the year. The test information will be used alongside a wide range of other activities such as home visits, observations of children and reports to create a helpful and accurate picture of your child’s potential and progress in terms of ‘expected’, ‘emerging’ or ‘exceeding’.
  • 'Buddy' reading: Children read in pairs. The buddy is often an older child.
  • Blending: To say the individual sounds that make up a word and blend them together to hear the whole word for reading e.g. s-a-t becomes sat. We say you blend to read and segment to spell. You'll find more help on our Phonics made easy page.
  • Book Bands: A system of grouping books in bands of colour to represent different levels of reading difficulty.
  • Catch Up: It is often used as a term for an intervention programme but it is also a not-for-profit organisation that provides training techniques to support teachers to help children identified as underachieving.
  • Colour coded: Books are sometimes colour coded in schools so that children choose a book from a similar level. The colours represent different levels of reading difficulty. Popular colour coding systems include Book Bands or Oxford Reading Tree, for example.
  • Comprehension: The understanding of a text; at its simplest this may be an understanding of what the text makes explicit (e.g. the story is about a pumpkin) and at its most sophisticated, it is an understanding of what lies beneath a text (e.g. the authors' experience, historical context, themes and so on) which is often referred to as the deeper levels of meaning, inferential comprehension or higher order reading skills.
  • Decodable (books): Books which have been specifically written, using a cumulative structured introduction of phonics, so that children can practise their developing reading skills.
  • Decoding: To read a word by saying the sounds then joining, or blending, those sounds together to form the word.
  • Dyslexia: Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty which mainly affects the development of literacy and language related skills. For further information visit
  • EYFS: The Early Years Foundation Stage sets standards for the learning, development and care of children from birth to 5 years old.
  • Flashcards: Cards to use in games to help children practise recognizing, at speed, a letter, group of letters, words and/or pictures.
  • Fred Talk:To say the individual sounds that make up a word in the Read Write Inc. Phonics reading programme. Elsewhere sometimes called Robot Talk or Sound Talk.
  • Group reading: Similar to guided reading, but children take it in turns to read aloud from the same book whilst the teacher listens and supports.
  • GPS: An abbreviation often used in schools for grammar, punctuation and spelling. Also sometimes referred to as SPAG.
  • Guided reading: About 6 children, grouped by reading ability, read aloud from the same book at the same time whilst the teacher listens in and draws out teaching points. At junior levels children may read a book, or part of it, away from the session and then focus on particular aspects of understanding.
  • High frequency words: These are the words that occur most commonly in the English language. Some are decodable like 'much' whilst others are tricky like 'the'.
  • Home books: Reading books sent home from school for your child to read. These may be from a reading series so your child can practise early reading skills or from the library so you can share and discuss.
  • Individual reading: Reading 1:1 or alone as it suggests.
  • Information books: Books that contain facts or information including reference books such as dictionaries, atlases and encyclopaedias.
  • Levelled books: Reading schemes (such as the Oxford Reading Tree) consist of books written to different levels of ability, to enable a child to take small but steady steps to reading success. As children's skills increase so children read more and the need for such control lessens.
  • Mnemonics: Memory joggers such as a rhyme, a phrase or a shape. For example, seeing a dinosaur in the shape of a letter d to help your child to associate the dinosaur with the letter and sound d.
  • Non-fiction: A broad category of texts that includes anything that isn't story (information books, reference materials, newspapers, biography, Wikipedia etc.).
  • OFSTED The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills and is the organisation appointed by the government to inspect schools in England.
  • Phonic book(s): see decodable books.
  • Phonics: A method of teaching children to read and write the English Language. It teaches children that the sounds of English are represented by letters or groups of letters (see also synthetic phonics). You'll find more help on our Phonics made easy page.
  • Phonemes: The smallest unit of sounds in a word represented by letters or groups of letters.
  • Picture book(s): Books in which the pictures play a major part in the story and the text is not levelled by difficulty e.g. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson. Picture books are not necessarily just for the very young and they can support the understanding of quite complex ideas e.g. Shaun Tan's The Lost Thing.
  • Quiet reading: Children read by themselves for a short time.
  • Reading age:This is an average reading level we would usually 'expect' for a child of any specified age. It is only a guide.
  • Read at Home/Take Home: The books that the children bring home to practise reading with you.
  • Reading fluency: When children are reading easily with confidence and intonation and at pace.
  • Reading Recovery: Reading Recovery is a short-term teaching programme of one-to-one tutoring for children identified as underachieving at 7 years of age.
  • Reading stamina: A child's ability to read substantial and often more challenging books for a longer period of time or in one sitting.
  • SATs: SATs stands for Standard Assessment Tasks. These are national tests in reading, grammar, punctuation and spelling and maths taken in May/June by children in their final year of primary school in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is a teacher assessment of maths, reading, writing, and science. Writing is assessed by the teacher.
  • Self-assessment/peer assessment: Children check their own work against a set of answers or criteria or swap with a partner to mark each other's work before then discussing the marking or comments. Proven to be an effective tool for learning.
  • Segmenting: To write or spell a word by listening for the sounds in the word and deciding which letters represent those sounds. We say you blend to read and segment to spell.
  • Shared reading: A teacher reads and discusses a text with the whole class, demonstrating how to be a good reader.
  • Sight words: Words you need to learn by sight because they cannot be easily sounded out. (see also Tricky words).
  • Sound Talk: To say the individual sounds that make up a word (see also Fred Talk).
  • Sounding out: To say the individual sounds that make up a word (sometimes also called Fred Talk or Robot Talk).
  • Special Needs: A term used to cover a wide range of needs that may need additional support whether a child is falling behind or far exceeding normal expectations. Also sometimes referred to as SEND (special educational needs).
  • Story time: The teacher reads a story aloud to the whole class.
  • Synthesising sounds: Blending or merging the sounds in a word together in speech so you can read the word.
  • Synthetic phonics: Synthetic Phonics is a way of teaching reading. Children are taught to read letters or groups of letters by saying the sound(s) they represent – so, they are taught that the letter m sounds like mmmm ... when we say it. Children can then start to read words by blending (synthesising) the sounds together to make a word.
  • Tricky words: Some everyday words in English have tricky spellings and can’t be read by blending. Imagine trying to read the word 'said' or 'does' by blending each letter! These are sometimes called high frequency tricky words , or Red words. These words just have to be learned by sight and flashcard-type games are a good way to practise these.
Next: Phonics guide

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