ELL Glossary

Ever wondered what a semantic organizer was? Or the difference between ELD and ENL? Or perhaps you just want to learn a new word everyday! Find out the definitions of many of the terms related to English language learners (ELLs) in our glossary of frequently used words and phrases.


Academic English

The English language ability required for academic achievement in context-reduced situations, such as classroom lectures and textbook reading assignments. This is sometimes referred to as Cognitive/Academic Language Proficiency (CALP).

Accommodation (for English Language Learners)

Adapting language (spoken or written) to make it more understandable to second language learners. In assessment, accommodations may be made to the presentation, response method, setting, or timing/scheduling of the assessment (Baker, 2000; Rivera & Stansfield, 2000).


The ability to recognize words correctly when reading.

Affective filter

The affective filter is a metaphor that describes a learner's attitudes that affect the relative success of second language acquisition. Negative feelings such as lack of motivation, lack of self-confidence and learning anxiety act as filters that hinder and obstruct language learning. This term is associated with linguist Stephen Krashen's Monitor Model of second language learning.


Part of word that is "fixed to" either the beginnings of words (prefixes) or the endings of words (suffixes). The word disrespectful has two affixes, a prefix (dis-) and a suffix (-ful).

age equivalent score

In a norm-referenced assessment, individual student's scores are reported relative to those of the norming population. This can be done in a variety of ways, but one way is to report the average age of people who received the same score as the individual child. Thus, an individual child's score is described as being the same as students that are younger, the same age, or older than that student (e.g. a 9 year old student my receive the same score that an average 13 year old student does, suggesting that this student is quite advanced).

alphabetic principle

The basic idea that written language is a code in which letters represent the sounds in spoken words.

Analogy-based phonics

In this approach, students are taught to use parts of words they have already learned to read and decode words they don't know. They apply this strategy when the words share similar parts in their spellings, for example, reading screen by analogy to green.

Analytic phonics

In this approach, students learn to analyze letter-sound relationships in previously learned words. They do not pronounce sounds in isolation.


Assessment is a broad term used to describe the gathering of information about student performance in a particular area. See also formative assessment and summative assessment.

Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Any of a range of behavioral disorders in children characterized by symptoms that include poor concentration, an inability to focus on tasks, difficulty in paying attention, and impulsivity. A person can be predominantly inattentive (often referred to as ADD), predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, or a combination of these two.

For more information, go to ADHD Basics.

auditory discrimination

Ability to detect differences in sounds; may be gross ability, such as detecting the differences between the noises made by a cat and dog, or fine ability, such as detecting the differences made by the sounds of letters "m" and "n."

auditory memory

Ability to retain information which has been presented orally; may be short term memory, such as recalling information presented several seconds before; long term memory, such as recalling information presented more than a minute before; or sequential memory, such as recalling a series of information in proper order.

Authentic assessment

Authentic assessment uses multiple forms of evaluation that reflect student learning, achievement, motivation, and attitudes on classroom activities. Examples of authentic assessment include performance assessment, portfolios, and student self-assessment.


Automaticity is a general term that refers to any skilled and complex behavior that can be performed rather easily with little attention, effort, or conscious awareness. These skills become automatic after extended periods of training. With practice and good instruction, students become automatic at word recognition, that is, retrieving words from memory, and are able to focus attention on constructing meaning from the text, rather than decoding.


base words

Words from which many other words are formed. For example, many words can be formed from the base word migrate: migration, migrant, immigration, immigrant, migrating, migratory.

Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS)

Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) is often referred to as "playground English", "survival English", or "social language." It is the basic language ability required for face-to-face communication where linguistic interactions are embedded in a situational context called context-embedded language. BICS is part of a theory of language proficiency developed by Jim Cummins. BICS, which is highly contextualized and often accompanied by gestures, is cognitively undemanding and relies on context to aid understanding. BICS is much more easily and quickly acquired than academic language (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency, or CALP), but is not sufficient to meet the cognitive and linguistic demands of an academic classroom.

Related resources

Video: BICS and CALP


Identifying with the cultures of two different ethnic, national, or language groups. To be bicultural is not necessarily the same as being bilingual. In fact, you can even identify with two different language groups without being bilingual, as is the case with many Latinos in the U.S.

bilingual education

An educational program in which two languages are used to provide content matter instruction. Bilingual education programs vary in their length of time, and in the amount each language is used.

Bilingual Education, Transitional

An educational program in which two languages are used to provide content matter instruction. Over time, the use of the native language is decreased and the use of English is increased until only English is used.


Bilingualism is the ability to use two languages. However, defining bilingualism can be problematic since there may be variation in proficiency across the four language dimensions (listening, speaking, reading and writing) and differences in proficiency between the two languages. People may become bilingual either by acquiring two languages at the same time in childhood or by learning a second language sometime after acquiring their first language.


Biliteracy is the ability to effectively communicate or understand written thoughts and ideas through the grammatical systems, vocabularies, and written symbols of two different languages.


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


Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL)

CAL is a private, non-profit organization consisting of a group of scholars and educators who use the findings of linguistics to identify and address language-related problems. CAL carries out a wide range of activities including research, teacher education, analysis and dissemination of information, design and development of instructional materials, technical assistance, conference planning, program evaluation, and policy analysis. Visit the CAL website.

Cloze passage

A cloze passage is a reading comprehension exercise in which words have been omitted in a systematic fashion. Students fill in the blanks, and their responses are counted correct if they are exact matches for the missing words. Cloze exercises assess comprehension and background knowledge, and they are also excellent indicators of whether the reading level and language level of the text are appropriate for a given student.


Words in different languages related to the same root, e.g. education (English) and educación (Spanish).

Cognitive/Academic Language Proficiency (CALP)

Cognitive/Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) is the language ability required for academic achievement in a context-reduced environment. Examples of context-reduced environments include classroom lectures and textbook reading assignments, where there are few environmental cues (facial expressions, gestures) that help students understand the content. CALP is part of a theory of language developed by Jim Cummins, and is distinguished from Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS).

Related resources

Video: BICS and CALP


Collaborative writing

Collaborative writing is an instructional approach in which students work together to plan, draft, revise, and edit compositions.

comprehension strategies

Techiniques to teach reading comprehension, including summarization, prediction, and inferring word meanings from context.

comprehension strategy instruction

The explicit teaching of techniques that are particularly effective for comprehending text. The steps of explicit instruction include direct explanation, teacher modeling ("think aloud"), guided practice, and application. Some strategies include direct explanation (the teacher explains to students why the strategy helps comprehension and when to apply the strategy), modeling (the teacher models, or demonstrates, how to apply the strategy, usually by "thinking aloud" while reading the text that the students are using), guided practice (the teacher guides and assists students as they learn how and when to apply the strategy) and application (the teacher helps students practice the strategy until they can apply it independently).

connected instruction

A way of teaching systematically in which the teacher continually shows and discusses with the students the relationship between what has been learned, what is being learned, and what will be learned.

Content area

Content areas are academic subjects like math, science, English/language arts, reading, and social sciences. Language proficiency may affect these areas, but is not included as a content area.

context clues

Sources of information outside of words that readers may use to predict the identities and meanings of unknown words. Context clues may be drawn from the immediate sentence containing the word, from text already read, from pictures accompanying the text, or from definitions, restatements, examples, or descriptions in the text.

Context-embedded language

Context-embedded language refers to communication that occurs in a context of shared understanding, where there are cues or signals that help to reveal the meaning (e.g. visual clues, gestures, expressions, specific location).

Context-reduced language

Context-reduced language refers to communication where there are few clues about the meaning of the communication apart from the words themselves. The language is likely to be abstract and academic. Examples: textbook reading, classroom lecture.

continuous assessment

An element of responsive instruction in which the teacher regularly monitors student performance to determine how closely it matches the instructional goal.

cooperative learning

A teaching model involving students working together as partners or in small groups on clearly defined tasks. It has been used successfully to teach comprehension strategies in content-area subjects.

Criterion-referenced test

Criterion-referenced tests are designed to determine whether students have mastered specific content. They are nationally and locally available.

curriculum-based assessment

A type of informal assessment in which the procedures directly assess student performance in learning-targeted content in order to make decisions about how to better address a student's instructional needs.



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.

developmental spelling

A model of spelling development that demonstrates how children acquire knowledge about written language according to definable, predictable, developmental stages. They begin by attending only to sound-symbol correspondences in their spelling, followed by word patterns, and finally meaning units.

Dialogue Journal

A type of writing in which students make entries in a notebook on topics of their choice, to which the teacher responds, modeling effective language but not overtly correcting the student's language (O'Malley & Valdez-Pierce, 1996, p.238).

Differentiated Instruction

An approach to teaching that includes planning out and executing various approaches to content, process, and product. Differentiated instruction is used to meet the needs of student differences in readiness, interests, and learning needs.

Digital Literacy

Digital literacy is the ability to effectively navigate, evaluate, and generate information using digital technology (e.g. computers, software, digital devices, and the Internet).

direct instruction

An instructional approach to academic subjects that emphasizes the use of carefully sequenced steps that include demonstration, modeling, guided practice, and independent application.

direct vocabulary learning

Explicit instruction in both the meanings of individual words and word-learning strategies. Direct vocabulary instruction aids reading comprehension.

Domain-Specific Words and Phrases*

Vocabulary specific to a particular field of study (domain), such as the human body (CCSS, p. 33); in the Standards, domain-specific words and phrases are analogous to Tier Three words (Language, p. 33).

Dominant language

The dominant language is the language with which a bilingual or multilingual speaker has greatest proficiency and/or uses more often. See primary language.

dual language learner

A child who is learning a second language while continuing to develop his/her home language.

Dual language program/Dual immersion

Also known as two-way immersion or two-way bilingual education, these programs are designed to serve both language minority and language majority students concurrently. Two language groups are put together and instruction is delivered through both languages. For example, in the U.S., native English-speakers might learn Spanish as a foreign language while continuing to develop their English literacy skills and Spanish-speaking ELLs learn English while developing literacy in Spanish. The goals of the program are for both groups to become biliterate, succeed academically, and develop cross-cultural understanding. See the ERIC Two-way Online Resource Guide or the NCELA publication, Biliteracy for a Global Society.


A language-based disability that affects both oral and written language. It may also be referred to as reading disability, reading difference, or reading disorder.

For more information, go to see Reading Rockets' dyslexia resource section.



A part of writing and preparing presentations concerned chiefly with improving the clarity, organization, concision, and correctness of expression relative to task, purpose, and audience; compared to revising, a smaller-scale activity often associated with surface aspects of a text; see also revising, rewriting.

Embedded phonics

In this approach, students learn vocabulary through explicit instruction on the letter-sound relationships during the reading of connected text, usually when the teacher notices that a student 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.

emergent literacy

The view that literacy learning begins at birth and is encouraged through participation with adults in meaningful reading and writing activities.

Emergent Reader Texts*

Texts consisting of short sentences comprised of learned sight words and CVC words; may also include rebuses to represent words that cannot yet be decoded or recognized; see also rebus.

English as a Second Language

English as a Second Language (ESL)

A program of techniques, methodology and special curriculum designed to teach ELL students English language skills, which may include listening, speaking, reading, writing, study skills, content vocabulary, and cultural orientation. ESL instruction is usually in English with little use of native language. (U.S. Department of Education)

English Language Development (ELD)

English language development (ELD) means instruction designed specifically for English language learners to develop their listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in English. This type of instruction is also known as:

  • English as a second language (ESL)
  • English for speakers of other languages (ESOL)
  • English as a new language (ENL)
  • English language learner (ELL) instruction
  • English learner (EL) instruction

English Language Learner (ELL)

English language learners (ELLs) are students who are in the process of learning English. While many ELLs are immigrants, the majority are born in the U.S.

Other names for this student population

  • English learners (ELs)
  • Dual-language learners
  • Bilingual/multilingual students

Name for programs of English instruction

  • English as a second language (ESL)
  • English for speakers of other languages (ESOL)
  • English language development (ELD)
  • English as a new language (ENL)
  • English language learner (ELL) instruction
  • English learner (EL) instruction
  • Limited English Proficient (LEP)*

*While this term was used for a long time by the federal government, it has been generally been phased out in favor of more asset-based focus terminology.

English Language Proficiency (ELP)

In order to master academic language, English learners must develop proficiency in the four domains of language:

  • speaking
  • reading
  • listening
  • writing.

Every state is required to have its own set of English language proficiency (ELP) standards that lays out what a student should be able to do in English in each domain and at each level of English proficiency. You can learn more about the standards used in your state from Colorín Colorado’s ELL Resources by State guide.

Screener assessments for determining English language proficiency levels are aligned to these standards and are often used as one instrument for determining whether a student is eligible for English language development services. These screener assessments are different than annual assessments of English language proficiency.

Note: If the district has an intake or welcome center for ELs, they will be given the screener there. Filling out a home language survey is often the step that will start the process of determining whether a student needs EL services.

Entry criteria

Entry criteria are a set of guidelines that designate students as English language learners and help place them appropriately in bilingual education, ESL, or other language support services. Criteria usually include a home language survey and performance on an English language proficiency test.


See English As A Second Language


ESOL stands for 'English for speakers of other languages' (see ESL).


Facts, figures, details, quotations, or other sources of data and information that provide support for claims or an analysis and that can be evaluated by others; should appear in a form and be derived from a source widely accepted as appropriate to a particular discipline, as in details or quotations from a text in the study of literature and experimental results in the study of science.

Exit criteria

Exit criteria are a set of guidelines for ending special services for English language learners and placing them in mainstream, English-only classes as fluent English speakers. This is usually based on a combination of performance on an English language proficiency test, grades, standardized test scores, and teacher recommendations. In some cases, this redesignation of students may be based on the amount of time they have been in special programs.

experimental writing

Efforts by young children to experiment with writing by creating pretend and real letters and by organizing scribbles and marks on paper.

expressive language

The aspect of spoken langauge that includes speaking and the aspect of written language that includes composing or writing.


First Language

See "native language." Sometimes referred to as L1 in short-hand.


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

Focused Question*

A query narrowly tailored to task, purpose, and audience, as in a research query that is sufficiently precise to allow a student to achieve adequate specificity and depth within the time and format constraints.

formal assessment

The process of gathering information using standardized, published tests or instruments in conjunction with specific administration and interpretation procedures, and used to make general instructional decisions.

Formative assessment

Formative assessments are designed to evaluate students on a frequent basis so that adjustments can be made in instruction to help them reach target achievement goals.


General Academic Words and Phrases*

Vocabulary common to written texts but not commonly a part of speech; in the Standards, general academic words and phrases are analogous to Tier Two words and phrases (Language, p. 33).

grade equivalent scores

In a norm-referenced assessment, individual student's scores are reported relative to those of the norming population. This can be done in a variety of ways, but one way is to report the average grade of students who received the same score as the individual child. Thus, an individual child's score is described as being the same as students that are in higher, the same, or lower grades than that student (e.g. a student in 2nd grade my earn the same score that an average forth grade student does, suggesting that this student is quite advanced).


A letter or letter combination that spells a single phoneme. In English, a grapheme may be one, two, three, or four letters, such as e, ei, igh, or eigh.

Graphic Organizers

Text, diagram or other pictorial device that summarizes and illustrates interrelationships among concepts in a text. Graphic organizers are often known as maps, webs, graphs, charts, frames, or clusters.



Independent School District (ISD)

An independent school district is one that operates independently from any local or state government. They’re only found in certain states (e.g., Texas).


A student performance done without scaffolding from a teacher, other adult, or peer; in the Standards, often paired with proficient(ly) to suggest a successful student performance done without scaffolding; in the Reading standards, the act of reading a text without scaffolding, as in an assessment; see also proficient(ly), scaffolding.

indirect vocabulary learning

Vocabulary learning that occurs when students hear or see words used in many different contexts — for example, through conversations with adults, being read to, and reading extensively on their own.

informal assessment

The process of collecting information to make specific instructional decisions, using procedures largely designed by teachers and based on the current instructional situation.

Information gap

'Information gap' is an oral language activity in which a student is rated on his or her success in verbally describing visual information that is hidden from a partner, such as a picture, map, or object (O'Malley & Valdez-Pierce, 1996).

Instructional Conversations

[D]iscussion-based lessons geared toward creating opportunities for students' conceptual and linguistic development. They focus on an idea or a student. The teacher encourages expression of students' own ideas, builds upon information students provide and experiences they have had, and guides students to increasingly sophisticated levels of understanding (Goldenberg, 1991).

Intelligence Quotient (IQ)

A measure of someone's intelligence as indicated by an intelligence test, where an average score is 100. An IQ score is the ratio of a person's mental age to his chronological age multiplied by 100.


Language majority

Language majority refers to a person or language community that is associated with the dominant language of the country.

Language minority (LM)

Language minority refers to a person from a home where a language other than the dominant, or societal, language is spoken. So, that person may (1) be fully bilingual, (2) speak only the home language, (3) speak only English, or (4) speak mostly the home language but have limited English proficiency.

Language Proficiency

To be proficient in a second language means to effectively communicate or understand thoughts or ideas through the language's grammatical system and its vocabulary, using its sounds or written symbols. Language proficiency is composed of oral (listening and speaking) and written (reading and writing) components as well as academic and non-academic language (Hargett, 1998).

Lau Remedies

Lau Remedies are policy guidelines for the education of English language learners, based on the ruling in the Lau vs. Nichols suit, mandating school districts' compliance with the civil rights requirements of Title VI (Lyons, 1992).

Lau v. Nichols

'Lau vs. Nichols' is a lawsuit filed by Chinese parents in San Francisco in 1974, which led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling that identical education does not constitute equal education under the Civil Rights Act. School districts must take "affirmative steps" to overcome educational barriers faced by non-English speakers (Lyons, 1992).

learning disability (LD)

A disorder that affects people's ability to either interpret what they see and hear or to link information from different parts of the brain. It may also be referred to as a learning disorder or a learning difference.


See Limited English Proficient.

Limited English Proficient (LEP)

Limited English proficient is the term used by the federal government, most states, and local school districts to identify those students who have insufficient English to succeed in English-only classrooms. Increasingly, English language learner (ELL) or English learner (EL) are used in place of LEP.

Linguistically and Culturally Diverse (LCD)

The term 'linguistically and culturally diverse' is commonly used to identify communities where English is not the primary language of communication, although some individuals within the community may be bilingual or monolingual English speakers.

listening comprehension

Understanding speech. Listening comprehension, as with reading comprehension, can be described in "levels" – lower levels of listening comprehension would include understanding only the facts explicitly stated in a spoken passage that has very simple syntax and uncomplicated vocabulary. Advanced levels of listening comprehension would include implicit understanding and drawing inferences from spoken passages that feature more complicated syntax and more advanced vocabulary.


Reading, writing, and the creative and analytical acts involved in producing and comprehending texts.

Literacy Coach

A reading coach or a literacy coach is a reading specialist who focuses on providing professional development for teachers by providing them with the additional support needed to implement various instructional programs and practices. They provide essential leadership for the school’s entire literacy program by helping create and supervise a long-term staff development process that supports both the development and implementation of the literacy program over months and years.

For more information visit the International Reading Association website.

local education agency (LEA)

A public board of education or other public authority within a state that maintains administrative control of public elementary or secondary schools in a city, county, township, school district or other political subdivision of a state.

long-term English language learner

A student who has been enrolled in U.S. schools for more than six years but continues to struggle academically due to limited English proficiency.



"Mainstream" is a term that refers to the ordinary classroom that almost all children attend. Accommodations may be made for children with disabilities or who are English language learners, as part of the general educational program.


Metacognition is the process of "thinking about thinking." For example, good readers use metacognition before reading when they clarify their purpose for reading and preview the text.

Monitor Model

In the monitor model, linguist Stephen Krashen proposes that language learning is accomplished either through learning (formal, conscious learning about language) or through acquisition (informal, subconscious learning through experience with language). He suggests that there is an internal "monitor," which is developed through formal learning which is a part of the conscious process of error correction in when speaking a new language. The monitor plays only a minor role in developing fluency, compared to the role of acquisition. This model later became part of Krashen and Terrell's Natural Approach to language teaching (Krashen & Terrell, 1983).

Monitoring comprehension

Readers who monitor their comprehension know when they understand what they read and when they do not. Students are able to use appropriate "fix-up" strategies to resolve problems in comprehension.

More sustained research project*

An investigation intended to address a relatively expansive query using several sources over an extended period of time, as in a few weeks of instructional time.


The smallest meaningful 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.

Morphemic relationship

The morphemic relationship is the relationship between one morpheme and another. In the word books, book is a free morpheme (it has meaning by itself) and -s is a bound morpheme (it has meaning only when attached to a free morpheme).


The study of how the aspects of language structure are related to the ways words are formed from prefixes, roots, and suffixes (e.g., mis-spell-ing), and how words are related to each other.


Using a word's letter patterns to help determine, in part, the meaning and pronunciation of a word. For example, the morpheme vis in words such as vision and visible is from the Latin root word that means to see; and the ay in stay is pronounced the same in the words gray and play.

Multiple Intelligences

A theory that suggests that the traditional notion of intelligence, based on IQ testing, is far too limited. Instead, it proposes eight different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults. These intelligences are: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist.

Multiple literacies

Multiple literacies reach beyond a traditional 'reading and writing' definition of literacy to include the ability to process and interpret information presented through various media.

multisensory structured language education

An educational approach that uses visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile cues simultaneously to enhance memory and learning. Links are consistently made between the visual (what we see), auditory (what we hear), and kinesthetic-tactile (what we feel) pathways in learning to read and spell.


naming speed

The rate at which a child can recite "overlearned" stimuli such as letters and single-digit numbers.

Native language

The first language a person acquires in life, or identifies with as a member of an ethnic group. This term variably means (a) the language learned from the mother, (b) the first language learned, (c) the native language of an area or country, (d) the stronger (or dominant) language at any time of life, (e) the language used most by a person, (f) the language toward which the person has the more positive attitude and affection (Baker, 2000). Also referred to "home language" or "mother tongue."

Natural Approach

The Natural Approach is a methodology for second language learning which focuses on communicative skills, both oral and written. It is based on linguist Stephen Krashen's theory of language acquisition, which assumes that speech emerges in four stages: (1) preproduction (listening and gestures), (2) early production (short phrases), (3) speech emergence (long phrases and sentences), and (4) intermediate fluency (conversation). This approach was developed by Krashen and teacher Tracy Terrell (1983) (Lessow-Hurley, 1991).

Newcomer Program

A newcomer program addresses the needs of recent immigrant students, most often at the middle and high school level, especially those with limited or interrupted schooling in their home countries. Major goals of newcomer programs are to acquire beginning English language skills along with core academic skills and to acculturate to the U.S. school system. Some newcomer programs also include primary language development and an orientation to the student's new community (Genesee, et al, 1999).

No Child Left Behind (NCLB)

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is the most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education act of 1965. The act contains President George W. Bush's four basic education reform principles: stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents, and an emphasis on teaching methods based on scientifically-based research.

norm-referenced assessment

A type of assessment that compares an individual child's score against the scores of other children who have previously taken the same assessment. With a norm-referenced assessment, the child's raw score can be converted into a comparative score such as a percentile rank or a stanine. Norm-referenced assessments are designed to discriminate among groups of students, and allow comparisons across years, grade levels, schools, and other variables. They are nationally, commercially available.


Office for Civil Rights (OCR)

A branch of the U.S. Department of Education that investigates allegations of civil rights violations in schools. It also initiates investigations of compliance with federal civil rights laws in schools that serve special student populations, including language-minority students. The office has developed several policies with regard to measuring compliance with the Lau v. Nichols decision. OCR is also responsible for enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For more information, see the OCR resources about ELLs and OCR Disability Discrimination: Overview of the Laws.

Onset and rime

Onsets and rimes are parts of syllables or 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

An understanding of the rules governing the way in which the sounds in a language are represented by written or printed symbols.


A multisensory approach to remediating dyslexia created by Dr. Samuel Orton, a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist, and Anna Gillingham, an educator and psychologist.


Paraprofessional Educator

Also known as instructional aides and teachers' aides, these individuals provide assistance to teachers in the classroom. They do not provide primary direct instruction, but may help clarify material to students through home language or other supports. In classrooms funded through Title I, instructional paraprofessionals must have at least an Associates' degree or its equivalent, or have passed a test.


The smallest unit of speech that serves to distinguish one utterance from another in a language.

phonemic awareness

The ability to notice, think about, and work with 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 a form of instruction to cultivate the understanding and use of the alphabetic principle. It emphasizes the predictable relationship between phonemes (the sounds in spoken language) and graphemes (the letters that represent those sounds in written language) and shows how this information can be used to read or decode words.

See also: Analogy-based phonics, Analytic phonics, Embedded phonics, Onset-rime phonics instruction, Phonics through spelling, Synthetic phonics, Systematic and explicit phonics instruction.

phonological awareness

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 onset and rime. It also includes phonemic awareness as well as other aspects of spoken language such as rhyming and syllabication.

Point of view*

Chiefly in literary texts, the narrative point of view (as in first- or third-person narration); more broadly, the position or perspective conveyed or represented by an author, narrator, speaker, or character.

Portfolio assessment

A portfolio assessment is a systematic collection of student work that is analyzed to show progress over time with regard to instructional objectives (Valencia 1991, cited in O' Malley & Valdez-Pierce, 1996). Student portfolios may include responses to readings, samples of writing, drawings, or other work.


Prereading activities are activities used with students before they interact with reading material. They're designed to provide students with needed background knowledge about a topic, or to help students identify their purpose for reading.


A prefix is a word part added to the beginning of a root or base word to create a new meaning. The most common prefixes include dis- (as in disagree), in- (as invaluable), re- (as in repeat), and -un (as in unfriendly).


Prewriting is any activity designed to help students generate or organize their ideas before writing.

Primary language

The primary language is the language in which bilingual/multilingual speakers are most fluent, or which they prefer to use. This is not necessarily the language first learned in life. See also dominant language.

print awareness

Basic knowledge about print and how it is typically organized on a page. For example, print conveys meaning, print is read left to right, and words are separated by spaces.

Print or digital (texts, sources)*

Sometimes added for emphasis to stress that a given standard is particularly likely to be applied to electronic as well as traditional texts; the Standards are generally assumed to apply to both.


A student performance that meets the criterion established in the Standards as measured by a teacher or assessment; in the Standards, often paired with independent(ly) to suggest a successful student performance done without scaffolding; in the Reading standards, the act of reading a text with comprehension; see also independent(ly), scaffolding.

Pull-out ESL

Pull-out ESL is a program in which LEP students are "pulled out" of regular, mainstream classrooms for special instruction in English as a second language.

Push-in ESL

In contrast with pull-out ESL instruction, a certified ESL teacher provides ELLs with instruction in a mainstream or content-area classroom.



Readability refers to the level of difficulty in a written passage. This depends on factors such as length of words, length of sentences, grammatical complexity and word frequency.

reading disability

Another term for dyslexia, sometimes referred to as reading disorder or reading difference.


A mode of expressing words and phrases by using pictures of objects whose names resemble those words.

receptive language

The aspect of spoken language that includes listening, and the aspect of written language that includes reading.

Reciprocal teaching

Reciprocal teaching is a multiple-strategy instructional approach for teaching comprehension skills to students. Teachers teach students four strategies: asking questions about the text they are reading; summarizing parts of the text; clarifying words and sentences they don't understand; and predicting what might occur next in the text.

Repeated and monitored oral reading

In this instructional activity, students read and reread a text a certain number of times or until a certain level of fluency is reached. This technique has been shown to improve reading fluency and overall reading achievement. Four re-readings are usually sufficient for most students. Students may also practice reading orally through the use of audiotapes, tutors, peer guidance, or other means.

Response to Intervention (RTI)

Response to Intervention is a process whereby local education agencies (LEAs) document a child's response to scientific, research-based intervention using a tiered approach.

responsive instruction

A way of making teaching decisions in which a student's reaction to instruction directly shapes how future instruction is provided.


A part of writing and preparing presentations concerned chiefly with a reconsideration and reworking of the content of a text relative to task, purpose, and audience; compared to editing, a larger-scale activity often associated with the overall content and structure of a text; see also editing, rewriting.


A part of writing and preparing presentations that involves largely or wholly replacing a previous, unsatisfactory effort with a new effort, better aligned to task, purpose, and audience, on the same or a similar topic or theme; compared to revising, a larger-scale activity more akin to replacement than refinement; see also editing, revising.

root word

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



Temporary guidance or assistance provided to a student by a teacher, another adult, or a more capable peer, enabling the student to perform a task he or she otherwise would not be able to do alone, with the goal of fostering the student's capacity to perform the task on his or her own later on.


The ability to observe yourself and know when you are doing an activity act according to a standard. For example, knowing if you do or do not understand what you are reading. Or whether your voice tone is appropriate for the circumstances or too loud or too soft.

Semantic Maps

A semantic map is a strategy for graphically representing concepts. As a strategy, semantic maps involve expanding a student's vocabulary by encouraging new links to familiar concepts. Instructionally, semantic maps can be used as a prereading activity for charting what is known about a concept, theme, or individual word. They can also be used during reading as a way to assimilate new information learned from the text.

semantic organizers

Graphic organizers that look somewhat like a spider web where lines connect a central concept to a variety of related ideas and events.

Sentence combining

Sentence combining is an instructional approach that involves teaching students to combine two or more simple sentences to form a more complex or sophisticated sentence.

Short research project*

An investigation intended to address a narrowly tailored query in a brief period of time, as in a few class periods or a week of instructional time.

sight words

Words that a reader recognizes automatically without having to sound them out.

social English

Often referred to as "playground English" or "survival English", this is the basic language ability required for face-to-face communication, often accompanied by gestures and relying on context to aid understanding. Social English is much more easily and quickly acquired than academic English, but is not sufficient to meet the cognitive and linguistic demands of an academic classroom. Also referred to as Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS).


A text used largely for informational purposes, as in research.

special education

Special education services

Services offered to children who possess special needs in one of the following areas (as determined by the federal IDEA law):

  • specific learning disabilities
  • speech or language impairments
  • mental retardation
  • emotional disturbance
  • multiple disabilities
  • hearing impairments
  • orthopedic impairments
  • visual impairments
  • autism
  • combined deafness and blindness
  • traumatic brain injury
  • other health impairments

Speech Language Pathologist (SLP)

An expert who can help children and adolescents who have language disorders to understand and give directions, ask and answer questions, convey ideas, and improve the language skills that lead to better academic performance. An SLP can also counsel individuals and families to understand and deal with speech and language disorders.

Standard English*

In the Standards, the most widely accepted and understood form of expression in English in the United States; used in the Standards to refer to formal English writing and speaking; the particular focus of Language standards 1 and 2 (CCSS, pp. 26, 28, 52, 54).

State education agency (SEA)

A state education agency is the agency primarily responsible for the state supervision of public elementary and secondary schools.

Story structure

In story structure, a reader sees the way the content and events of a story are organized into a plot. Students learn to identify the categories of content (setting, characters, initiating events, internal reactions, goals, attempts, and outcomes). Often students recognize the way the story is organized by developing a story map. This strategy improves students' comprehension and memory of story content and meaning.


"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."


Summarizing is a process in which a reader synthesizes the important ideas in a text. Teaching students to summarize helps them generate main ideas, connect central ideas, eliminate redundant and unnecessary information, and remember what they read.

Summative Assessment

Summative assessment is generally carried out at the end of a course or project. In an educational setting, summative assessments are typically used to assign students a course grade.


A part of a word that contains a vowel or, in spoken language, a vowel sound (e-vent, news-pa-per).

Synthetic phonics

In this instructional approach, students 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.

Systematic and explicit phonics instruction

The most effective way to teach phonics. 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.


Technical subjects*

A course devoted to a practical study, such as engineering, technology, design, business, or other workforce-related subject; a technical aspect of a wider field of study, such as art or music.

Text complexity band

A range of text difficulty corresponding to grade spans within the Standards; specifically, the spans from grades 2–3, grades 4–5, grades 6–8, grades 9–10, and grades 11–CCR (college and career readiness).

Text complexity*

The inherent difficulty of reading and comprehending a text combined with consideration of reader and task variables; in the Standards, a three-part assessment of text difficulty that pairs qualitative and quantitative measures with reader-task considerations (CCSS, pp. 31, 57; Reading, pp. 416).

text comprehension

The reason for reading: understanding what is read by reading actively (making sense from text) and with purpose (for learning, understanding, or enjoyment).

Total Physical Response (TPR)

Total Physical Response is a language-learning approach based on the relationship between language and its physical representation or execution. TPR emphasizes the use of physical activity for increasing meaningful learning opportunities and language retention. A TPR lesson involves a detailed series of consecutive actions accompanied by a series of commands or instructions given by the teacher. Students respond by listening and performing the appropriate actions.


Commonly used to refer to the change from secondary school to postsecondary programs, work, and independent living typical of young adults. Also used to describe other periods of major change such as from early childhood to school or from more specialized to mainstreamed settings.

Transitional Bilingual Education

An educational program in which two languages are used to provide content matter instruction. Over time, the use of the native language is decreased and the use of English is increased until only English is used.


Unified School District (USD)

USD is a common acronym used to refer to school districts that include elementary, middle, and high schools under the same administration.



Vocabulary refers to the words a reader or speaker knows the meaning of and can understand and use. Listening vocabulary refers to the words a person knows when hearing them in oral speech. Speaking vocabulary refers to the words a person is able to use in his or her own speech. Reading vocabulary refers to the words a person knows when seeing them in print. Writing vocabulary refers to the words a person is able to use in his or her own writing.


Word attack

Word attack is an aspect of reading instruction that includes intentional strategies for learning to decode, sight read, and recognize written words.

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.

Working Memory

The ability to store and manage information in one's mind for a short period of time. In one test of working memory a person listens to random numbers and then repeats them. The average adult can hold 7 numbers in their working memory. Working memory is sometimes called Short-term memory