Research – Glossary

Research – Glossary

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The Riggs Institute’s Glossary of Terms

(as used in our materials)



Accuracy – Being precisely and completely correct.

Across-the-curriculum – Teaching and practicing language skills in other subjects, e.g. math, science, social studies, etc.

Action word – In English grammar, the action word is called a verb.

Adjective – A word that modifies or describes a noun or a pronoun.

Adverb – A word that modifies or describes a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.

Affixes – Either a prefix or a suffix added to the root of a word to make another word with an altered meaning.

Alphabet – The name given to the 26 letters of the English orthographic system – the symbols by which the 45 sounds of English speech are transcribed on paper.

Analytical thinking – The process by which facts, theory, and circumstances are fully considered to allow rational conclusions.

Antecedent – That which came before.

Antonym – A word meaning the opposite of another word.

Apostrophe – A punctuation mark used to show possession or in place of a letter or letters in a contraction.

Article – Of three definitive adjectives (modifying a noun or pronoun), a and an are indefinite and the is definite.

Articulation -The act or manner of speaking sounds.

Association – The process of forming mental connections or bonds between sensations, ideas, or memories — in this method particularly in the neurological areas of oral, visual, auditory, and motor.

Attention – The act of applying the mind to incoming auditory, verbal, visual, and motor stimuli.

Auditory processing – Listening to, comprehending, relating, and reacting to information acquired through hearing.

Auditory difficulties – Lack of such abilities – not necessarily related to organic hearing disorders or impairment.

Auditory discrimination – Separating auditory stimuli into understandable units of speech in phonemes, syllables, and words.

Automaticity – To synthesize a whole word, say it aloud or think it with accuracy and comprehension without having to consciously think about its component parts – phonetic elements or analysis, syllables, morphemes, affixes, etc.


Base line – The bottom line upon which a letter is placed.

Bilingual students – Individuals taught in both their native language and a second language.

Book print – A standard serif-type font used in most printed materials.

Bottom-dotted line – The middle-dotted line below the base line upon which letters have been placed.

Brackets – Printed enclosures (usually perpendicular) of letters or words related to each other in various ways.

Brain-based – Instruction based on the neurological awareness, discrimination, and processing in auditory, verbal, visual, and motor areas of the brain.


Choral speaking – Oral recitations, in particular, whole groups.

Circle hand – The hand holding the practice paper where the thumb and forefinger form a semi-circle at the upper left and upper right side. Children are instructed to go “up to the circle hand ” as opposed to down, “toward their stomach.”

Classic literature – Literature which has stood the test of considerable time as being of lasting value for its message or literary form or both.

Clock-face – A circle with 2, 10, 8, and 4 o’clock position which are “checkpoints” or reference point for forming both lower and upper-case letters of the alphabet and Arabic numerals.

Closure – As meant in this method, the act of bringing disparate parts together to form a final conclusion in the learning process.

Cognitive sub-skills – The auditory, verbal, visual, and motor sub-skills acquired through multi-sensory, direct, and Socratic instruction in all phonetic, spelling, reading, grammar, composition, and vocabulary development content.

Cognition – The act or process of knowing – including both awareness and judgment.

Colon – A punctuation mark used chiefly to direct attention to a list, an explanation, or quotation; in this manual used after abbreviations T: and S: for direct instruction with student/teacher dialogue.

Comfortably close – Close but not touching.

Comma – Punctuation mark used for separating person’s name as addressed, thoughts written in clauses, words in series, days from years, before quotations, etc.

Common noun – Names a person, place, thing, or idea.

Composition – A language arts “strand” which is the written expression of thoughts in either prose or poetry.

Compound sentence – Two simple sentences combined by a coordinate conjunction.

Compound word – A word consisting of two or more words which are whole words carrying separate meanings of their own.

Comprehension – Understanding what is read or heard.

Concepts – The underlying ideas and rationale of this method of instruction.

Conjunction – A word that joins together words or word groups.

Consonant – All the letters of the alphabet that are not vowels; consonants are made with emissions of air against the teeth, tongue, and lips.

Contraction – A shortening of a word, syllable, or word group by omission of a sound or letter.

Coordination (hand-eye) – The act of being able to align what one sees with coordination of physical hand movements.


Declarative sentence – A group of words which make a statement.

Decodable – Able to be broken down into understandable, recognizable units as phonemes, syllables, or words according to the information one has about the phonetic “code.”

Decode – The act of breaking words into recognizable speech units as in phonemes, syllables, morphemes, affixes, and whole words.

Descriptive paragraphs – Paragraphs using many adjectives to describe ideas or things in great detail.

Developmentally appropriate – What is thought to be appropriate (or inappropriate) for a student’s age, experience, ability, and cognitive developmental levels of maturity.

Diacritical markings – Dictionary markings to show standard pronunciations.

Diagramming – making a graphic design to explain the parts and relationships of words in a sentence to teach syntax – the construction of sentences.

Dialects – regional varieties of language distinguished by features of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.

Dictation – Oral instructions for teaching especially for transcription of spoken sounds and words on paper.

Digraph – a group of two successive letters whose phonetic value is a single sound; these can involve both vowels and consonants.

Diphthong – is two vowels (vocals) sounded together in the same syllable (ou, ow, oi, oy).

Direct instruction – Engaging students in interactive learning activities; this manual couples such teaching with multi-sensory and Socratic questioning techniques.

Direct object – Receives the action of a transitive verb.

Directionality – Visual awareness, discrimination, and execution of abilities to discern shape, form, and configurations from spoken instruction and visual aids.

Discrimination – Distinguishing between visual, auditory, verbal, and motor sensory inputs.


Ellipsis – a series of dots marking the omission of words or sentences in quoted materials.

Encode – Writing correct spelling patterns from spoken sounds, to form words.

Enunciation – the ability to utter all the sounds of English in clear and precise speech.

Ergonomically correct – Defining proper seating, posture, hand and pencil-holding positions for comfort, safety, and productivity.

ERIC Clearinghouse – Official federally stored and disseminated information on almost every subject.

ESL students – Students whose second language is English.

Exclamation point – Punctuation mark used within or after an exclamatory sentence.

Exclamatory sentence – Sentence expresses strong feeling.

Explicit phonics – Phoneme/grapheme (sound/letter) relationships taught or learned “in isolation” (initially without key words, pictures, letter names, color, shape, music, etc.)


Fluency – the ability to execute automatically – without “thinking” about the process — especially related to reading.

Future tense – refers to verbs or action words denoting something which will, could, or might take place in the future.


Grammar – Explains how to speak and write the English language correctly; it is divided into four parts: orthography, etymology, syntax, and prosody.

Graphemes – 118 printed forms of the 45 phonemes of English speech as used in correct spelling and book print.

Graphemic Awareness – Having specific phonetic knowledge of how the 45 elementary phonemes of English speech “map” to their correct spelling patterns on paper.


Handedness – A tendency to use one hand rather than the other, e.g., right-handed or left-handed.

Helping verb – Also called an auxiliary verb used with present and past participles (is singing, have gone, etc.).

Homograph – One of two or more words spelled alike but different in meaning or derivation or pronunciation (bow, bow).

Homonym – One of two or more words spelled and pronounced alike but different in meaning (bear, bear).

Homophone – One of two or more words pronounced alike but different in meaning or derivation or spelling (to, too, two).


Imperative sentence – A sentence used to express a command.

Inflection (voice) – a change in tone or decibels of the voice.

Inflection (grammar) – A change of form that words undergo to mark such distinctions as those of case, gender, number, tense, person, mood, and voice; also a form or suffix involved in such variation.

Instructional sequencing – The order in which separate language arts “strands” and separate cognitive sub-skills are taught.

Interjection – A separate, sometimes strong word or words uttered without grammatical connection to the main sentence.

Interrogative sentence – A sentence which asks a question and is followed by a question mark.

Intransitive verb – An action word which completes the meaning of the sentence without direct objects to receive the action.

Invented spelling – “Spellings” which use any graphemic form of the corresponding phoneme needed to pronounce the word, e.g.(the /oo/ phoneme in food, do, due, dew, fruit, through, you, shoe, neutral and two – all spelled with only the /oo/ grapheme).

Irregular plural – Plural forms of a noun not formed with -s, -es, such as man, men, goose, geese, woman, women, etc.

Irregular verb – Verbs that form their tenses irregularly (without ed) such as sing, sang, sung, have sung, am singing, etc.



Kinesthetic – Describes a sense mediated by organs located in muscles, tendons, and joints stimulated by bodily movements and tensions including hand movements and “voiced” sounds and words.


Language of instruction – The oral vocabulary used for teaching.

Letter formation – Hand, finger, pencil movement, and instructions needed to form the 26 letters of the alphabet.

Letter strokes – The seven “strokes” needed to form the 26 letters.

Linear eye movements – Visual tracking, in straight lines, from left to right, in reading, writing, and spelling activities.

Linguistically correct – When written graphemes match the phonemes used to pronounce a given word, e.g., u in up and ou in touch as they have been taught through explicit phonics.

Linking verb – A verb form which links a subject to a predicate adjective or predicate nominative.

Long vowel – Any vowel saying its name – commonly used in open syllables, in silent final e words, and before two consonants.


Margin line – Margin lines on Riggs’ practice paper and notebooks are vertical and red on either side of the page; others are fold lines used to provide spacing guidelines for primary students.

Meta-cognitive – Cognition is the act or process of knowing, including awareness, judgment, and the ability to use such faculties with ease. Meta, used with the name of any discipline, indicates a later or more highly organized or specialized form of such abilities.

Methodologies – The process and techniques used to teach students, e.g. direct, dictated, Socratic, and multi-sensory instruction. Middle-dotted line – The line equidistant between the base line and the top base line; used in this method as an aid to early and fine motor skill development and letter formation.

Mnemonic – Any kind of device: visual, auditory, verbal, etc. designed to enhance short and long term memory, i.e., recitation of spelling rules or a diacritical marking system employed for spelling in this method.

Monosyllable – A word of one syllable.

Morphemes – The smallest meaningful part of a word, e.g. pin or -s.

Motivation – Having the desire to work and achieve.

Motor sub-skills – Manipulating a pencil on paper to produce a uniform written code to depict speech sounds.

Multi-sensory – In this method, teaching equally through four neurological learning channels to the mind – sight, sound, voice, and writing.


Neurological development – In this method, the cognitive development of the visual, verbal, and motor areas of the brain.

Neurologically sound – Refers to teaching techniques which have been validated by empirical and clinical research to be efficient in practice.

Nominative case – Nouns in the nominative case are used as subjects of sentences and after linking verbs to denote the same person or thing.

Nonverbal children – Children who are not naturally orally expressive.

Normed – Testing instruments which have been validated to serve as a standard by which others may be measured or judged.

Noun, case – In the relation of a noun to other words; nouns have four cases: nominative, possessive, objective, and absolute.

Noun, number – Nouns have two numbers, singular (meaning one) and plural (meaning two or more).

Noun, person – Nouns have three persons, the person speaking, the person spoken to, and the person spoken of.

Noun, gender – Sub designations of masculine, feminine, neuter, and common.

“Nuances” of sound – A variance of more than 250 sounds used to pronounce English words in all the dialects spoken worldwide as opposed to 42 “pure” sounds.


Objective case – When nouns are used as the object of a preposition or of a transitive verb in the active voice.

Onsets – The initial letter or consonant cluster of any word.

Optimal results – The most superior results one could hope to get from a superior method taught by a master teacher.

Orthographically legitimate schwa sound (uh)- One sound of the vowel u and one sound of the diphthong ou.

Orthography – Spelling with complete phonetics and the rules of orthography including spelling, syllabication, and plurals.

“Orton” phonograms – An orthographic organization of phoneme/grapheme relationships used in the 1920’s (and before) and provided to Dr. Samuel T. Orton by Mrs. Anna Gillingham, a teacher who worked under his supervision. They are slightly revised in this book, and its accompanying teaching tools, to bring them into closer compliance with Merriam-Webster’s 10th Collegiate Edition.

Orton, Samuel T. – A neuropathologist, brain surgeon who spent 25 years of his career studying the functioning of the human brain in learning language. He worked with classroom teachers who tutored adults and children with physiological brain impairment.

Oval clock face – A clock face with an oval shaped face.


Palmer Method – Instructional method popular until the 1960’s. Its required practice of “ovals” and “pushpulls” taught the hand and arm motor control to produce a uniform, flowing cursive penmanship.

Parenthesis – Enclosure marks ( ) set words, numbers, or other symbols apart from other print.

Paronym – Words having common roots, e.g. one, once, only, none.

Parsing – Learning activity to name the properties of all of the parts of speech as they are used in a given sentence.

Participle – A participle is a word derived from a verb that has the properties of a verb, an adjective, or a noun.

Parts of speech – Nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections.

Past tense – Tense means time; past tense refers to something which happened in the past, sometime before this instant.

Penmanship connectors – The connecting lines between letters in cursive or connected writing.

Penmanship – The art of writing letters with pen or pencil.

Perceptual difficulties – Condition of those who find difficulties, or lack of clarity, from visual stimuli.

Period – Punctuation mark ( . ) used to mark the end of declarative or imperative sentences or abbreviations.

Personal pronoun – One of four classes of pronouns; they include: I, you, he, she, we, our, us, my, mine, your, his, him, her, etc.

Phoneme – One of 42 “pure” sounds of English speech.

Phonemic awareness – Being familiar with and “aware” of sounds as they are heard in English speech.

Phonics – Webster’s says, “the science of sound.” We refer to phonics as related to pronunciation of words as opposed to phonetics for more precise speech and correct spelling.

Phonogram – Is both a phoneme and a grapheme in that it is a written symbol (letter or combination of letters) that represents a single sound in a given word. This sound can be voiced or unvoiced.

Physiological dysfunction – A physical (as opposed to mental, emotional, or cognitive) reason for impaired functions of the mind or body.

Plurals – More than one.

Possessive plural noun – A plural possessive noun (children’s men’s) – belonging to more than one.

Possessive singular noun – boy’s dog (belonging to one)

Possessive pronoun – his, hers, theirs, ours, my, mine, etc.

Predicate – Words which say something about the subject.

Prefix – A letter or set combination of letters which have meaning and when combined with a root, changes the meaning of the word.

Preposition – A preposition is a word used to shown the relation between its object and some other word.

Prepositional phrase – A preposition and its object, sometimes with an article or other adjective which modifies the object

Present tense – Happening at this moment.

Pronoun – A word that takes the place of a noun.

Pronoun – number – First person, second person, third person: speaker, spoken to, spoken of.

Pronunciation – How a word is said by any individual which may or may not be according to established norms.

Proper posture – As used here, comfortable seating posture to allow extended writing without undue physical strain or tension.

Proper noun – The name of a particular person, place, or thing.

Punctuation – Standardized marks in written or printed material to aid meaning, provide phrasing, and to separate structural units.


Question mark – A punctuation mark (also called a point of interrogation) placed at the end of a sentence or quotation which asks a question.


Rationale – The concept or idea guiding certain teaching practices, and the thinking behind them.

Re-verbalizing – In this method, oral restatement of dictated instructions, usually by the student.

Recode – Reading individual speech sounds (or a series of sounds depicted by one grapheme) from their printed forms.

Reference notebook – This method’s means of teaching students through transcription of Socratic, dictated instructions, to record phonetics, spelling, grammar and vocabulary facts, definitions, and their illustrations to provide student independence in practicing the concepts taught.

Regionalisms – Regional pronunciation which may be deviations from accepted dictionary authorities.

Reiterate – To say again, repeatedly, often at the risk of boring some.

Relative pronoun – A pronoun used to represent a preceding word or phrase, as “The man whom you saw is my father.”

Remedial – Word used to describe a student in need of re-instruction in any discipline.

Requisite skills – Skills (or content knowledge) which, sequentially, is required prior to other instruction.

Rhyme – Words which have the same last vowel and consonant phonemes, not necessarily the same graphemes.

Rime – Archaic spelling of “rhyme” now revived to describe an exercise related to phonemic awareness practices – one skill recognized as necessary for reading, but even more necessary (not yet officially validated) for correct spelling.


Schwa – Designated by an upside down and backward e ( ) in dictionaries. Says ‘uh’ instead of the purer vowel tone as they are spelled.

Scope of content – The entire spectrum of the content information taught in a given program.

Sentence – A group of words “making complete sense” or “expressing a complete thought.”

Sentence patterns – The study of syntax. Sentences are of various set types, e.g., noun-intransitive verb; noun/transitive verb/direct object ; noun/linking verb/predicate adjective, etc.

Sequencing – Teaching one skill after another.

Short vowel – The first soft sound of each vowel – normally used between two consonants in closed syllable words (hop).

Silent final e – A silent e (not heard in English speech) has four main functions as: name (e makes a long); have, rescue (English words do not end with v or u); chance, charge (allows c and g to say ‘s’ and ‘j’); little (written syllables must have a vowel).

Singular – Denoting only one.

Socratic instruction – A teaching technique which uses questioning to teach deductive reasoning, logical conclusions, and to elicit correct answers from the student.

Sound/symbol relationships – How phonemes (the sounds we hear and say) “map” to graphemes on paper (for orthographically correct spelling patterns).

Spatial relationships – One symbol in relationship to others or surrounding lines or patterns.

Spelling patterns – Orthographically correct print symbols for the sounds of spoken English.

Spelling-Vocabulary Notebook – The second one-half of the Reference Notebook in which a handwritten spelling- vocabulary list is encoded, recoded, decoded, and studied by the student.

Sub-skill development – Instruction in and the development of individual learning goals, and in particular, the cognitive areas.

Subject-verb number agreement – Singular nouns match singular verbs, plural nouns match plural verbs.

Suffix – An ending added to a base word which changes the meaning, spelling, and part of speech of the base word.

Syllabication – The act, process, or method of forming or dividing words into syllables.

Syllable – A unit of spoken language that is next bigger than a speech sound or phoneme. Also, “a single impulse of the voice.”

Synonyms – Words that have the same meaning.

Syntax – The study of the construction of sentences.


Tactile – Perceptible by touch; relating to the sense of touch.

Think to spell – When words are pronounced differently than they are spelled, this method presents a “think to spell” focus to recall what is orthographically correct despite various regional or “normal” pronunciations such as the schwa “uh” used for many vowels.

Tone – A sound of definite pitch and vibration.

Top base line – The top line, of 4 lines, used for manuscript writing in this method of instruction.

Transitive verbs – Verbs which require an object.



Verb – A word that expresses being, action, or state.

Verbal – A word that combines characteristics of a verb with those of a noun or adjective: gerunds, infinitives, and participles

Visual discrimination – The act of accurately recording what is seen.

Visually-oriented learners – Individuals who have a natural or acquired ability to discern and recall, with detail, what they see.

Vocabulary builder – Any study which enhances understanding the meaning of words.

Vowel – One of a class of speech sounds articulated, without constriction, on the breath, or a letter representing such a sound on paper, e.g., a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y.

Vowel suffix – a suffix beginning with a vowel, e.g., -ed, -ous, -es, etc.


Writing hand – The dominant hand an individual uses for writing and other primary activities of life.




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