What is a bottom-up reading model?

by Ken Boothe
Leah B. Walter
Mary D. Stringer (editor)
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A bottom-up reading model emphasizes a single-direction, part-to-whole processing of a text.


In the beginning stages it gives little emphasis to the influences of the reader's world knowledge, contextual information, and other higher-order processing strategies. (Dechant 1991).


A bottom-up reading model is a reading model that

  • emphasizes the written or printed text
  • says reading is driven by a process that results in meaning (or, in other words, reading is driven by text), and
  • proceeds from part to whole.
Also known as:

part to whole model


Here are some proponents of the bottom-up reading model:


Here are the views of some researchers about the bottom-up reading model:

  Leonard Bloomfield:
  Emerald Dechant:
  • “Bottom-up models operate on the principle that the written text is hierarchically organized (i.e., on the grapho-phonic, phonemic, syllabic, morphemic, word, and sentence levels) and that the reader first processes the smallest linguistic unit, gradually compiling the smaller units to decipher and comprehend the higher units (e.g., sentence syntax).” (Dechant 1991)
  Charles Fries:
  • The reader must learn to transfer from the auditory signs for language signals...to a set of visual signs for the same signals. (Fries 1962)
  • The reader must learn to automatically respond to the visual patterns. The cumulative comprehension of the meanings signaled then enable the reader to supply those portions of the signals which are not in the graphic representations themselves. (Fries 1962)
  • Learning to read...means developing a considerable range of habitual responses to a specific set of patterns of graphic shapes. (Fries 1962)
  Philip B Gough:
  • Reading is a strictly serial process: letter-by-letter visual analysis, leading to positive recognition of every word through phonemic encoding. (McCormick, T. 1988)
  • Lexical, syntactic and semantic rules are applied to the phonemic output which itself has been decoded from print. (McCormick, T. 1988)

A widely accepted instructional program that incorporates several bottom-up principles is the phonic approach to reading.


Here are some features of a bottom-up approach to reading:


Bottom-up advocates believe the reader needs to

  • identify letter features
  • link these features to recognize letters
  • combine letters to recognize spelling patterns
  • link spelling patterns to recognize words, and
  • then proceed to sentence, paragraph and text-level processing.
See also

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Page content last modified: 16 September 1999

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