What is a reading model?

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In the last 40 years reading researchers have been studying the link between the reading process (what goes on in the brain) and how to teach reading. Depending on their interpretation of the reading process, they have developed a model of reading.


A reading model is a graphic attempt “to depict how an individual perceives a word, processes a clause, and comprehends a text.” (Singer and Ruddell 1985)

  Here are some kinds of reading models.

Although there are many models of reading, reading researchers tend to classify them into three kinds.

  • Top-down

    • Emphasizes what the reader brings to the text, such as prior knowledge and experiences
    • Says comprehension begins in the mind of the reader, who already has some ideas about the meaning of the text
    • Proceeds from whole to part


      Reader's prior knowledge to semantic cues to syntactic cues to other more specific information

  • Bottom-up

    • Emphasizes the written or printed text
    • Says comprehension begins by processing the smallest linguistic unit (phoneme), and working toward larger units (syllables, words, phrases, sentences)
    • Proceeds from part to whole


      Phoneme to syllable to word to sentence

  • Interactive

    • Recognizes the interaction of bottom-up and top-down processes simultaneously throughout the reading process.
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