What is a top-down reading model?

by Ken Boothe
Leah B. Walter
Glenys Waters (editor)
Home News Cai Music Essays Training Vocabulary Teaching Plan Forum


Top-down reading models suggest that processing of a text begins in the mind of the readers with

  • meaning-driven processes, or
  • an assumption about the meaning of a text.

From this perspective, readers identify letters and words only to confirm their assumptions about the meaning of the text. (Dechant 1991)


The proponents generally agree that


Here are some proponents of the top-down reading model:


A top-down reading model is a reading model that

  • emphasizes what the reader brings to the text
  • says reading is driven by meaning, and
  • proceeds from whole to part.
Also known as:
  • inside-out model
  • concept-driven model
  • whole to part model

Here are the views of some researchers about the top-down reading model:

  Frank Smith, a journalist turned reading researcher:
  • Reading is not decoding written language to spoken language.
  • Reading does not involve the processing of each letter and each word.
  • Reading is a matter of bringing meaning to print, not extracting meaning from print. (McCormick, T. 1988)
  Kenneth S. Goodman, reading specialist at the University of Arizona:
  • “...the goal of reading is constructing meaning in response to text...It requires interactive use of grapho-phonic, syntactic, and semantic cues to construct meaning.” (Goodman, K. 1981).
  • Although Goodman is often referred to as a leading advocate of the top-down approach, his model by his own admission is interactive, “...it is one which uses print as input and has meaning as output. But the reader provides input too, and the reader, interacting with text, is selective in using just as little of the cues from text as necessary to construct meaning.” (Goodman, K. 1981)

A widely accepted educational philosophy that utilizes a top-down approach to reading is called whole language.


Here are some features of a top-down approach to reading (Gove 1983):

  • Readers can comprehend a selection even though they do not recognize each word.
  • Readers should use meaning and grammatical cues to identify unrecognized words.
  • Reading for meaning is the primary objective of reading rather than mastery of letters, letter/sound relationships, and words.
  • Reading requires the use of meaning activities rather than the mastery of a series of word-recognition skills.
  • The primary focus of instruction should be the reading of sentences, paragraphs, and whole selections.
  • The most important aspect about reading is the amount and kind of information gained through reading.
See also

Context for this page:

Page content last modified: 26 August 1999

Copyright © 2005-2008,Luxi ELT, All Rights Reserved
地 址:江西 * 萍乡 * 芦溪 邮 编:337200