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The Top-Down Reading Model Theory

by Amy Pearson

Top-down reading models teach students to read by introducing them to literature as a whole. Instead of teaching students to read by sounding out each word in a sentence, teachers read whole passages of a text. Students begin to use context clues to decipher unfamiliar words. The National Capital Language Research Center reports top-down reading models are helpful to those learning a second language because they help students concentrate on the whole meaning of a passage. The theory also works with those just learning to read, as readers rely on their previous knowledge to decipher text or unfamiliar words.

Look for Whole Meaning

The top-down reading model theory encourages students to focus more on understanding the main ideas of a passage than understanding every word. Even if students do not understand each word, they are likely to grasp the meaning of a text as a whole. Babies learn to speak much the same way. Instead of teaching words one at a time, parents use conversation to teach language to their children.

Apply What is Already Known

The top-down reading model encourages students to rely on their own knowledge and use context clues to understand new concepts or words. The report by Hirotake Nagao, “Using Top-Down Skills to Increase Reading Comprehension,” published on the Education Resources Information Center website states readers use their knowledge of the content matter instead of their knowledge of the vocabulary used in a particular piece of text. Students could also use context clues to determine the meaning of words that have more than one use. For instance, the word “read” is pronounced differently depending on the context in which it is used. Students using the top-down reading theory could rely on context clues to help them determine what pronunciation was correct in a particular text.

Encourage Active Involvement

The teaching model allows students choose books to read based on their own interests. Teachers urge students to select materials of personal interest so they are more likely to be motivated to read it. Instead of assigning one book for an entire class to read together, the teacher might take the entire class to the library and allow them to choose their own books. New readers will begin to understand new vocabulary and increase reading fluency as they read engaging and interesting books.

Encourage Perserverance

Teachers will encourage readers to develop speaking and listening skills by reading aloud to the class or to a smaller group of students. Instead of stopping students to correct a pronunciation mistake, the teachers will urge the reader to continue reading, even if struggling with a particular passage. Teachers might not correct spelling errors during creative-writing exercises but would encourage students to take risks and attempt to spell new and more difficult vocabulary words. Repetition of important or meaningful passages is often used to help students understand and sometimes memorize the reading material, resulting in a deeper understanding.

About the Author

Amy Pearson earned dual bachelor's degrees in management and horticulture. She is a licensed elementary teacher for kindergarten through sixth grades. Pearson specializes in flower and vegetable gardening, landscape design, education, early childhood and child development.

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