Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Applied Linguistics lecture notes (2)

Course: Applied Linguistics

Week: 2

Lecturer: Keith Richards

Topic: Reading

These notes are extracts only and do not include the arguments developed in the lectures. Neither do they include handouts or workshop activities. They are an additional resource designed primarily for those who attended the relevant lectures.



The first session was dedicated to developing a full picture of the top-down model and the pedagogic approaches that derived from it. These extracts relate to the second session where the discussion broadened out. They consist mainly of selected quotations from the literature.



The following reflects the sort of pedagogic thinking that the top-down model encouraged:


• Develop a ‘critical mass of knowledge’

• Discussions

• Vocabulary

• Pictures, slides, films

• Demonstrations

• Visits, real-life experiences

• Role-play activities

• Text previewing

• Group work

• ‘Semantic map’ through word association

'Failing pedagogical research on which teaching methods work best in building background knowledge … the best the classroom teacher can do is experiment with a number of prereading activities.'

Carrell, P.L. 1988. Interactive text processing: implic-ations for ESL/second language reading classrooms. In P. Carrell, J. Devine and D. Eskey, Interactive Approaches to Second Language Reading, pp. 239-59. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Page 245.

Top-down & Bottom-up Processing

The following are two very basic characterisations:

Top-down Concept-driven (whole-to-part)

Bottom-up Data-driven (part-to-whole)

Bottom up

Top down

Identify letters

Approach text

 set up expectations about words  partially activated candidates at each level compete for completion
 prime probable syntactic and semantic structures  reciprocal priming or facilitation of missing elements



A challenge to the model

'Proponents of this strongly top-down oriented model have used it to support suggestions for reading instruction that have not been particularly beneficial for students’ reading development, despite the continuing popularity of the model. Good readers typically do not guess what words will appear next in the text and good readers make less use of context than poor readers while they are engaged in fluent reading. Moreover, reading development is not universally the same across languages, nor are all reading abilities easily transferred from one language to another…'

Grabe, W. and Stoller, F.L. 2002. Teaching and Researching Reading. Harlow: Longman. Page 34.


A balanced assessment

'In fact it is virtually accepted in psychology nowadays that, at least at the level of word recognition and lexical access, some form of bottom-up process is followed.

' In spite of this… the assertion by some that good readers use a bottom-up approach is only really proven for word recognition… It is possible that his [Goodman’s] model is more appropriate for L2 readers at certain stages of development than it is for skilled adult L1 readers.'

Urquhart, S. and Weir, C. 1998. Reading in a Second Language: Process, Product and Practice. London: Longman. Page 44.


Classes of reading model

Process models Model process of reading

Componental models Describe components thought to be involved in reading process

Urquhart & Weir (1998:39)


The Interactive-Compensatory Model

1. Readers develop efficient reading processes.

2. Less automatic processes interact regularly.

3. Automatic processes operate relatively independently.

4. Reading processes lead to increased interaction and compensation, affecting even automatic processes.

Stanovich, K. 1980. Toward an interactive-compensatory model of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 16:32-71.


Reading components

• Word recognition

• Language

• Background knowledge

• Literacy

Urquhart & Weir (1998: 51-81)


A cognitive view of reader-text interaction

Reader-text interaction can be subdivided into three processing clusters:


Linguistic information is extracted directly from print.


Text-information building

Extracted ideas are integrated to uncover text meanings.


Situation-model construction

Amalgamated text information is synthesised with prior knowledge


Koda, K. 2005. Insights into Second Language Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Page 5.


Other views

The cognitive view, reflecting the interactive nature of reading, emphasizes three operations at the critical core of competence: decoding, text-meaning construction, and assimilation with prior knowledge. The developmental perspective, in contrast, highlights sequential mastery of two operations – decoding and comprehension – and their functional interdependence. The reading gear theory, moreover, suggests a third factor, reading purpose, to be incorporated in defining the core construct.

Koda, K. 2005. Insights into Second Language Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Page 6.


Summary of trends in reading research over the last fifty years

(Based on Eskey 2005: 564-566) 1960s Most research hardly worth reading 1970s Recognition that reading is active and purposeful; focus on mental processes. 1970s &1980s Development of more accurate models of the reading process (e.g. top-down). Later 1980s Top-down models increasingly challenged by proponents of interactivemodels 1990s Splintering into ‘incommensurate perspectives’ 2000- Broadening of definition of reading. Reading as a sociocultural practice Shift from psycholinguistic models towards work in neurobiology New technologies of reading

Broadening of approaches to research

‘There are no magic approaches or methods for the teaching or learning of second language reading, but good teachers and students, working together, sometimes get the job done successfully.’ (Eskey 2005: 577) Eskey, D. E. Reading in a second language. In E. Hinkel (ed.), Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning. Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Pages 563-579.

Syntactic complexity and comprehension difficulty (1)

Incremental integration of lexical information obviously is central to sentence comprehension. Because the goal is to uncover the overall meaning of a given string of words, structural complexity is fertile ground for locating processing difficulties…

Koda, K. 2005. Insights into Second Language Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Page 120.


Syntactic complexity and comprehension difficulty (2)

It is commonly held … that comprehension difficulty associated with syntactic complexity generally arises from a deficit in the decoding skills necessary for linking spoken language with its written forms rather than from a dearth of syntactic knowledge.

Koda, K. 2005. Insights into Second Language Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Page 120.


Syntactic complexity and comprehension difficulty (3)

It seems reasonable … to conclude that neither syntactic complexity nor sentence length can automatically be linked with comprehension difficulty.

Koda, K. 2005. Insights into Second Language Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Page 97.


Skills and Strategies

Although researchers generally agree that strategic reading and skillful reading differ, skills and strategies are not clearly distinguished in the literature. The two terms are used interchangeably in references to a broad range of processing tasks, behaviours and abilities. The confusion becomes particularly confounding when processing operations such as inference and cognate recognition are referred to as strategies in strategy studies and skills in the reading literature

Koda, K. 2005. Insights into Second Language Reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Page


Skills and strategies distinguished

This is a useful distinction and worth bearing in mind. The two are sometimes used interchangeably, which seems to me to be both practically and conceptually inadvisable.


Cognitive ability used by an individual when interacting with text.Text-based, unconscious


Means used to obtain goal. Reader-oriented, conscious

Urquhart & Weir (op cit.)


Strategy types

Cognitive e.g. inferencing

Metacognitive e.g. comprehension monitoring

Social and Affective e.g. asking for help

Chamot, A. U. and O'Malley, J. M. 1994. The CALLA handbook: How to implement the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley


Strategies having a significant influence on reading comprehension

• Prior knowledge activation

• Mental imagery

• Graphic organizers

• Text structure awareness

• Comprehension monitoring

• Question answering

• Question generating

• Mnemonic support practice

• Summarization

Trabasso, T. and Bouchard, E. 2002. Teaching readers how to comprehend text strategically. In C. Collins and M. Pressley (eds), Comprehension Instruction: Research-based Best Practices, pp.176-200. New York: Guildford Press.


Implications for L2 reading of recent research

The following list, based on research over the last 10 years, is taken from Grabe 2004:

1 Ensure word recognition fluency.

2 Emphasize vocabulary learning and create a vocabulary-rich environment.

3 Activate background knowledge in appropriate ways.

4 Ensure effective language knowledge and general comprehension skills.

5 Teach text structures and discourse organization.

6 Promote extensive reading.

7 Build reading fluency and rate.

8 Promote extensive reading.

9 Develop intrinsic motivation for reading.

10 Plan a coherent curriculum for student learning.

Grabe, W. 2004. Research on teaching reading. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 24:44-69.


Instructional dilemmas for L2 reading

I like this list because it gets the challenges of teaching reading in the L2 context into perspective:

• Need for large vocabulary.

• Reading fluency requires knowledge 95% of words in text.

• Discourse knowledge important but often not taught.

• Focus often on developing individual strategies rather than strategic reader.

• Little exploration of transition from

• learning-to-read to reading-to-learn.

• Integration of language abilities important but skills often separated.

• Need greater understanding of motivation.

• Students need to read a lot, but this is often not emphasised.

(Grabe & Stoller 2002: 76)


Research and practice in reading

This, I think, is a useful reminder about the need to get the balance between different kinds of investigation and representation in perspective:

'There is certainly a need to recognize practitioner knowledge, good teaching ideas, and positive instructional outcomes. Teachers cannot wait for ‘the definitive research study’; it will never happen in any case. At the same time, the informal notion of ‘doing what works,’ by itself, can limit progress with, and dissemination of, effective reading instruction. Practitioner knowledge is typically not open to comparisons and competition from new ideas (except fashions and bandwagons), and it is easily abused when teaching practices become fossilized or politicized.'

Grabe, W. 2004. Research in teaching reading. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 24: 44-69. Pages 59-60.


Extracts from course books

The coursebook exercise depended on not knowing details of the books involved. Here is the relevant information:

Text A Greenall, S. & Pye, D. 1991. Reading 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Text B Gordon, I. 2001. Intermediate Reading Comprehension. London: Macmillan.

Text C Reading and Thinking in English. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


A full reading list was supplied in the form of a handout. Reading lists are accessible on a different webpage.