More About the Simple View of Reading

We know what happens during the reading process because of scientific research. Research supports what some psychologists and educators call the Simple View of Reading. We can understand this view using two helpful tools. One is presented in the form of a math equation, and the other is a diagram known as Scarborough’s Rope.

The Simple View of Reading says that to read well, you must first recognize (or decode) words and then understand the meaning of those words. This process can be understood by imagining the equation:

Word Recognition x Language Comprehension = Reading Comprehension

You may notice that the two main components of this reading “equation” are multiplied, not added. That’s because good decoding skills and wide knowledge of vocabulary dramatically improve reading comprehension.

One thing we can learn from this model is that good instruction in decoding, through a dedicated phonics program, is the best way to help students improve their reading. Research has shown that programs with systematic and explicit phonics at their foundation do the best job of helping most learners.

The Simple View of Reading can also help us understand the challenges beginning readers face. We can pinpoint these challenges by noticing the part of the process where the challenges occur. Is it a problem with decoding? Or is it a gap in a student’s knowledge of language? Some students experience both of these difficulties. So, the Simple View of Reading doesn’t just show us how the process of reading works, it also helps us figure out how to respond when parts of the process don’t work.

A more visual way of understanding the Simple View of Reading is known as Scarborough’s Rope. It adds detail to the two-part equation. To show all the processes that contribute to reading, it imagines them as intertwined strands of a rope. The rope has two main strands: Word Recognition and Language Comprehension. These strands correspond to the two parts of the Simple View of Reading above, but each strand is also woven of multiple threads.

Scarborough’s Rope

Scarborough's Reading Rope

Scarborough’s Rope reminds us that, even in the Simple View of Reading, there is a lot going on. It also gives us a visual way to understand how reading becomes more automatic and more strategic. Imagining what happens when we tighten the strands of the rope, we can picture how better and better use of reading strategies contributes to overall reading competence.