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A Simple Model with a Major Impact: The Simple View of Reading

Over the years, several influential models of reading have significantly shaped the reading research landscape. The Simple View of Reading (SVR), first proposed by Gough and Tunmer in 1986, is one such model. In today’s post, we’ll provide an overview of this model and discuss some implications.

A laptop computer displays an image representing The Simple View of Reading.  There are three circles, each a different shade of blue, stating, "Decoding x Language Comprehension = Reading Comprehension." In the background behind the computer, there are colorful books and a small green plant in a white. pot. There is a reference to an article cited "Gough & Tunmer, 1996."


The SVR functions as a formula consisting of three variables: decoding, language comprehension, and reading comprehension. As seen below, the SVR states that reading comprehension is the product of decoding and language comprehension. Since its introduction, hundreds of other studies have used the SVR to demonstrate how decoding skill and language comprehension together can predict reading comprehension.


The decoding piece of the SVR involves word-reading. Decoding refers to the ability to see a string of letters (c-a-t), to connect the letters (or graphemes) to the speech sounds they represent (/k/ /a/ /t/), and to blend these sounds together (“cat”). Students who struggle with decoding may have not yet mastered phoneme-grapheme correspondences and lack fluency and automaticity when reading. Individuals with dyslexia can fall into this category, displaying difficulty with decoding, but often demonstrating strong language comprehension.


Language comprehension is the ability to make meaning of spoken words, phrases, and sentences. Language comprehension can be impacted by a number of factors including a student’s:

  • Vocabulary

  • Background/world knowledge

  • Understanding of syntax, semantics, and other language systems

While language comprehension is often equated to what students can understand when words are spoken aloud, it is important to note the subtle differences between spoken and written language. Written language often incorporates more complex language structures than everyday, conversational language, which tends to be more simplified. These more complex elements embedded throughout written language may serve as a barrier to comprehension and often require explicit instruction.

Fluency in a language is yet another factor to consider. Individuals who are not native English speakers may have strong decoding skills but experience difficulty deriving meaning from the words they have decoded.


Reading comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading. Educators often reference the shift that occurs when a student moves from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” When a student can decode the text in front of them and truly understand what that text means, they have unlocked the potential to learn about anything that interests them. The SVR asserts that reading comprehension occurs when a student has both decoding and language comprehension skills.


The SVR also provides a general model for categorizing reading difficulties. Students with dyslexia often have strong language comprehension skills but difficulty decoding words. Students with hyperlexia often have strong decoding skills but difficulty with language comprehension. Some students struggle in both areas. While the diagnosis of reading difficulties is far more complex, having a general understanding of the three variables within the SVR serves as a starting point.


If you think about this model as a math equation, when either component (decoding or language comprehension) is zero, then the product (reading comprehension) is zero as well. (1x0=0).

If a student has strong language comprehension skills but is unable to decode words, they will be unable to comprehend a text. If a student has strong decoding skills but cannot comprehend the words they have decoded, they too will be unable to comprehend a text. In short, both skills are necessary to achieve the ultimate goal of reading comprehension.

We can use this model as an instructional tool after initially noticing a student has a reading comprehension deficit. Through observation and assessment, educators can first determine if a student is struggling with decoding or an aspect of language comprehension. From there, an intervention plan can be developed.

Of course, both decoding and language comprehension can be broken down further, and a deeper analysis is necessary when selecting the specific supports a student needs. In this video linked here, Linda Farrell provides a real-world example involving a class of nine students with varying instructional needs. While seven students needed decoding interventions, two students needed language comprehension support. However, as outlined above, students can struggle with language comprehension for different reasons. The two students referenced in the video required uniquely distinct language comprehension supports. Farrell’s explanation regarding uncovering these differences is worth a listen!


The SVR is one of the most well-documented, well-researched models of reading. It provides a framework for us to understand that both decoding and language comprehension are necessary in order for reading comprehension to occur.

If you wish to learn more specifically about other factors and processes involved in reading (e.g., phonological awareness, reading fluency, etc.), be sure to sign up for our email list here. You’ll never miss another post from us and can read along as we explore additional models of reading instruction!


Written by: Taryn Quaytman & Rachel Draper

Copyright © 2023 SparkEd LLC



Farrell, L., Hunter, M., Davidson, M., & Osenga, T. (n.d.) The simple view of reading. Reading

Gough, P. B., & Tunmer, W. E. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial

and Special Education, 7, 6-10.

Moats, L.C. (2020). Speech to print: Language essentials for teachers (3rd ed.). Paul H.

Brookes Publishing Co.


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