Literacy Development: The Bottom-Up Reading Process Model

By: C.Q. Wilder

June 2, 2014

Having worked in early childhood for 3 years directly as an English as a Second Language (ESL) pre-school teacher and a pre-kindergarten teacher, I have had a lot of practice teaching young learners the components and skills they need to have prior to reading. Understanding the process of literacy development is key and teachers have spent many years in school learning, understanding, and then later implementing in their classrooms. I will explain one approach that I have used that has proven successful.

What is literacy development?

To develop literacy skills, one must understand what the term “literacy” means. Literacy includes four target areas: Writing, reading, speaking, and listening.  To develop these skills in children, they need to be explicitly taught vocabulary, phonics, phonemic awareness, comprehension, fluency.

The Bottom-Up Reading Process Model

This reading model approach focuses on mastering a series of skills in a sequential order (Gunning, 2000; Marzano et al., 1987; Reutzel & Cooter, 2005; Vacca et al., 2006).

The first level of the bottom-up approach is letter recognition. Letter recognition is The child’s ability to recognize and name the letters of the alphabet” (Marzano et al., 1987, p. 135). This means that the students are able to identify letters A-Z including the digraphs CH, SH, and TH (you can also ad in WH).

The second level is phonemic analysis. Phonemic analysis is “the act of translating printed symbols (letters) into the sounds they represent” (Marzano et al., 1987, p.33). This means that the child looks at the letter “t” and provides the sound for the letter “t.” Because there are 26 letters in our alphabet with over 40 sounds, it is important that the child gets practice with these different sounds, especially if English isn’t their fist language (L1). Children and students should get practice with digraphs also and being able to produce the correct sound together, not the letters in isolation.

The third level is word identification. Word identification is “the ability to recognize words and their meanings as distinctive units” (Marzano et al., 1987, p.33). Children need repeated practice with words so they can later read with fluency. The ability to decode words will support them to understand the meaning. Work with sight words is key because many of these words can’t be decoded, or broken down by individual letters, and have to be memorized.

The fourth level is syntactic analysis. Syntactic analysis is “the way words fit together in sentence” (Marzano et al., 1987, p.165). This means that the reader is able to understand that sentences flow in a specific way. This includes the parts of speech (nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc.)

The fifth level is discourse-level analysis. Discourse-level analysis is “the recognition of the format and organization of a paragraph or an entire passage rather than of a single sentence” (Marzano et al., 1987, p.173) This means that the child can understand, at varying levels, the base of the organization of the text. Depending on the reading level, there may only be one sentence (if reading level is at the beginning stage) or a full paragraph (if they are in higher grades). The goal is organization.

The sixth and final level is schema-level analysis. According to Marzano, 1987, this final stage allows reads to connect to what was read from their own background knowledge (the knowledge or understanding that they bring to any situation about that topic.)


Herrera, S.G., Perez, D.R., & Escamilla, K. (2010). Teaching reading to English language learners: Differentiated literacies. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.