The Simple View of Reading and How to Use It

This post is all about the “Simple View of Reading” (SVR). Here you will read all about the overly simple, yet powerful equation to better understand reading comprehension and how it works. It is simple but contains a lot of complex features that are not meant to be taken simply.

First proposed in 1986 by Phillip Gough and his colleagues, this simple view of reading has greatly impacted the field of reading since its inception. It has proven to be quite valuable when it comes to understanding reading and comprehension. Is it enough? 

The Simple View of Reading equation: Reading comprehension equals decoding times linguistic comprehension.

Reading Comprehension is the Product of Decoding and Linguistic Comprehension

R =  Reading [Comprehension]  

This is the goal of reading; to fully understand what is being read.

D = Decoding

Decoding is displayed by word-level reading. Simply put this is the skill that derives from letter-sound knowledge and phonological awareness skills. Check out the following image.

Lyrics to Adele Someone Like You spelled out in International Phonetics Alphabet

Here you see English words written out phonetically using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). This is a clear distinction to prove that unless you know how to decode the physical words in print, you will not understand what is presented even if it is in English.

Did you guess what it says? It says, “Never mind, I’ll find someone like you: I wish nothing but the best for you.” The beautiful lyrics in Adele’s song, Someone Like You. Isn’t IPA gorgeous?

LC = Linguistic Comprehension

This is the ability to interpret and transform written language into spoken language. Linguistic comprehension has a little more to it then just verbal intelligence. You can only understand what you read as much as you can understand what you hear. Some components that influence comprehension skills during reading are inferencing making skills, working memory, background knowledge, attention, and monitoring comprehension.

An Example of Linguistic Comprehension

Read the following paragraph and see if you can answer the comprehension questions that follow (adapted from Kilpatrick, 2017):

The pliblians tramped the trems to the dupple. The dupple twilled. The trems nimmled a fant mook. The pliblians wispeted and wispeted. 

  • What did the plibians do to the trems?
  • What happened to the dupple?
  • Describe what type of mook the trems nimmled?
  • What did the pliblians do at the end of the story?

Did you have a hard time decoding any of these words? Chances are probably not given your awesome ability to decode. Were you able to answer the comprehension questions correctly? Yeah!

Universal Grammar

It’s pretty incredible to realize the capabilities your brain has when it comes to language structure and grammar. Although you have no idea what a dupple is (nor do I!), our brain instantaneously determines it as a noun based on its placement and function within the sentence structure. That is our linguistic knowledge at play; part of what Noam Chomsky coined as “universal grammar”.

However, being able to decode and answer the comprehension questions correctly obviously doesn’t bring you closer to truly understanding the meaning of the passage.

The reason for that is because you lack the background knowledge and the necessary oral vocabulary to semantically construe any real meaning. 

Side note: When I came up with the word ‘pliblians’ my mind wandered to “Lilliputians”, the tiny people Gulliver encountered in Johnathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. So, my mind actively kept pliblians as small creatures. That’s because my mind frantically attempted to attach meaning and began making inferences.  Pretty cool! What did you mind come up with?

This a perfect example to illustrate the Simple View of Reading (SVR). Children must be able to decode and understand the language that is being used. If there are difficulties in either one of those skills, reading comprehension is negatively impacted. 

The Simple View of Reading in a Nutshell

In a nutshell: If your child can quickly and effortlessly read the words in a reading passage, and if they can understand that same passage when it is read to her, then she should be able to comprehend that passage when she reads it to herself.

Linguistic Comprehension plays a large role in the SVR. Without getting into it too much, there are some assumptions that we must bring some attention to before moving on.

Anecdote for Understanding: Matthew

Matthew, age 7, is a word-reading master. He is able to accurately read words listed at a 7th-grade level, in the 2nd grade! It was safe to assume most of the higher-level words are ones he had never come across before. 


Matthew should be able to understand what he is reading because he is able to rapidly name words with accuracy well beyond his grade level.


It turns out that upon further testing that Matthew’s language and verbal skills proved to be not as strong. He had some difficulty when it came to comprehension, vocabulary definitions, and simple paraphrasing skills.

This is common when children prove to have strong phonemic awareness, phonic decoding skills, and great working memory. However, because your child may be able to read words accurately does not always mean they can also understand them. 

Flip the Anecdote

We can flip the anecdote to display a more easily identifiable issue where the child has strong language skills and can easily comprehend oral language but lacks in the ability to decode. 


Matthew is incredibly smart and engages in very intelligible conversations. He has such an advanced vocabulary. He should not have a hard time grasping what he reads.


Yes, Matthew may have a high IQ (plot twist: IQ has little significance on reading achievement). However, reading comprehension suffers as a result of low working memory among other linguistic competences required for reading. If Matthew struggles with decoding, all of his efforts are dedicated to simply attempting to decode the words on the page without attaching meaning to them. 

Now with all that out of the way, let’s just say we cannot safely assume that if a child can decode and has strong linguistic comprehension skills they are good comprehenders. Yes, that’s the statement of the Simple View of Reading at its core but let’s remember… this is a 35-year-old theory and lots of research and new theoretical conclusions have since been made.

Book Recommendation

Want to learn more about The Simple View of Reading? Check out the Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties by David A. Kilpatrick. This contains all you’ll ever want to learn about reading when it comes to your child or students. I pulled most of the information in this post from THIS book.

Can we give equal weight to each contributable factor in this equation?

Are there other factors to consider such as reading fluency? What about when readers acquire advanced language through time and experience but their decoding skills are not remedied? 

Reading Comprehension is WAY More Complex Than We Think

Reading comprehension is way more complex than what the SVR model displays. Although this model has made significant contributions to the way we assess reading and language development and their pedagogies, there is much more to consider. 

It has been contended that reading comprehension should be looked at as a multidimensional, highly complex, function of the brain. It depends on everything from the reader’s perception of the text to the specific purpose of the text itself. 

Click to download reading tips and common reading terms every parent should know

The Three-Cueing System and SVR

The three-cueing system, an early reading instruction approach often used in whole-language, is not the best option only because it attempts to take both of the broad skills in SVR and smash them together as if it to say, “we’re hitting two birds with one stone”.

It is not best practice to merging these skills together. It does not allow for educators or parents to determine the actual skill a child may be struggling with because either skill is distinguishable. This makes reading assessments a little tricky when neither skill is tested for individually.

Reading Strategy Instruction

As far as general reading instruction goes, it is important to address reading strategy instruction that is tailored to the student’s abilities. This includes using specific texts during specific instruction.

 It should entail relevant reading comprehension activities that supplement the overarching goal of acquisition of content knowledge instead of separating the two out into different units say an English unit and a science unit. 

This is common practice in schools today. Teachers will dedicate an entire hour to teaching an isolated reading strategy such as ‘identifying the main idea’ with no regard to the content itself.

Content knowledge should always remain central to instruction if you are asking your child or student to comprehend the reading material at hand. 

The Simple View of Reading Conclusion

More on the components of the Simple View of Reading coming up in the future. What are some ways that you implement the Simple View of Reading at home or in the classroom? Did you learn anything interesting or new from this post? Let us know in the comments down below.

Samantha signature with magic wand


Catts, H. (2018). The simple view of reading: Advancements and false impressions. Remedial and Special Education, 39, 317-323.

Kilpatrick, D. (2017). Essentials: Assessing, preventing, and overcoming reading difficulties.Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.