Reading Process: The Bottom-Up Theory

Learning how to read is a vital skill that students learn in their early childhood education. This skill sets the foundation for academic success. There are many ways to approach the reading process, and teachers rely on numerous reading theories.

Children in kindergarten to third grade are in the learning to read phase. From the fourth grade onwards, children are reading to learn. For students to successfully move through middle and high school, they must have a solid reading foundation.

An effective way to ensure students have the needed reading skills is for educators to know whether students are below, on, or above their age group level. Additionally, teachers must know three more levels per student: frustration, instructional, and independent reading level.

Bottom-Up Theory

While there are many theories about how to teach reading, some have more success than others. One of those is the bottom-up approach.

This theory involves a step-by-step method of teaching proficiency of reading components that allow the student to become literate. This theory involves explicit and direct instruction in a building-block approach using the 5 components of reading during early childhood education.

The term “bottom-up” applies directly to how this reading process works. Early literacy’s primary focus is to develop the basic, foundational skills needed for mastery of reading. 

Reading activities in the bottom-up theory include students learning to read from the bottom (foundation) up to concepts like phonics and phonemic awareness. This means that children are first taught the basics to build a solid foundation and are then advanced to learning vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.

5 Reading Components

The whole process of reading has five central components. For students to develop their literacy skills properly, these concepts must be acquired:


Understanding the sounds that correspond with the letters of the alphabet, including short and long vowels. It also involves connecting the idea that letters correspond with sounds and those sounds make words.

Phonemic Awareness

Understanding the sounds that letter combinations have, including syllables, complete words, and consonant blends.


The understanding of the meaning of words and how to use them appropriately and adequately in sentences.


The capacity to read with the proper expression and speed, without errors. A fluent reader can read in the same manner as they speak.


The capacity to recall characters, events, and the main concept of the passage or story once read, understanding what has been read correctly.

Concluding Thoughts

The bottom-up theory is used widely worldwide due to the sequential approach it has. It recognizes that reading is a developmental process best learned from the bottom foundation up, growing in complexity as a student’s reading and understanding proficiency is developed.

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