Bottom-up theories of the reading process depend on phonetic awareness and word-by-word decoding strategies, the System for Adult Basic Education Support reports. Much like solving a puzzle piece by piece, early reading skills build upon each other until students are reading with fluency and high levels of comprehension.

Print Awarenss

Before students can learn to read, bottom-up theorists believe they must develop print awareness. Pre-readers must understand that the shapes and lines on a page represent letters and when put together, represent different words. Bottom-up teaching strategies first help pre-readers recognize that printed words provide information, according to an article by the Indianapolis Public Library. Once students learn that print is read from left to right and top to bottom and that there are spaces between words, they can begin to understand that words in print convey meaning, as Reading Rockets reports.

Letters and Phonics

Bottom-up teaching strategies help students learn letter recognition while developing print awareness. As they begin to recognize and identify letters, teachers begin developing students' phonetic awareness. Students then learn to pronounce common letter combinations, such as “th” or “st.” They learn to recognize similar words with differing pronunciations, such as "baked" and "naked, " and words with multiple spellings or exceptions to common phonetic rules, according to Dr. Jon Reyhner of Northern Arizona University.

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Decoding and Practice

Decoding is a major piece of the puzzle for students learning to read using bottom-up theories. Once they have developed phonetic awareness, students begin decoding by sounding out each letter or letter combination in a word. As they learn to read several simple words, students practice reading simple stories. They learn to sound out increasingly difficult material by sounding out letters in a word, one word at a time. Though the decoding process can be slow at first, readers begin to automatically recognize some words. Over time, they are able to sound out new words more quickly, according to an excerpt from “The Essentials of Teaching Children to Read,” published on

Reading Fluency

Reading fluently is the final step of bottom-up reading theories. Beginning readers might not understand much of what they are reading as they concentrate on decoding and pronouncing each word. Once they are able to recognize words quickly, they begin to not only read text but improve comprehension, according to “Fluent Reading,” published on the PBS website. Fluency develops and improves over time, with practice and repetition.

About the Author

Amy Pearson earned dual bachelor's degrees in management and horticulture. She is a licensed elementary teacher for kindergarten through sixth grades. Pearson specializes in flower and vegetable gardening, landscape design, education, early childhood and child development.