Teaching Tuesday: The Simple View of Reading

Dr. Leslie Foley and Amanda Errington, Faculty, College of Education

Open book on desk representing the simple view of reading

Although presented almost three decades ago, the Simple View of Reading is still unknown to many classroom educators. In 1986, researchers Gough and Tunmer presented the Simple View of Reading, a formula that reveals two essential components of reading: word decoding and language comprehension.1

Gogh and Tunmer presented this view to clarify the role of decoding in reading comprehension. The key idea is that both the ability to decode and language comprehension are necessary for reading comprehension. Some educators believed, and still believe, that decoding skills are not necessary if a child has strong language capabilities.

When decoding skills are not explicitly taught, students tend to compensate for weak decoding by guessing or using picture clues to interpret meaning. But when students have strong decoding skills, they can sound out unfamiliar words to read accurately and fluently. If we agree that the ultimate goal of reading is to understand and comprehend what we read, then decoding and language comprehension are two important factors to achieve this goal.

The Simple View Formula

The Simple View formula presented by Gough and Tunmer (1986) is:

Decoding (D) x Language Comprehension (LC) = Reading Comprehension (RC)

The Simple View formula and supporting studies show that a student’s reading comprehension (RC) score can be predicted if decoding (D) skills and language comprehension (LC) abilities are known. Notice the multiplicative nature of the formula, where decoding and language comprehension are multiplied, not added. The values of D and LC must be between 0 and 1. A score of 0 (or 0%) means no skill or ability at all and 1 (100%) indicates perfection. If either decoding or language comprehension is 0, the product is also zero.

Why the Simple View of Reading Matters

Learning to read consists of developing skills in two critical areas: reading each word in texts accurately and fluently and comprehending the meaning of texts being read. This is known as the Simple View of Reading. The Simple View of Reading is a mathematical formula with three variables. If we have two variables, the third can be estimated using the formula. By only assessing two of the three elements to effective reading, time and money can both be saved. Specific interventions can also be created to support students’ precise reading struggles.


The Simple View of Reading shows that reading comprehension abilities are dependent on decoding skills and language comprehension abilities. These factors can be taught and assessed separately. Students with below grade level expectations of reading can be assessed for deficits in both decoding and language skills. The Simple View of Reading highlights the essential components of effective reading instruction, thus providing us as classroom educators with knowledge on reading instruction and intervention. We should be equipped as educators with knowledge on early reading instruction in order to support students in the development of strong language and decoding skills.

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Retrieved from:

1 Gough, P.B. & Tunmer, W.E. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 6–10.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.