The Three Cueing Systems
Wren, Ph.D. ~ © 2003, BalancedReading.com
One of the most popular and
widely referenced models for word recognition is the Three Cueing Systems
model. This model suggests that there are three cues that good readers
make use of to identify individual words in text. The model further
places these cues in a hierarchical order of importance.
The first and most important cue
is semantics (sometimes called context). The range of possible words
is restricted by the context, so when children come to a word they do not
know, they can "guess" based upon the context.
The second cue is syntax.
English places restrictions on the order that words can be placed in a
meaningful sentence, so when semantics and syntax are both considered by
a young reader, the model suggests that they can make an even more educated
"guess" about individual words in the passage.
The third, and least important
cue, according to this model, is the letter-sound information (orthographic
So this model suggests that when
good readers are reading, they are depending upon semantic and syntactic
cues to guess each word, and then they occationally "sample" from the text
to confirm their predictions.
At BalancedReading.com, we always
defer to the research, and in this case, the research suggests that the
Three Cueing Systsms model is inaccurate. Simple logic reveals some
of the problems with the model. First of all, if we depend so heavily
on context to identify words, how do we identify the first few words in
a sentence? Or how do we identify words when they are out of context?
Secondly, English syntax is not all that constraining -- in the sentence
"Mary wrote her answers on ____," the blank could be an article ("the"
or "a") or it could be a noun ("paper") or it could be a proper noun ("Billy's")
or it could be a pronoun ("her" or "his") or it could be an adjective ("white"
"flat" "smooth" "lined" "green" "perfect" etc, etc, etc.).
When you think about it, there is
simply no way to accurately "guess" words in sentences, and research has
shown this to be true. People are only correct about 1 out of 10
times when they try to "guess" content words in running text. To
decode text, the first and really only cue that good readers use is the
orthographic information -- the visual information contained in the letters
in the words.
For further reading, here is a brief
paper (in PDF format) that describes the model and some of its more
apparent flaws. For further reading on the Three Cueing Systems,
see the recent
article published by Marilyn Jager Adams.