Model of Text Comprehension

How people comprehend texts.

History and Orientation

A number of theories about reading exist in which different parts of the reading process are described: recognizing letters and words, syntactic parsing of sentences, understanding the meaning of words and sentences, incorporating the meaning of the text in other present knowledge about the same topic. One of the most influential theories is the theory of Kintsch and Van Dijk (Van Dijk & Kintsch, 1983). This theory describes the complete reading process, from recognizing words until constructing a representation of the meaning of the text. The emphasis of the theory is on understanding the meaning of a text. Kintsch continued working on the theory. In 1988, it was extended with the so-called construction-integration model (Kintsch, 1988), followed by a completely updated theory in 1998 (Kintsch, 1998). This theory is often used as a starting point for constructing own models and theories, which several authors have done.

Core Assumptions and Statements

When a reader reads a text, an "understanding" of the text is created in the reader's mind. The process of constructing a situation model is called the "comprehension process". Kintsch and van Dijk assume that readers of a text build three different mental representations of the text: a verbatim representation of the text, a semantic representation that describes the meaning of the text and a situational representation of the situation to which the text refers. The propositional representation consists initially of a list of propositions that are derived from the text. After having read a complete sentence, this list of propositions is transformed into a network of propositions. If the text is coherent, all nodes of the network are connected to each other. The situational representation is comparable with the mental models described by Johnson-Laird. Text comprehension can be improved by instruction that helps readers use specific comprehension strategies.

Conceptual Model

Source: Chun, M. (1997). Research on text comprehension in multimedia environments. Language Learning & Technology 1 (1): 60-81.

Favorite Methods

To be added.

Scope and Application

Text comprehension can be used for studying how people comprehend text in a second language with the help of multimodal instructional materials.


An example of reading ability is vocabulary knowledge: there may be a causal connection between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension. Another example is related to a cognitive aspect. A learner selects relevant information from what is presented and constructs mental representations of the text. This process is moderated by individual differences, such as prior knowledge, abilities, preferences, strategies and effective factors.


Key publications

Van Dijk, T. A., & Kintsch, W. (1983). Strategies of discourse comprehension. New York: Academic Press.

Kintsch, W. & Van Dijk, T.A. (1978). Toward a model of text comprehension and production. Psychological Review, 85 (5), 363-394.

Kintsch, W. (1988). The use of knowledge in discourse processing: A construction-integration model. Psychological Review, 95, 163-182.

Kintsch, W. (1998). Comprehension: A paradigm for cognition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Alderson, J. C. (1984). Reading in a foreign language: A reading problem or a language problem? In J. C. Alderson & A. H. Urquhart (Eds.), Reading in a foreign language (pp. 1-27). London: Longman.

Anderson, R. C., & Pearson, P. D. (1984). A schema-theoretic view of basic processes in reading comprehension. In P. D. Pearson, R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, & P. Mosenthal (Eds.), The handbook of reading research (pp. 255-292). New York: Longman.

Carrell, P. L. (1984b). Evidence of a formal schema in second language comprehension. Language Learning, 34, 87-113.

Corbett, S. S., & Smith, F. (1984). Identifying student learning styles: Proceed with caution! The Modern Language Journal, 68, 212-221.

Davis, J. N., & Bistodeau, L. (1993). How do L1 and L2 reading differ? Evidence from think aloud protocols. The Modern Language Journal, 77(4), 459-472.

Ekstrom, R. B., French, J. W., & Harman, H. H. (1976). Manual for kit of factor-referenced cognitive tests. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

Gardner, R. C., Day, J. B., & MacIntyre, P. D. (1992). Integrative motivation, induced anxiety, and language learning in a controlled environment. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 14, 197-214.

Knight, S. (1994). Dictionary use while reading: The effects on comprehension and vocabulary acquisition for students of different verbal abilities.The Modern Language Journal, 78(3), 285-299.

Mayer, R. E. (1984). Aids to text comprehension. Educational Psychologist, 19, 30-42.

Schnotz, W. (1993). On the relation between dual coding and mental models in graphics comprehension. Learning and Instruction, 3, 247-249.

Smith, F. (1979). Reading without nonsense. New York: Teachers College Press.

Smith, F. (1982). Understanding reading. (3rd ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Tang, G. (1992). The effect of graphic representation of knowledge structures on ESL reading comprehension. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 14, 177-195.

Teichert, H. U. (1996). A comparative study using illustrations, brainstorming, and questions as advance organizers in intermediate college German conversation classes. The Modern Language Journal, 80(4), 509-517.

Reference on theory:

Noordman, L.G.M., en Maes, A. A. (2000). Het verwerken van tekst. In: A.Braet (red.) Taalbeheersing als communicatiewetenschap (pp.29-60). Coutinho Bussum.

See also Communication processes, Language Theories and Linguistics