English – The Four Roles of the Reader

There are four different types of knowledge that students develop as their literacy evolves, which assists them in comprehending what they read (Holliday, 2008). This includes:

  • Semantic knowledge: knowledge about the topic of a text, including vocabulary
  • Grammatical knowledge: knowledge about language and how it works
  • Graphophonic knowledge: sound and letter relationships
  • Visual or pictorial knowledge: how to read the images in a text.

In literacy development, each of these forms of knowledge needs to be explicitly taught, with successful reading making up a combination of these skills. In putting it another way, Allan Luke and Peter Freebody (1999) identified the ‘four roles of the reader’, which is a framework for looking at the knowledge and skills readers need to be effective.


  • Code breaker – decoding the conventions of a text by understanding the relationship between spoken sounds and written symbols, the grammar of texts and their structural conventions
  • Text user – understanding the purposes of different text (their cultural and social functions), including knowing that different texts have different purposes, which shape the way texts are structured and formed
  • Text participant – comprehending texts, making meaning by drawing on their own experiences and knowledge and their knowledge of similar texts
  • Text analyst – understanding how texts position readers, knowing that texts are not ideologically neutral but represent someone’s views, knowing that texts empower or disempower certain groups and that information and language influences reader perceptions.

One of the interesting things I have observed in working with students one-on-one is that the ‘four roles of the reader’ provides a good framework for analysing the tools that students are harnessing as they read. Conversely it helps to diagnose which roles are not being engaged and should therefore be focused on in future. I have found Marcelle Holliday’s publication ‘Strategies for Reading Success’ to have some really good, targeted exercises for engaging each of the reading roles, and will post some of them up over the coming weeks.


Holliday, M. (2008). Strategies for Reading Success. PETAA: Newtown.

Luke, A. and P. Freebody. (1999). A Map of Possible Literacy Practices: further notes on the Four Resources Model in Practically Primary 4(2), ALEA: Adelaide.


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