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Top-Down Topic Webs

by Becky DeSmith | 1 | 1 Comment

A top-down topic web is one of the four student comprehension strategies from The Key Comprehension Routine.  It is a graphic organizer that presents topics and sub-topics in a hierarchical way, using varied shapes and placement on the page to represent the connections among the topics.

Often in training I get the following question:  How many topic webs should I make? I keep waiting for the rest of the question.  Are teachers asking how many to make over the course of a semester?  Are they asking me what the expectation is from their administrators?  I hope they are asking me how many top-down topic webs are needed for kids to be successful using them independently to support their comprehension, and that is how I respond.

It all has to do with human motivation.  Research shows we need to be at least 50% successful at something before we will be motivated to do it again.  It is why I do not downhill ski – my first attempts were horrific, I thought even life-threatening.  I have zero motivation to ski; I am even averse to cross country skiing because declines are inevitable.  Not doing it.

Transfer that to reading and comprehension.  If I am not at least 50% successful, why would I choose to read on my free time? Why would I choose to put energy and effort into this task of reading? Educators must use every strategy we can find to make students successful in comprehending what they read.  Top-down webs used before reading can frame a student’s comprehension, provide for them a GPS about what is ahead.  This helps them achieve a measure of success.  Topic webs used during reading can keep kids on the right highway; help them monitor their comprehension.   Topic webs used after reading can serve as a general study guide, allowing students to see their path in relation to the entire trip.  I have included several classroom examples of top-down topic webs below.

If a topic web is used once or twice during the course of a year, how successful do you think the student will become at using and making them?

I see top-down webs in my sleep (I know, here is where you tell me I need a life…). I have done them so frequently that it is a go-to strategy for me when I plan any writing task, discuss any book or article, organize my life.  I have done hundreds.  In schools where kids see them regularly in all content areas and know how to use them, these kids have probably seen hundreds.

The answer to the question? Do hundreds.

Top Down 2

Top Down 4

Top Down 5

Top Down 3


Becky DeSmith

Becky DeSmith Becky joined Keys to Literacy in 2007 and has been a literacy educator for over 35 years. She has taught at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, and been involved in many school and district-wide initiatives that address core literacy issues. She has been recognized as a Teacher of the Year by the International Reading Association.

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1 Comment

  1. Cristia Lesher

    Nicely written! The anecdotes were instructive AND interesting, which I especially appreciated, and your style is readable and original. I always appreciate it when a writer lets their personality show through into their writing. It makes for the best writing in my book.



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