Contact: Peter Bowers  PO Box 295 Wolfe Island, ON, Canada  K0H 2Y0

Phone: (613) 385-2084 


Copyright Susan and Peter Bowers 2008

Structured Word Inquiry:

(Scientific Word Investigation)

“Word Scientists” look for the deepest word structures that make sense of the greatest number of words.

Click HERE for background on SWI.

Marcia Henry on WordWorks:

“Pete & Sus Bowers are great ‘wordsters’ who provide teachers with an in-depth understanding of the English language.  Teachers can gain so much practical knowledge  from their teacher resource book, "Teaching How the Written Word Works" and their impressive and informative online WordWorks newsletter.  I'd love to attend one of their workshops!  Observing classrooms of teachers who have worked closely with WordWorks was a highlight of my visit to Kingston. Students were so involved and fascinated by investigating words. How fortunate they are to have wordsmiths like Sean Lonergan and Skot Caldwell as their teachers!”

Marcia Henry is past president of The International Dyslexia Association

and former director of the Center for Educational Research on Dyslexia at San Jose State University


sign + al → signal

re + sign → resign

de + sign + ate → designate

sign + ate/ + ure → signature

do + es → does

do + ne → done

do + ing → doing

go + es → goes

go + ne → gone

go + ing → going

Making sense of how words work by investigating morphology, etymology and phonology.

English base <sign> from Latin root signum

"mark, token, indication, symbol”

Applying the Principle of Backwards Design from UbD to Structured Word Inquiry

Click here for a WordWorks article on developing

enduring understandings of how the written word works.

"This article by Pete Bowers makes some interesting connections between UbD, Real Spelling and the development of critical thinking skills in students."

Bill and Ochan Powell - Education Across Frontiers


Resources for Spelling-Out and Writing-Out Word Structure with Word Sums

REVISED (May 25, 2018)

  1. BulletA free WW resource: “Spelling-Out Word Structure”

  2. Click here for information on spelling-out word sums including a free pdf guide for teachers who want to use this process for learning, instruction and assessment.

  3. BulletSpelling-Out Word Structure: Targeting Central Concepts, Assessment & Instruction

See a new article and video addressing these ideas all building on a practical lesson growing from a Grade 1 student’s question, “Why is their an <h> in school? You don’t hear it.”

Click here for a video of an on-line Skype session addressing this topic with Grade 2 teachers and an article addressing how this topic links to the UbD.


Must See Links

  1. BulletA New Hub for Research Related to SWI: Jeff Bowers’ Blog

Click HERE to go to a new blog by my brother Jeff Bowers, a cognitive scientist from the University of Bristol. We have written a number of recent articles related to SWI. You can find that work in this blog (and at the bottom of my About WordWorks page).

More importantly, Jeff does a great job of explaining the context of this research in his blog posts. I highly recommend exploring this page often, and adding your comments to the discussion!

  1. Bullet Scientific Word Investigations in the Classroom & Beyond

Click here for a video on the crucial place of explicit instruction about grapheme-phoneme correspondences in structured word inquiry. This is a topic that is widely misunderstood and mischaracterized, especially by people who hear about SWI second hand. I have a series of videos on this topic planned, but this one I hope provides a useful over view.

Click here for a video of Nueva pre-school teacher Carolee Fucigna as they create a morphological web on the base <rain>. See how straight froward it is to investigate morphological families with readers and non-readers. 

How can I start?

Click here for a post from Rebecca Loveless on “Word Bag Excitement” that offers teachers a sense of this excellent activity for studying word families modeled on Lyn Anderson’s work. This is a great reference for jumping in. Rebecca’s site has many more posts to explore too.

Click here for Mary Beth Steven’s brilliant recent post “Outer Beauty Attracts, but Inner Beauty Captivates.” This is a wonderful way to compare studying real “word families” compared to words that simply rhyme. Explore her whole blog!

Click here for an inspiring post, “Comprehending Spelling” from Sue Hegland’s excellent blog, “Learning About Spelling”. This is a short, accessible and eloquent case for why we should do the obvious -- teach our written word works.


Tools for making matrices

Free trial versions of matrix making software for morphological analysis available for download

Word Microscope: Tutorial Video & User’s Guide

Click here for a “User’s Guide” for working with this computer tool including links to tutorial films, complementary resources and links to related research. 

Video introducing the new “Mini Matrix Maker”

Watch this video to see how teachers and students can easily create matrices from word sums on Mac or PC computers with Neil Ramsden’s “Mini Matrix Maker”.


About WordWorks

See an introduction to WordWorks and Structured Word Inquiry

(including videos) here

Key Links

  1. BulletRelated Websites

  2. Real Spelling Spellinars

  3. Real Spellers

  4. Beyond the Word     (Lyn Anderson, AUS)

  5. LEX (Gina Cooke)

  6. Rebecca Loveless

  7. Mary Beth Stevens

  8. Language Innerviews (Scott Mills)

  9. Language Insights

  10. Word Torque (Fiona Hamilton, Bangkok)

  11. Learning About Spelling (Sue Hegland)

  12. Sound Literacy

  13. WW on YouTube

<s> /s/

E.g., sign, signal, assign

<s> /z/

E.g., design, resign,

does, goes

Explore Lyn Anderson’s excellent blog with illustrations and resources about structured word inquiry for all ages at this link .

Lyn has been developing her understanding and practice in this area for over a decade.  Her lessons and ideas  for morphological instruction from the start are just exceptional.

Structured Word Inquiry at

The Nueva School

Click HERE to see the page on the Nueva School website describing how Structured Word Inquiry has transformed the instruction at this top US private school. It includes a video illustrating how this work is integrated across the grades.

WordWorks Literacy Centre

Spelling it like it is!

Nothing motivates like understanding

Free, weekly open-ended on-line SWI sessions with Pete

(Mondays 5pm EST,  Tuesday Mornings Australia)

On-line, real-time (not recorded) SWI courses

with Pete Bowers Starting in March!

  1. Click HERE for a description of all the on-line courses I currently teach.

Courses and times above don’t work for you?

Click HERE for descriptions of the on-line courses I currently. If you see one you are interested in, email me at <> to see if we can organize a course for you and your colleagues/institution. I would be interested in running another 5-session course or any of my other courses that works better for people in different time zones starting the week of March 8.

  1. 2)Understanding Morphology, Etymology, Working with Etymonline & Constructing Matrices (2-session course, 2-hours ea)

  2. Click HERE for flyer (below) with with course details and link to register.

  3. Click HERE to email Pete and register/inquire directly.

North America: March 12 & 19

7:30 - 9:00 pm EST  (1.5 hour sessions)

Australia (Melbourne): March 13 & 20

March 13th) 11:30 am start

March 20th) 10:30 am start

(Different daylight savings in AUS and North America!)

  1. 1)5-Session General SWI Course for novices and experts

  2. Click HERE for flyer with a detailed description of the course and link to register.

  3. Click HERE to email Pete and register/inquire directly.

North America: March 11, 18, 25, April 1, 8

7:30 - 9:00 pm EST  (1.5 hour sessions)

Australia (Melbourne): March 12, 19, 26, April 2, 9

Structured Word Inquiry (SWI) Teaches Grapheme-Phoneme Correspondences More Explicitly Than Phonics Does: An open letter to Jennifer Buckingham and the reading research community

Peter Bowers, Feb. 5, 2021


This “open letter” responds to a recent article by Buckingham (2020) which made the claim that the instructional approach known as “Structured Word Inquiry” (SWI) does not teach grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPC).  I counter this claim and provide evidence for SWI’s teaching of GPCs by citing not only the publications on SWI, including the original article introducing it in 2010, but also provide many links to publicly available illustrations of GPC instruction by teachers working with SWI. A description is provided of the qualitative differences between how GPCs are taught in SWI and phonics. Unlike phonics, SWI explicitly teaches the role of morphology and etymology for making sense of grapheme choice in our morphophonemic language and provides graphic representations of orthographic structure to support this instruction. Research evidence about the effects of morphological instruction, including its positive effects on phonological learning, provide a strong basis to motivate more explicit research attention to structured word inquiry in general and specifically as a proposal for a novel form of instruction about GPCs across a wide range of ages and abilities. The debate about whether SWI type instruction is appropriate in the earliest instruction is addressed. I highlight two tools used in SWI, the matrix and the word sum. I show why these are essential for teaching the interrelation of morphology and phonology, but have been largely ignored by the research community so far.

New article on SWI and the Research

Given some serious mischaracterizations and misunderstandings about SWI in peer-reviewed research, I recently published this article on PsyArXiv. See title and abstract below.

Click HERE for article.

At right is a screen shot of this new 15-min video I made to clarify the qualitative difference between the teaching of grapheme-phoneme correspondences in Phonics and SWI.

This Newsletter points to the new article I published addressing misunderstandings and misrepresentations about SWI in the research (See more including abstract above.)

I point to rich new resources from Lyn Anderson and Ann Whiting (Caught in the Spell of Words)  for teachers/tutors working with SWI.

I also point to resources related to learning with the newly available Tool Box 2 that I highlighted in the previous WW Newsletter #100.

WordWorks Newsletters & Resources

WW Newsletter #101: The return of the Real Spelling Tool Box 2 and more!


Click HERE for this Newsletter.

Click HERE for an inspiring story from a tutor that illustrates the fact that far from inhibiting the learning of grapheme-phoneme correspondences, studying these conventions within the context of morphology is a necessary condition for making sense of how grapheme-phoneme correspondences work.

Revised <sign> Lesson in “Teaching How the Written Word Works”

I have posted a pdf at this link on Real Spellers with a revised <sign> lesson after learning that what I had presented as an <-ify> suffix can be analyzed further. That pdf shares the evidence that convinced me to make this change. I also use this learning experience to share a key feature about matrices and word sums.

Books printed after May 2013 already include the revised lesson. You know you have the revised version if you see on <ify> suffix on the <sign> lesson on page 8. Even if you have the revised version, I recommend you download this pdf to gain from the explanation that helped me understand why this revision was needed.


SWI for Early Literacy 5-Session Course co-led by Pete Bowers & expert Pre-School SWI teacher Carolee Fucigna

Click HERE to email Pete and register.

Click HERE for detailed description of this course.

North America: Wednesdays Mar 31, April 7, 14, 21 & 28

8 pm - 10 pm (EST)

5pm - 7 pm (PST)

Australia (Melbourne):

April 1 (11 am - 1 pm)

April 8, 15, 22, 29 (10 am - noon)

(Different daylight savings in AUS and North America!)

Full-Day Workshop co-led by Pete Bowers & Doug Harper (Etymonline Author) timed for Australia.
Australia: Sat March 27
• 9am - 3pm Melbourne time

North America Fri March 26
• 3pm - 9pm PST; 6pm - midnight EST

Details for registration TBA. Click HERE to Email Julie Shepherd and inquire/reserve a spot

DTI's 5th Annual Dyslexia Virtual Conference April 2-23

Click HERE for details on this excellent annual conference and to register.

Annual Nueva SWI Institute continues on-line June 28-July 2! Save the date! After last year’s successful move to the on-line version of this great annual event, we are preparing to continue. Details to come. Email me <> to inquire.

I began offering this weekly time people can enter a video conference “Zoom Room” to ask questions, follow others questions and just discuss orthographic investigations people may be interested in at the beginning of the pandemic with so many teachers and parents stuck at home. It has proven to be so productive and fun that I intend to keep it going as long as I can even after life gets back to normal.

There is no sign up, just a regular date and time to join. I tried to pick a time that works for as wide a range of locations as possible.

Adults are welcome to have their kids join the sessions as well.

Click THIS LINK for more details. Note that the times given apply every week, the date is just for the first class.

Click THIIS LINK for a document reflecting on learning from the first session that is filled with links to free resources to build understanding of scientific word investigation.