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)

New article on SWI and the Research & Extensive Interview

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

Given some serious mischaracterizations and misunderstandings about SWI in peer-reviewed research, I recently published an article on PsyArXiv that you can download HERE.

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.

I was motivated to write that article and create this video in response a peer-reviewed article by Buckingham (2020) in which she made the dramatic and false claim that SWI cannot make “any claim that SWI teaches GPCs [grapheme-phoneme-correspondences]”

I use that article and video not only to clarify how SWI makes sense of grapheme-phoneme correspondences, but also provides an overview of key conventions of English orthography that drive SWI practice, but are absent typical instruction. I also go into the theory and research related to SWI.

Interview on SWI with Education Podcast ‘Pedagogy Non-Grata”

I was recently invited to do an interview to discuss the theory, practice and research of SWI on this podcast. The host was new to SWI which provided a rich opportunity to respond to the kinds of questions novices to this work typically have.  See Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE.  I recommend that you follow the links to videos of the interview as it is much more effective to describe orthographic conventions while looking the linguistic tools we use in SWI. Part 2 is divided into two videos -- the last one emphasizes the research.


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

Some gems from the WW archives!

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.


Click THIS LINK for details.

I began offering this free weekly session at the beginning of the COVID pandemic in an effort to ensure teachers and parents had a place to pose questions about SWI whether or not they could afford to attend more formal on-line courses.

The response has been so rewarding (and fun) that I’ve only missed a handful Mondays since the first session on March 23rd, 2020. I plan to continue indefinitely even once we are past the pandemic.

There is no sign up, just a regular date and time to join. Most weeks we simply address questions people bring. Some weeks we have a special guest, or planned investigation to share.  Every week has novices and experts who come to share their questions/experience, or just listen in.

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.

WW Newsletter #104:

Click HERE to download from Real Spellers.

Includes links to a link to a new piece “The Challenge of Challenging Long-Held Assumptions” and links to amazing resources from colleagues working with SWI. It also points to the Spelling Symposium hosted by the Dyslexia Training Institute  with Fiona Hamilton & Sue Hegland (Oct 2) and Pete Bowers & Mary Beth Steven (Oct 8).

General 5-session SWI Course in October, Register by email HERE.

Click THIS LINK to download the flyer (screen shot below) with details

and a detailed description of this 5-session SWI course.

A message from a participant in a recent 5-session course...

  1. I wish our classes did not have to end, I am learning so much and believe in this so much. I see my kids that I've been working with now finally understanding and reading and problem solving and having fun! I have so many stories and not enough time to tell them all, but every single one of them is positive and full of smiles!

Upcoming Public On-Line SWI Workshops

To register for any of my on-line courses, email <>


Homophone Principle & Function and Lexical (Content) Words:

Make sense of countless high frequency ‘irregular’ words

(Single 2-hour session $50 USD)

North America: Thursday Sept 30

  1. 6:30 -8:30 pm - 7pm (EST — Toronto, NYC)

Australia: Friday Oct 1 6:30 -8:30 pm EST

  1. 8:30 -10:00 pm (Melbourne time)

Dyslexia Training Institute’s Spelling Symposium: Click HERE for more information and to register

  1. Fiona Hamilton & Sue Hegland (Oct 2)

  2. Pete Bowers & Mary Beth Steven (Oct 8).

Understanding the Tools of SWI and Working with Teaching How the Written Word Works

(3-session course - 2 hrs ea. $120 USD)

Wednesdays 7pm EST Oct 13, 20, 27)

General 5-session SWI Course $200 USD,
(Click HERE for detailed description of this course.)

North America: Fridays Oct 15, 22, 29, Nov 5, 12
• 5:30 pm -7pm (EST — Toronto, NYC)

Australia: Saturdays Oct 16, 23, 30, Nov 6, 13

• 8:00 am - 9:30 am (Adelaide time)

Course descriptions

Click HERE for a document describing the courses listed above and more.