About WordWorks

(See links to research at bottom of page)


Background on WordWorks & Peter Bowers

Peter Bowers, PhD, is the founder of the WordWorks Literacy Centre in Ontario, Canada. For most of his ten years as an elementary school teacher in international schools and in Canada, Peter shared the common view that English spelling is highly irregular and full of exceptions to be memorized.

In his 9th year in the classroom, he and his Grade 4 students started to make sense of the spelling system when they began working with a resource called Real Spelling. Instead of studying lists of words, or spelling patterns with countless exceptions, they used scientific inquiry to investigate the underlying structures and conventions that link related words with consistent spelling despite changes in pronunciation. For example, if a student asked, “Why is there a <g> in sign?” the class would look for related words containing sign and find words like signal, signature, design and designate. Not only did we find a good reason for that letter <g>, but we discovered meaning connections between words we had never considered before; deepening and expanding our vocabulary in the process. Most importantly, through investigations like this, our class became a team of engaged word scientists. A surprising spelling was no longer experienced as another frustrating “irregular” word to memorize. Now words like does, rough, and business became launching pads for discovery.

This revelatory classroom experience inspired Peter to begin his graduate work. His Grade 4/5 morphological intervention published in the journal Reading and Writing (Bowers & Kirby, 2010) tested the effect of this instructional approach they called “structured word inquiry” and found positive effects on vocabulary learning.

Peter Bowers’ workshops and presentations are engaging, practical sessions that model structured word inquiry classroom activities. His presentations have been received enthusiastically at international schools and scientific conferences in Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and North America.

For the school year 2015 - 2016 he was hired as a “visiting scholar” by the prestigious Nueva School (three-time winner of the US Department of Education National Blue Ribbon Award) near San Francisco. After yearly visits working with teachers and students in the classrooms and SWI Nueva Summer Institutes, the staff was ready to dive even deeper to integrate SWI into regular practice at all the division levels. (Click HERE for more on SWI at Nueva and HERE for a forum of SWI Investigations growing from this work at Nueva.)

Links to get started...

  1. The WordWorks Kingston YouTube page is full of examples of this instruction in action.

  2. Lyn Anderson’s “Beyond The Word” blog is an incredibly rich free resource for resources and ideas for structured word inquiry in the earliest years. Lyn is a master.

  3. The two TEDEd videos by Gina Cooke are wonderful introductions to the nature of English spelling.

  4. Explore this website for free resources and examples of structured word inquiry from schools around the world. This link on “spelling-out word structure” is a good starting place.

  5. Watch the video introducing the Word Microscope at this page to see an example word investigation with word sums and a matrix.

  6. Click HERE for a WordWorks Newsletter targeting resources and ideas for getting started in classrooms.

  7. Click HERE for a video by Sue Hegland (Learning About Spelling) and Timoty Houghe, (Education prof at Northern State University) called “Discovering the Sense in English Spelling: The foundation of Literacy for Every Student. This video was produced for the Upper Midwest Branch of the International Dyslexia Association and provides a great introduction to SWI from the perspective of people beginning with an Orton-Gillingham backround -- or any background with a phonologically centric instructional approach.

  8. Click HERE for an excellent assortment of links and resources put together by Alyson Kaneshiro, Ed.D, for her education class in preparation for an online workshop I conducted for her students.

  9. View the videos below including a public lecture Peter Bowers gave at the University of Alberta and on-line sessions for various literacy organizations.

The 2015 Summer Nueva Journal: Articles on SWI at Nueva

Peter had been working with teachers and students at Nueva before his position as a visiting scholar for the 2015-2016 school year. The Summer 2015 issue of the Nueva Journal highlighted two foundations of instruction at Nueva: Design Thinking & Engineering and Structured Word Inquiry.

With Nueva’s permission, I am sharing the digital forms of their articles on SWI. These piees were not written by me, so they offer an excellent perspective on SWI from a school that has taken on this work comprehensively.

Click HERE for a page with links to those articles.

Pete’s Research related to Structured Word Inquiry

Published articles

Anderson, Whiting, Bowers, Venable, (2019), Learning to be literate: An orthographic journey with young students in R. Cox, S. Feez, L. Beveridge (Eds.) The Alphabetic Principle and beyond... surveying the landscape. Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA).

Bowers, J.S. & Bowers, P.N., (2021). The science of reading provides little or no support for the widespread claim that systematic phonics should be part of initial reading instruction: A response to Buckinghamdoi.org/10.31234/osf.io/f5qyu

Bowers, J.S., Bowers, P.N. (2019). A case for why both sides in the ‘reading wars’ debate are wrong — and a proposed solution. Washington Post article in column by Valerie Strauss

Bowers, J.S., Bowers, P.N. (2018). Progress in reading instruction requires a better understanding of the English spelling system. Current Directions in Psychological Science  27, 407-412. 

Bowers, J.S., and Bowers, P.N. (2018). The importance of correctly characterizing the English spelling system when devising and evaluating methods of reading instruction:  Comment on Taylor, Davis, and Rastle (2017). Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 71, 1497-1500.

Bowers, J.S. & Bowers, P.N. (2018). There is no evidence to support the hypothesis that systematic phonics should precede morphological instruction: Response to Rastle and colleagues PsyArXiv. https://psyarxiv.com/zg6wr/

Bowers, J.S., Bowers, P.N. (2017). Beyond Phonics: The Case for Teaching Children the Logic of the English Spelling System. Educational Psychologist, 2, 124-141.

Bowers, P. (2022, April 2). Structured Word Inquiry (SWI): Literacy instruction that makes sense of English spelling for students of all ages and abilities. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/aktzw

Bowers, P.N. (2021) Structured Word Inquiry (SWI) Teaches Grapheme-Phoneme Correspondences More Explicitly Than Phonics Does: An open letter to Jennifer Buckingham and the reading research community. doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/7qpyd

Bowers, P.N., Cooke, G. (2012, Fall). Morphology and the Common Core: Building students’ understanding of the Written Word. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, 31-35

Bowers, P.N., Kirby, J.R., & Deacon, S.H. (2010) The Effects of Morphological Instruction on Literacy Skills: A Systematic Review of the Literature, Review of Educational Research, 80, 144–179.

Bowers, P.N. & Kirby, J.R. (2010) Effects of Morphological instruction on Vocabulary Acquisition, Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 23, 515–537.

Georgiou, G. K., Savage, R., Dunn, K., Bowers, P., & Parrila, R. (2021). Examining the effects of Structured Word Inquiry on the reading and spelling skills of persistently poor Grade 3 readers. Journal of Research in Reading, 44(1), 131-153.

Kirby, J. R. & Bowers, P. N. (2018). The effects of morphological instruction on vocabulary learning, reading, and spelling. In R. Berthiaume, D. Daigle, & A. Desrochers (Eds.), Issues in Morphological Processing. Routledge.

Kirby, J. R. & Bowers, P. N. (2017). Morphological instruction and literacy:  Binding phonological, orthographic, and semantic features of words. In K. Cain, D. Compton, & R. Parrila, (Eds.), Theories of reading development. Amsterdam, NL: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Kirby, J.R. & Bowers, P.N. (2012). Morphology Works. What Works? Research into Practice, Ontario Ministry of Education Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat.

Kirby, J.R., Deacon, S.H., Bowers, P.N., Izenberg, L. Wade-Wooley, L., Parrila, R. (2012) Morphological awareness and reading ability, Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 25, 389-410.

Ng, M., Bowers, P.N. & Bowers, J.S., (Preprint).  A promising new tool for literacy instruction: The morphological matrix.

Teacher Resource Book

Bowers, P. (2009). Teaching how the written word works. (See this link.)

Doctoral dissertation

Bowers, P. (2012). Morphological Instruction in the Elementary Classroom

Master’s  Thesis (2006-2007 Queen’s Faculty of Education Thesis Prize)

Bowers, P. (2006) Adding Transparency to Morphologically Opaque Words Through Instruction

WordWorks Presentations On-Line

Over the years various institutions and blogs have invited me to present on structured word inquiry in on-line contexts or for permission for videos of sessions to be posted on blogs. I’ve collected some of those on this page. These presentations can be much more effective at communicating these ideas than pages of text. I hope you find them informative.

Interview on SWI with “Go Dyslexia Podcast with Dr. Erica Warren (Click HERE for the video)

I was delighted to be invited to talk with Dr. Warren about Structured Word Inquiry on her podcast. We go into detail about orthography and how we can help all students, but especially struggling students by explicitly teaching how our writing system works.

Click HERE for the website for the podcast with many related links to the discussion.

Interview on SWI with Education Podcast ‘Pedagogy Non-Grata”  (April 2021)

In this interview I discuss the theory, practice and research of SWI. The host was new to SWI which provided a rich opportunity to respond to the kinds of questions novices to this work typically have.

Links to listen to podcast or watch videos

I recommend the videos for clearer understanding.

  1. Video 1 is HERE. (1 hr, 13 min -- same as audio Part) 

  2. Video 2 is HERE. (33 min)

  3. Video 3 is HERE. (35 min -- research focus)

Those interested in the research discussion can find it near the end of video 2 at the 29 minute mark at THIS LINK. That discussion continues in Video 3 (33 min).

To listen to audio...

  1. Audio of Part 1 is HERE.

  2. Audio of Part 2 is HERE.

TEDxYouth Talk at The Nueva School (2019)

(Recommended as a an introduction to the ‘big picture’ of SWI)

Click HERE for this 18 min video of my talk at this TEDx event organized by students at The Nueva School near San Francisco that has done such seminal work with SWI. This video provides a brief overview to the theory and practice.

Click HERE for a description of SWI from the Nueva School with other helpful, short videos.

Presentation for Dyslexia Training Institute’s 2nd annual virtual conference (2018)

Click HERE for a video presentation by Pete Bowers for the Dyslexia Training Institute’s 2nd Annual Virtual Conference. This video tries to clarify exactly what structured word inquiry is, and where it fits in the research.

Click HERE for a pdf with selected notes to go along with the above video.

Interview on SWI with Scott Mills (2017)

Click HERE for this interview with SWI expert Scott Mills (just under 30 min) provides a rich introduction to SWI theory, research and practice.

Interview on SWI with Sue Hegland and Upper Midwest Branch of the IDA (2015)

Click HERE for video of a Structured Word Inquiry webinar I conducted for the Upper Midwest Branch of the IDA in 2015.  I’ve been told that many that this webinar was a particularly useful introduction to the basic ideas behind structured word inquiry.

Pete’s talk for ‘Weekend with the Experts’ AARI Lecture Series hosted by the University of Alberta (2012)

Click HERE for a video of a public lecture I gave at the University of Alberta introducing Structured Word Inquiry.

See this and other videos on literacy from the AARI series here.