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 modeling ways to teach GPCs from the beginning of literacy instruction and a discussion of how this practice fits in the current literacy research 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. .

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 Tool Box 2

  3. Real Spellers

  4. Beyond the Word 

  5. (Lyn Anderson, AUS)

  6. LEX (Gina Cooke)

  7. Rebecca Loveless

  8. Mary Beth Stevens

  9. Language Innerviews (Scott Mills)

  10. Language Insights

  11. Word Torque (Fiona Hamilton, Bangkok)

  12. Learning About Spelling (Sue Hegland)

  13. Sound Literacy

  14. 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)

NOTE! No sessions Oct 17 or 24 Due to conflicts with other workshops! I will be back Oct 31!

Recent articles on SWI and the Research & Extensive Interview

Structured Word Inquiry (SWI): Literacy instruction that makes sense of English spelling for students of all ages and abilities (Bowers. P, in press)

Click HERE for a pre-print of this article that will appear in the Patoss Summer 2022 Bulletin, vol 35, no 1. I think this is the shortest, most accessible article I have explaining the orthographic conventions addressed by SWI, and the place of SWI with regard to the theory and research on literacy instruction.

A promising new tool for literacy instruction: The morphological matrix (Ng, Bowers, P.N. & Bowers J. B., 2022)

Click HERE for a new article that is the first to investigate the role of the matrix. We show empirical evidence that presenting words in a base-centric model (the matrix) is more effective for memory than presenting words organized around affixes.

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.

See this new 15-min video I made to clarify the qualitative difference between the teaching of grapheme-phoneme correspondences in Phonics and SWI.

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

I was 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.


More WordWorks Resources

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.

Summer SWI Study with Pete

Email Pete <> wth questions.

10th Annual SWI Nueva Institute (on-line)

Pete Bowers with Rebecca Loveless as co-presenter.

Monday, June 26–Friday, June 30, 2023

Click HERE for details and registration.


Two confirmed special guest presenters

Douglas Harper (Etymonline) presents in the Thursday session

Carolee Fucigna (Early SWI expert, retired Nueva pre-school teacher) presents Wednesday

3-day Intro course June 26 to 28

3-day Advanced course June 28 to 30

5-day Full course June 26-30

Return of the Wolfe Island Summer Course July 25 - 28 , 2023!

Click HERE for a flyer with all the information about the course including fees etc. 

This is our first Summer Course since the pandemic and the only public multi-day in-person workshop I have booked. This course has relatively small group size due to the space and accommodation. Not only do we study together, but we break bread over lunch and dinner and there are many opportunities for people to share ideas experiences over the course of the 4-days. Being on this island has a real value in terms of focus. People do not need to go back home and shift gears to think about family chores let alone planning for school the next day! A number of spaces are already booked. Email me at <> soon if you are seriously interested.

NOTE: There is still room in the course, but accommodation at the hotel is almost full. You can attend without staying at the hotel or on the island, but book soon if you want to stay at the hotel (best option).

Consider these messages about the effect of my courses:

  1. My daughter is dyslexic and your course totally changed her life. After her tutor took your course, they both spent hours together breaking words apart and understanding how they work. They have so much fun doing this each session, and my daughter now reads full books at her grade-level! So Thank  you!

  2. 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!

The message below is in my previous WW Newsletter (#108) which shares stories of transformational learning from teachers very new to SWI. This one is from an SLP whose only support for SWI was my 5-Session General SWI course last March and a copy of my book.

  1. Hi Pete, I'm absolutely LOVING your book - Teaching How the Written Word Works! I've taught two of my more challenging clients how to be 'word scientists' and they've gotten soooo excited (after 1 session!). I could actually see the light bulbs turn on :D My younger client actually jumped out of his chair he was so excited-it was amazing!

  2. Today was the second session with my younger client and we started making hypotheses from our observations...He's excited to hear back from you... Btw, he's a pretty precocious 4th grader who's been really tired of learning how to spell, so you've completely changed his mind after 2 sessions!

Click THIS LINK for details about my on-line and in-person PD, fees etc. 

Click THIS LINK for descriptions of all my on-line courses.

Two new videos on “Spelling-Out Orthography”

I see the practice of spelling-out orthography as a key part of all of my SWI practice. I address it in virtually all my workshops, and have a specific 2-session course on the topic. I’m very excited to be able to point to these two new videos of kids using this practice expertly to guide both spelling and reading.

I have also updated my page on this topic to include a wide variety of videos on this topic over the years.

Click either screen shot below to see that video.

Click HERE for my updated page with a guide for spelling-out loud and many other videos and resources.


Explore my archive of WordWorks Newsletters and Special Publications at THIS LINK.

CLICK HERE for a pdf with links to these rich resources.  

Here are a couple of recent special publications about learning in my courses with many orthographic concepts and resources to support your learning.

Click HERE for a story about frustrated 9-year old dyslexic who finally gets traction with English spelling when his tutor changes gears to great effect an they go on the hunt for suffixes.

Click HERE for a story about A 7-year old dyslexic and his tutor new to SWI are determined to make sense of English spelling

Click HERE for my most recent special publication of a teacher new to SWI having great success with her pull-out group.