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


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.

Refereed Journal 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. (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., Bowers, P.N. (2018). The importance of correctly characterising the English spelling system when devising and evaluating methods of reading instruction: Comment on Taylor, Davis, and Rastle (2017). Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

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.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.

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.

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.

Lexercise Live Broadcast

In 2012, Sandi Barrie Blackly of Lexcercise asked if I would present for one of their webinars. Here’s how they described it:

Peter Bowers modeled and discussed an instructional approach called "structured word inquiry" that uses the linguistic tools of the word sum and the matrix to make sense of the spelling-meaning structure of words.”

Audio of interview on Structured Word Inquiry

Anne-Marie Morey, founder of the Bay Tree Blog near San Francisco attended one of my weekend workshops at the Nueva School and then asked me to join her for this interview. I was unsure how effective this topic would work with out text to look at, but I thought it worked out quite well in the end.

CLICK HERE to hear the interview and see some of the links and resources Anne posted to support our discussion.

Above is a screenshot of a video of a public lecture I gave at the University of Alberta introducing Structured Word Inquiry. You can see that video on YouTube here.

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

Pete teaching the first lesson on <sign> form “Teaching How The Written Word Works”

During my visit to the Zurich International School I taught model lessons in a number of Grade 5 classrooms and a Grade 1 Class. Dan Allen videoed the lessons and posted them on his amazing blog here.

In the video above, I taught the first lesson from my teacher resource book.

Click here for a document with background for each of the lessons and related resources.

Above is a 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.