The Wilson Reading System® Curriculum
The Wilson Reading System® (WRS) builds on more than three decades of proven success teaching the structure of the English language, decoding, and spelling in an explicit, systematic, and sequential manner.
Teaching the Structure of the English Language
The Wilson Reading System® (WRS) teaches the structure of the English language directly, using an integrated and sequential system in 12 Steps (not corresponding to a student’s grade level).
The enhanced and extensively updated fourth edition provides teachers with even more precise guidance and extensive resources in word structure, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. It also offers a greater emphasis on morphological aspects of the English language with our systematic approach toward teaching morphology, phonology, and orthography. This new edition continues to incorporate all the research-based best practices that have been a part of our teacher professional learning courses for many years.
- Expanded and revised Instructor Manual
- Added focus on core/academic vocabulary
- Integrated and systematic instruction of phonology, orthography, and morphology, including direct teaching of prefixes and Latin and Greek word elements
- New fluency and comprehension guide for Block 3
- Enhanced student progress monitoring
- Direct teaching of high frequency words, including irregular words in a predetermined sequence
- New high frequency word cards and phrases for practice and dictation
- New sentences and expanded stories in the Student Readers, with a focus on high frequency words and core and academic vocabulary that represent 90% of the words used most frequently in written text
- Minor scope and sequence changes, specifically related to morphology
From the beginning, instruction addresses high frequency words, fluency, vocabulary, oral expressive language development, and comprehension with progressively more challenging text. Teachers follow a ten-part lesson plan to implement WRS. This lesson structure uses extensive teacher-student interaction and multisensory learning methods.
Key components directly addressed in WRS include:
- Word structure (in-depth) for automatic decoding and spelling, internalizing the rules that govern English
- Word recognition and spelling of high frequency words, including irregular words
- Vocabulary, word understanding, and word-learning skills
- Sentence-level text reading with ease, expression, and understanding
- Listening comprehension with age-appropriate narrative and informational texts
- Reading comprehension with narrative and expository text of increasing levels of difficulty
- Narrative and informational text structures
- Organization of information for oral or written expression
- Proofreading skills
- Self-monitoring for word recognition accuracy and comprehension
Explore the Curriculum
Teachers pace students through the curriculum based on mastery of skills, understanding of language concepts, and the ability to apply skills and concepts to connected text with accuracy, fluency, and understanding. Along the way, students learn how to monitor their own decoding accuracy and comprehension using a gradual release of responsibility model.
In Wilson Reading System® (WRS), word-level instruction includes all English language letter-sound correspondences, syllable patterns (single and multisyllabic), common prefixes, suffixes, Latin/Greek-base elements, and skilled practice with high frequency words—including irregular words. Furthermore, WRS word study incorporates a focus on sounds, patterns, and meaning, while systematically and concurrently developing students’ phonemic awareness, morphological awareness, and orthographic awareness skills. Word structure for both reading (decoding) and spelling (encoding) is taught simultaneously to reinforce learning.
Phonemic Awareness Linked to the Alphabetic Principle
Phonemic awareness training in WRS is closely linked with the direct teaching of the alphabetic principle (letter-sound/grapheme-phoneme correspondences). Phoneme segmentation, the ability to pull apart the sounds in a given word, is a critical phonemic awareness skill for reading and spelling success. Phonemic awareness instruction in WRS “tunes” students into the separate phonemes in a word through card manipulation and a sound tapping process.
Phonology, Including the Study of Sounds Within their Syllable Environments
WRS presents an explicit and systematic study of the English sound system in a clearly defined sequence that is distributed and cumulative. Teaching students more detail about word structure helps them to accurately apply the sounds in longer words. Syllable patterns are an important part of that instruction because a vowel sound is regulated by the syllable type. Also, spelling instruction that emphasizes syllable types assists older students with word-analysis skills. The following six syllable patterns are taught gradually, showing students how to visually recognize the type of syllable.
- Closed syllable (Steps 1–3)
- Vowel-Consonant-e syllable (Step 4)
- Open syllable (Step 5)
- Final Stable syllable (Step 6)
- R-controlled syllable (Step 8)
- Double Vowel “D” syllable (Step 9)
Morphology and the Study of Word Elements
WRS presents a morphologically based study of English that provides extensive knowledge about decoding, spelling, and the meaning of words through the study of word elements. Students are introduced gradually to word elements through step-by-step, sequential instruction (as with all aspects of the program). This builds a strong understanding of the written system of English without overwhelming them with rules. Common word elements are taught which provides a basis to understand how word elements combine to form many longer words in English.
Orthography – Internalizing the Rules that Govern English
WRS explicitly teaches total word structure, not just phonics. Students move from a phonological (sound) focus to more of an orthographical (visual) focus. They also cumulatively learn to process words more quickly by using the patterns of syllables, word elements, and orthographic rules involving base words and affixes. Each orthographic rule is taught and thoroughly practiced through the manipulation of Letter-Sound Cards, Word Element Cards (prefixes, base elements, suffixes), and Syllable Cards. Multiple opportunities are provided to read words in isolation and within connected text and to spell those words in isolation and in dictated sentences.
High Frequency Word Instruction
High frequency words are words that appear most often in written text. In each of the 12 Steps of the program, there are high frequency words that are taught to be recognized quickly and easily if they are not yet mastered. Many high frequency words are irregular words that have one or more parts that do not follow the expected spelling patterns of English. However, some are phonetically regular words that are taught in later Steps of WRS. Neither are tapped out.
Prior to beginning instruction in each new Step, students’ reading and spelling mastery of the upcoming high frequency words is pretested. Students maintain a high frequency word dictionary in their Student Notebooks which they can use as a reference until mastery of the word is achieved. Because high frequency words are so common, automatically being able to read and spell them helps tremendously with fluent reading and writing.
Pseudo (Nonsense) Word Instruction
Pseudo words, or nonsense words, are used to help solidify students’ knowledge of sound and syllable structure. These words have no meaning but conform to English spelling patterns and rules. Nonsense words are used to practice the application of newly taught sound-symbol relationships or syllable patterns, as well as help teachers evaluate these abilities. Additionally, the automaticity of reading and spelling one-syllable nonsense words will assist students with multisyllabic word proficiency.
An Integrated and Systematic Study of Phonology, Morphology, and Orthography
WRS instruction incrementally interweaves phonology, morphology, and orthography, thus systematically teaching students the rules that govern English written language.
Steps 1-6 of the program provide consistent patterns to establish a solid foundation of word knowledge, including the first four syllable types, multisyllabic words, and an introduction to morphology with the study of word elements, prefixes, Latin-bases, and suffixes with unchanging base words.
Steps 7-12 teach more complex concepts including spelling options, advanced spelling rules, sound options, contractions, r-controlled syllables, double vowel “D” syllables, other advanced language structure concepts, and continued work with morphology focusing on more advanced study of word elements, including Greek combining forms and suffixes with changing base words.
The Wilson Reading System® (WRS) directly teaches students the meaning of selected words that correspond to the current substep and provides word-learning strategies that are helpful when reading or listening to connected text. Explicit instruction to build vocabulary is integrated throughout a lesson, with targeted vocabulary words repeatedly woven into subsequent lessons for reinforcement.
Words that appear in the WRS materials are controlled, meaning they include only the word structure that is the current focus of instruction or has been previously taught. These words have been carefully considered to comprise core and general academic vocabulary words key for students’ academic success. Teachers select vocabulary words from provided wordlists to appropriately tailor instruction based on students’ vocabulary knowledge and determination of what words are most important for students to know.
WRS provides three levels of vocabulary. Words are categorized according to the following levels of difficulty:
- Level AB: Core vocabulary for all WRS students. Most are drawn from the TextProject’s WordZone™ for 4,000 Simple Word Families (Hiebert, 2012), which represents 85–90% of the words most frequently used in written text. The Level AB designation also includes three kinds of academic words: general academic, morphologically complex, and subject area academic.
- Level A: Everyday words used in oral language for younger students in grades 2–5 and those with limited vocabulary skills.
- Level B: Advanced vocabulary for grades 6–12 and adults, and young students with advanced vocabulary skills.
Direct Instruction of Targeted Vocabulary
Words selected for explicit vocabulary instruction are targeted throughout WRS lessons so students experience them in different contexts. Students develop an alphabetized vocabulary section in their WRS Student Portfolio, which will grow as they progress through the WRS Steps. The vocabulary words are then targeted in decoding and spelling activities during Parts 2, 7, and 8 of the lesson plan. A review of previously taught vocabulary words is included in all lessons by discussing them in Word Card activities (Part 3 of the lesson).
Word Learning Strategies Within Connected Text
In WRS, vocabulary is also taught through embedded discussion with connected text during Block 3 (Parts 9 and 10 of the lesson plan). Because students are unable to access written text on their own, teachers provide vocabulary instruction by reading grade-level enriched text to students and by providing opportunities for structured and purposeful oral discourse, which requires students to listen and speak with understanding. As students have the ability, teachers provide non-controlled text for students to read with scaffolded support.
Students with emerging decoding skills need sufficient reading practice to develop fluent reading of text. Once readers achieve fluency, they can focus their attention and working memory on comprehension and making connections to their background knowledge, instead of putting all their effort into decoding. The Wilson Reading System® (WRS) focuses on fluency practice of connected text through scaffolded silent reading and guided oral reading of both controlled decodable text and non-controlled readable text. Repeated reading, including echo and choral reading, is used to develop prosody for understanding.
For additional fluency practice, the Wilson Fluency®/Basic Kit (aligned with WRS 3rd Edition) is a supplemental program designed to provide explicit fluency instruction and reading practice to develop the application of skills with connected text.
Integrated Fluency Instruction Throughout the Lesson Plan
The use of controlled decodable texts beginning at Step 1 of instruction provides students the opportunity to practice integrating all aspects of reading (accuracy, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension). These texts offer students substantial practice applying specific word-attack skills within context to develop accuracy, break the habit of guessing, and establish the goal of reading for comprehension.
WRS is unique in that few other sources of texts are limited to taught word structure with age-appropriate vocabulary and themes, especially for older students. WRS controlled decodable text is limited to phonetically controlled words with taught patterns and high frequency words that students will quickly recognize for reading and spelling. WRS controlled text includes extensive wordlists, sentences, and stories containing only the elements of word structure that have been taught. Controlled decodable text helps students to achieve word-reading accuracy while integrating fluency instruction.
WRS students have multiple opportunities to develop quick and automatic word recognition of both phonetically controlled and high frequency words. Automaticity of word reading is developed by using phonetically controlled Word Cards and High Frequency Word Cards as flashcards (Part 3 of the lesson) and with lists of phonetically controlled words (Part 4 of the lesson). Students’ progress is charted to determine if they are decoding the phonetically controlled words with accuracy first and then with automaticity, before moving on to the next substep.
Prosody/Phrasing of Text
To help students achieve fluent reading, teachers focus on expression, including prosody, and the meaning of text rather than speed. A penciling technique is used to scoop the sentences (Part 5) and passages (Part 9) into meaningful phrases in order to read with prosody. Scooping provides a graphical representation of phrasing for meaning that offers fluency and comprehension support. A gradual release of responsibility model (I do it, We do it, You do it) is used so that students eventually can phrase sentences and passages independently.
Comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading instruction. While the other components of reading instruction help one to develop comprehension, specific instruction is also important to improve comprehension skill. Comprehension skills and strategies are specifically addressed in Parts 5, 9, and 10 of the Wilson Reading System® (WRS) daily lesson plan.
Listening Comprehension/Discourse Processing
WRS teachers select enriched/authentic texts, both fiction and non-fiction, well above students’ independent reading levels for reading aloud to students. This exposes students to advanced vocabulary, complex syntactic structure, and substantially more background knowledge. It also provides students with an opportunity to employ comprehension strategies with a variety of texts.
WRS teachers help students establish a coherent mental model of the text through Wilson’s process called Comprehension S.O.S.™ (an abbreviation for Stop-Orient-Scaffold/Support). This strategy guides students to create an image or movie in their minds about the text passage they are reading. It incorporates periodic discussion, modeling of thinking, and retelling of the story using mental imagery in order to help students establish a deep understanding of content.
Independent Silent Reading: Narrative and Informational Texts
WRS instruction aims for students to independently read (silently) grade-level text with sufficient fluency for understanding. Independent comprehension skills are developed using both controlled text (Part 9) and non-controlled authentic text (Part 10) through a gradual release of responsibility model. Students learn to apply Comprehension S.O.S.™ strategies on their own while reading silently. Students then retell the passage, while the teacher monitors their understanding, asks questions, and pulls the text apart to clarify student comprehension.
As students become more and more proficient in word-level reading, they are moved toward the application of ALL of their skills (decoding, fluency, and comprehension) with both narrative and informational grade-level text.
Alignment to Standards
The Wilson Reading System® (WRS) supports students’ ability to meet states’ rigorous College- and Career-readiness Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy, including Common Core State Standards, by providing an intensive intervention program (Tier 3) that addresses the foundational skills required to read and write.
For students in a Tier 3 intervention, it is critical that they receive instruction that ensures the mastery of foundational language skills typically taught in grades K–3. Without this mastery, students will not successfully achieve grade-level standards beyond Grade 3.
As a targeted intensive intervention for this population of students, the WRS program is not grade specific. As a result, a one-to-one correlation with the states’ standards by grade level is not straightforward since many of the skills presented in the program fall outside of the grade-level standards outlined for these particular students.
Reading Standards: Foundational Skills
WRS is designed for students who have a language-based learning disability with a primary word-level deficit and require an intensive reading intervention. Students who are identified to receive WRS instruction are not able to engage with grade-level complex reading and writing tasks because they are not yet fluent readers or writers. WRS provides these students with the foundational and language skills that are necessary to access grade-level text. In this regard, WRS aligns with the following key foundational and writing standards:
- Know and apply phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words.
- Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
- Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
Reading Standards: Literature and Informational Text
WRS strongly supports the Anchor Standards in Reading:
- Key Ideas and Details
- Craft and Structure
- Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
- Reading and Level of Text Complexity
WRS develops comprehension explicitly throughout Parts 9 and 10 of the daily lesson plan. In Part 9 of the lesson plan, students focus on short, controlled passages that allow students with emerging decoding skills the opportunity to develop fluency and reading comprehension strategies. Part 10 provides teachers the opportunity to deeply engage students in high-quality texts.
When engaging in reading and discussing text, WRS teachers use a process called Wilson Comprehension S.O.S.TM (Stop – Orient – Scaffold/Support). As the student or teacher reads, they intermittently stop and interact to support the student’s understanding of the text. It is intended to guide students’ comprehension and teach students through modeling and discussion. This approach establishes a deep understanding, rather than a surface understanding, of content. The Comprehension S.O.S. process engages students in rich, rigorous conversations about a text; close reading skills are outlined in states’ standards, including the Common Core State Standards.
Language and Speaking Standards
The Comprehension S.O.S. process and Part 10 of the lesson plan (Listening Comprehension) also support the Language and Speaking Standards. Students engage in a range of collaborative discussion on topics and texts. Students determine main ideas and supporting details of a text read aloud, report on a topic or text with appropriate facts and relevant descriptive details, and speak clearly at an understandable pace. Students develop vocabulary from listening to informational and narrative text.
Learn how Wilson Reading System® (WRS) meets states’ standards for instructional materials.
Learn how to identify students appropriate for Wilson Reading System® (WRS) and how to implement it successfully in your classroom.
Wilson Reading System® (WRS) instructor and student materials make learning multisensory and explicit.
Meeting Social Content Standards
Wilson Reading System® (WRS) is approved by the California State Board of Education as meeting the state’s social content standards.