The Wilson Reading System® (WRS) directly teaches the structure of the English language using an organized and sequential system in 12 Steps, not corresponded to school grade levels. It provides a complete curriculum for explicitly and systematically teaching decoding and encoding (spelling). From the beginning steps of the program, instruction also addresses high frequency/sight words, fluency, vocabulary, oral expressive language development and comprehension with progressively more challenging text. Throughout the program, the teacher follows a 10-part lesson plan that provides for extensive teacher-student interaction and multisensory learning methods.

Key components directly addressed in the Wilson Reading System are:

  • Phonemic awareness
  • Alphabetic principle (sound/symbol relationship)
  • Decoding
  • Encoding (spelling)
  • Advanced word analysis
  • High frequency/sight word instruction
  • Vocabulary development
  • Fluency
  • Oral expressive language development
  • Listening and reading comprehension with visualization
  • Metacognition

Word Study – Phonetically Regular Words

Beginning with phoneme segmentation, WRS directly teaches the structure of words in the English language so that students master the coding system for reading and spelling. WRS presents the language system of English in a systematic, sequential, and cumulative manner over the course of 12 Steps, or Units, so that learning is manageable and does not overwhelm the student with rules.

Word construction is gradually taught to students according to six syllable types:

  1. Closed syllable (Steps 1-3)
  2. Vowel-consonant-e syllable (Step 4)
  3. Open syllable (Step 5)
  4. Consonant-le syllable (Step 6)
  5. R-controlled syllable (Step 8)
  6. Vowel digraph/diphthong “D” syllable (Step 9)

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 suffixes with unchanging basewords.

Steps 7-12 teach more complex concepts including spelling options, advanced spelling rules, and morphology, including sound options, contractions, r-controlled syllables, “D” syllables, adding suffixes to changing basewords, and other advanced language structure concepts.

The elements of word structure are taught for both reading and spelling simultaneously. Thus, within a lesson, students are working in both directions, further reinforcing the structures to be learned. Parts 6-8 of the daily lesson plan emphasize encoding (spelling). Students learn to segment and spell words in correspondence with the decoding patterns being taught.

Word Study – High Frequency/Sight Words

Words that appear most often in text are high frequency words. These words are important to master since they are quite common. Words with irregular patterns or untaught word patterns according to the WRS scope and sequence should be memorized so they are recognized by sight. 

The word study goal is automaticity with accurate and speedy word recognition for reading and consistent application of skills for spelling. Students progress through the curriculum at their own pace as they master each new concept and skill.

Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension 

Throughout the 12 Steps, students work on fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills.

Single word automaticity and fluency with connected text are part of each Wilson lesson. Students have multiple opportunities to develop quick and automatic word recognition in Parts 3 and 4 of the lesson. To help build fluency, students are provided opportunities to read and reread sentences (Part 5), and decodable passages (Part 9). Decodable text is used to develop prosody and expression. Students use a penciling technique to scoop the sentences and passages into phrases in order to learn to read the passages with prosody, or phrasing with proper intonation. The phrasing provides the natural pauses that occur within sentences, with an attention to the meaning. Echo and choral reading is used. The Wilson Fluency®/Basic Kit is a supplemental program designed to provide explicit fluency instruction and reading practice to develop the application of skills with connected text. Additionally there are timed fluency drills for each step provided on the Wilson Academy.

Vocabulary is explicitly addressed in each WRS lesson plan. Vocabulary words are targeted in decoding and spelling activities in Parts 2, 3, 7, and 8 of the lesson plan and thoroughly embedded in instruction with connected text in Parts 5, 9 and 10 of the lesson plan. Teachers completing the WRS Level I Certification program further understand how to carefully choose targeted words with high curricular/academic utility from the appropriate substep and to integrate vocabulary instruction into each lesson.

Comprehension strategies are specifically addressed in Parts 9 and 10 of the daily lesson plan. In Part 9 of the lesson, students practice fluent reading with short, decodable passages that are included with each substep. These controlled passages allow students with emerging decoding skills the opportunity to develop fluency and reading comprehension strategies. Part 10 provides teachers with the opportunity to engage students deeply in a broad range of high-quality, increasingly challenging literary and informational texts. Students are engaging in more complex text in Part 10 than their decoding abilities allow for, while also increasing the complexity of text as their decoding skills increase. As a student progresses in their decoding skills through the WRS curriculum (all 12 Steps), teachers carefully plan the text selection for Part 10. When engaging in reading and discussing text, WRS teachers use a process called Wilson Comprehension S.O.S.™ (Stop – Orient – Scaffold / Support). This process engages students in rich and rigorous evidence-based conversations about text—the skill of close reading.

Throughout the WRS program, each part of a lesson plan, each WRS session, and each Step of the program progresses from easier to more challenging tasks. The Wilson Reading System curriculum and accompanying materials provide teachers with the necessary resources and support to successfully implement this multisensory, structured language program.