This website provides information and support for those who wish to learn more about English orthography. This information is vital for teachers, tutors, administrators, advocates, parents, and anyone involved with the science of reading and structured literacy.
The resources I recommend will help you develop a deeper understanding of the writing system. As you learn more, I encourage you to use that knowledge not only with students but in your conversation, collaboration, training, and mentoring of other adults.
In addition, some of these resources provide information about specific teaching approaches. Because of my focus on students with dyslexia, I support instruction that is engaging and explicit, which includes opportunities for students to practice, apply, and continue exploring the concepts and skills they are learning. The resources listed below may present differing approaches to instruction, but they all provide access to an accurate understanding of the writing system. Ultimately, we want to empower all students and teachers to be lifelong learners, able to make sense of novel words as they encounter them—in ways that will develop a deeper understanding of the overall writing system.
Watch for the addition of more resources as they become available.
BOOKS AND RESOURCES THAT EXPLORE THE ENGLISH ORTHOGRAPHIC SYSTEM
Toolbox2: The ToolBox2 was the original source of much of the information on these pages. Initially created by Real Spelling in 1999 and revised in 2011, the Toolbox2 has now become available on the web. It provides information covering an extraordinary range of orthographic topics and consists of six Toolkits, each containing 12 “themes.” Each theme covers a particular topic, but within each theme you will find links to related (or background) information discussed in other places in the ToolBox. The landing page for the Toolbox2 site provides a link to an Overview of the themes, as well as a link to a sample theme, “Learning from the Spelling of <Love>. The website is www.tbox2.online.
Orthographica: This site provides access to a rich library of short films that were used for study in the Spellinars offered by Real Spelling. They were not designed as stand-alone films, but are intended to be used in collaborative study. Visit the site and read more about these resources here: https://www.orthographica.net.
Beneath the Surface of Words: What English Spelling Reveals and Why it Matters. The author of this site published this book in December 2021. Beneath the Surface of Words takes readers on a step-by-step journey through the information explored on this site, introducing and explaining three concepts that are essential to an understanding of English spelling. You can read more about it here. It’s published in paperback form, available in the U.S. and globally through Amazon. It’s also available in the U.S. through Kendore Learning and in Australia through Seelect Educational Supplies or SilverEye Learning Resources.
In the U.S.: https://www.amazon.com//dp/057832671X
For non-U.S. Amazon sites, type in your local Amazon site name (e.g. Amazon.com.au or Amazon.co.uk) and follow it with //dp/057832671X. Or you can just search for the title.
Backpocket Words: Sharing the Essence of English Spelling, written by Gail Portnuff Venable. This wonderful book is a collection of 53 engaging stories and fascinating explanations of words. Each entry shows how the process of making sense of a given word’s spelling reveals universal concepts of spelling. While Beneath the Surface of Wordswas written as a step-by-step introduction to those universal concepts, Backpocket Words shows that we can find them at work everywhere in the system. Available as a paperback through Amazon in the U.S. at https://www.amazon.com//dp/1940722101. Worldwide, type the Amazon site name and follow with //dp/1940722101. It’s also available through Kendore Learning in the U.S. and Seelect Educational Supplies and Silvereye Learning Resources in Australia (see above for links).
Truer Word Cards, created by Emily O’Connor. This resource consists of several decks of 10 cards, each card exploring words in two ways. The front of each card offers an exploration of a word and its etymological family using a metaphorical floral illustration. The back of each card provides a morphological matrix and considers the word through the lens of Structured Word Inquiry. See more at http://www.advantagemathclinic.com/truer-words-vol-1.
A Field Guide to Words, created by Lyn Anderson and Ann Whiting. Each guide takes a deep, rich look at a key word and its relatives to reveal how the English orthographic system works. The Field Guides demonstrate how to carefully unfold an orthographic investigation in the classroom. Learn more at https://caughtinthespellofwords.wordpress.com.
Analyzing Math Language, created by Lisa Klipfel. This booklet provides a view of mathematical terminology in terms of morphological structure and etymological relationships. It reveals connections that allow a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts. You can find this resource at https://leveluped.com/shop/.
Webinars through the International Dyslexia Association.
Click the title of any webinar to go to the YouTube video.
Beneath the Surface of Words: Demystifying Spelling—Sue Hegland—June 2022
When looking at the spelling of any given word, we will find the concepts that underlie the writing system at work. This presentation for the Northern California Branch of the International Dyslexia Association used the spelling of the word “toward” to explore key concepts of English spelling.
The following three webinars can be found on the Webinars page of the website for the Upper Midwest Branch of the International Dyslexia Association (https://ida-uppermidwest.org/webinars/). You can find handouts there, along with the links to the YouTube videos. Click the titles below to go directly to the recorded presentations.
Making Sense of “Irregular” Words — Sue Hegland — May 2016.
Discussion and examples of many words often considered “irregular,” showing how they make sense.
Developing Literacy in the Content Areas Through Structured Word Study — Sue Hegland — March 2017.
Discusses the value of word study focused on morphological families with examples showing how this can be applied to content areas.
The Foundation of Literacy for Every Student: Discovering the Sense in English Spelling — Timothy Houge and Sue Hegland – Dec 2017
An overview of the some of the foundational patterns in the English writing system, along with examples from dyslexic and non-dyslexic student work.
WEBSITES AND RESOURCES FOR INVESTIGATING AND LEARNING ABOUT WORDS:
All three of the following sites are free to use.
This site is authored by Doug Harper who has done extensive research into the etymology of tens of thousands of words. The site is meticulously researched and invaluable for understanding etymology. I use it every day, even when I am not teaching! You can support this amazing site through Patreon. See the bottom of the Etymonline home page for information on how to get involved. etymonline.com
This site was created by Neil Ramsden. It allows you to create a matrix and print the result.
Another site by Neil Ramsden, the Word Searcher allows you to search a database of 60,000 words (or a larger database) for all words that contain a particular string or combination of letters. The databases include both American and British spellings of many words.
BOOKS AND RESOURCES ON SPECIFIC TEACHING APPROACHES
The concepts explained in the resources above can be taught in many ways. Many of the teaching resources available today focus on inquiry-based learning, but it’s possible to teach these concepts in direct ways as well. Here are a few of the growing resources to learn more about approaches to teaching these concepts.
Teaching How the Written Word Works. Peter Bowers wrote this book as an introduction to Structured Word Inquiry (SWI). It provides a series of 10 lessons that can guide students through an inquiry-based process of discovering various aspects of spelling. Available through wordworkskingston.com.
The High Frequency Word Project. Rebecca Loveless and Fiona Hamilton created this resource which consists of a guidebook containing background information about high frequency words and English orthography, along with a teaching plan for implementation. Learn more here.
Dyslexia and Spelling: Making Sense of It All. Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley, co-founder of the Dyslexia Training Institute, authored this book on Structured Word Inquiry. In it, she provides examples of student spelling errors and explains how they can inform and guide Structured Word Inquiry (SWI) instruction. Available through Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.
Resources for Training and Further Learning:
Pete Bowers at Word Works Kingston
The term “Structured Word Inquiry” (SWI) was first used by Bowers and Kirby (2010) to describe the instruction in their instructional study that showed generative vocabulary learning. Bowers has since suggested that the phrase “scientific word investigation” may be a more accurate description of this type of instruction. His work with SWI has taken him to schools around the world, where he provides engaging, practical sessions that model classroom activities using scientific investigation to learn about the English writing system.
You can find newsletters from Pete, filled with stories and resources, at realspellers.org by clicking here.
Liisa Freure is an experienced teacher, tutor, and trainer. As a Fellow with the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators, Liisa has a deep understanding of the Orton-Gillingham approach, but she has also been studying Structured Word Inquiry and linguistics intensively for years. Liisa offers training, workshops, and presentations on a wide variety of language and literacy related topics and always seeks to provide accurate information and deep understanding along with practical applications.
Rebecca is a Structured Word Inquiry Coach who does training on a number of topics, including work with early learners. She also writes a wonderful blog at her site.
Mary McBride and Ellen Meyer are experienced teachers and trainers providing training on implementing SWI in schools.
Dyslexia Training Institute
Kelli Sandman-Hurley and Tracy Block-Zaretsky, the founders of the Dyslexia Training Institute, provide training on the Orton-Gillingham approach as well as Structured Word Inquiry.
Resources from Fiona Hamilton, a Bangkok-based educator with extensive experience in international schools in Asia. Training and mentoring to help educators learn more about Word Inquiry and its implementation in the classroom.
Caught in the Spell of Words Consultancy
Ann Whiting and Lyn Anderson are experienced Australian based educators who have taught orthography in their classrooms to a wide range of students for many years. They conduct collaborative workshops modelling the inquiry process to develop an understanding of orthographic principles and conventions.
Mary Beth Steven
Courses on teaching orthography using SWI and on teaching grammar.
Real Spellers provides a forum for discussing questions about spelling.
Facebook Groups where you can discuss analyses of words and share ideas for word study
These are all private Facebook groups. You can request to join, and you can let them know you learned about them here. Note that these groups all use the term “Structured Word Inquiry” but anyone with an interest in words will find them useful, whatever teaching approach they use.
Structured Word Inquiry
Structured Word Inquiry in the Classroom
Learning How Words Work with Structured Word Inquiry (SWI)
Teaching Spelling Through Structured Word Inquiry
Additional Blogs by Teachers