Structured Word Inquiry Institute

Monday, June 17–Friday, June 21, 2024

Register now
This year’s 11th annual Nueva SWI Institute will be virtual using the Zoom platform. 
Sessions will be recorded and made available daily so people from any time zone can participate. The videos will also be made available for at least two weeks after the institute for participants to review.

What is structured word inquiry (SWI)?

Structured word inquiry (SWI) is the phrase Peter Bowers, Ph.D., used to describe the instruction in his vocabulary teaching study (Kirby & Bowers, 2010). The premise of SWI is that literacy instruction should accurately reflect our best understanding of how our writing system works.

SWI uses matrices, word sums, and grapheme-phoneme diagrams to teach how English spelling works through a process of scientific inquiry. These tools and practices demonstrate there are important misunderstandings in typical literacy instruction that result in children being taught they have to memorize many “irregular spellings” such as <does> <rough> <because> and countless others. When we don’t limit instruction to “letter-sound correspondence” but rather study the interrelation of spelling and meaning that English orthography represents, teachers and students understand these spellings. All children, but especially those who struggle in current instruction, gain from a more accurate understanding of English orthography. See Bowers (2020) for Peter’s short and most accessible paper on the theory, research, and practice of SWI.

Peter is 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, Pete shared the common view that English spelling is highly irregular and full of exceptions to be memorized. In his ninth year of teaching, Pete developed a new inquiry-based technique for teaching English to students in preK through fifth grade. He has published widely on this topic (see references and links at the bottom of Pete’s About WordWorks page).

For more information, we invite you to read this recently published article by Pete Bowers, "Literacy instruction that makes sense of English spelling for students of all ages and abilities," which addresses the theory, research, and practice of SWI. 


June 17–21, 2023


$700/3-day program
$1000/5-day program


Virtual Institute


Email for more information.


I believe that work we’ve begun doing with Structured Word Inquiry is profound and revolutionary. I believe that it is relevant to educators who work in every discipline and with all age groups. I believe that it represents most accurately what we know about teaching and learning and enacts the core values held in our community.”

Emily Kolatch
  former Head of the Nueva Lower School

What I love about Pete's workshops is that he takes a room full of teachers and turns them into learners.”

- Jonathan Twigg
Primary School Assistant Principal-PYP Coordinator at International   School of Lausanne