What is Structured Word Inquiry?

Structured Word Inquiry (SWI) is a linguistically-sound approach to language instruction that Nueva has integrated into its PreK-twelve Literary Arts and English curriculum. It provides a method for understanding the spelling and structure of all English words and is uniques in its approach to investigating a word's meaning, history, and spelling.

Using linguistic tools like word sums and lexical word matrices, students analyze words into elements such as bases, prefixes, and suffixes. This allows them to understand the spelling of other words in that family, creating meaningful connections across the language.


 Why Does Nueva Teach SWI?


The philosophy of SWI is in harmony with Nueva’s pedagogy in many ways. A scientific, inquiry-based approach, SWI serves as an ideal vehicle for curious children to explore and come to understand the English language they use everyday. Through investigation, students discover patterns, structures, and applications as they learn to play with words in a creative environment.

A structured word investigation is led by four guiding questions. Words are chosen for study based on the interests of students and classroom curriculum. The objective is to teach deep, comprehensive understanding of our language and how to investigate it, not memorization of surface structures or phonics patterns.

Investigating words based on structure and meaning often provokes a deeper questioning and provides a more holistic understanding of the greater curriculum, be that a piece of literature, a scientific principle, or a mathematical concept.

Once students realize words are spelled the way they are for specific reasons, floodgates of curiosity open. Language becomes another medium to be questioned, tested, and most importantly, enjoyed. The process is naturally scaffolded for a range of individual abilities and exposes students to rich vocabulary. Its effectiveness, particularly with the youngest learners, is grounded in research.

How Does SWI Work?

In its simplest form, SWI is an inquiry-process.

  • We start by asking, “What does the word mean?”
  • Then, "How is the word built? What is its structure?"
  • We study a word's history, or etymology, to find evidence for structural elements (base, prefixes, suffixes).
  • We ask, "What related words (that share a structure and/or historial root) might provide further insights to the word in question?"
  • We ask, "Is anything related to the pronunciation of the word affecting the spelling?"
  • We use word sums to support or refute our structural hypotheses.
  • We can create a lexical matrix to represent a family of words that share the same base element.
  • Then we consider how what we have discovered affects any deeper understanding of the word or word family, and the context in which we found it.




More SWI Videos

 The "Rain" Family: A PreK Structured Word Inquiry Lesson


Pete Bowers, Ph.D. on SWI at the 2015 Innovative Learning Conference



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