reading clinic

Wilson reading system

The Wilson Reading System is a research-based reading and writing program designed for students (grades 2-12 and adults) who have difficulty with decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling). It is a complete curriculum that has 12 steps, beginning with phoneme segmentation. Its main goal is to teach students language and word structure through a carefully planned program. The program was developed in Massachusetts in the 1980s by Barbara A. Wilson, based on knowledge gained from working with adults with dyslexia using Orton-Gillingham methodology at Massachusetts General Hospital's Language Disorders Unit, and with students in an after-school reading clinic founded with her husband, Ed Wilson. The Wilson Reading System, published in 1989, is now commonly used in various settings throughout the United States and several other countries.


Although initially designed for older individuals with dyslexia, Wilson Reading System is now appropriate for students with decoding or word-level deficits. It provides an organized, sequential system with extensive controlled text to help teachers implement a multisensory structured language program. WRS is also useful for students who can’t read or write English but are able to speak and understand. It is extensively used with older individuals and middle school students. One of the unique characteristics of the Wilson Reading System is that it was designed for students beyond grade 2.

Students who are enrolled in WRS experience a planned, integrated procedure and learn methodically. The teaching plan is based on continual evaluation of the students’ needs. WRS instruction is multisensory, organized and cumulative. The WRS uses an exceptional sound tapping system at the beginning of the program to help students learn to distinguish the speech sounds in a word. Wilson students are not overwhelmed with the burden of learning the rules of the language but rather focus on the application of the rules. Comprehension and fluency are two important components of the program.

In 2002, Wilson Language Training developed and published Fundations, which is a supplemental reading program for K-3 students. In 2007, Wilson developed and published WILSON FluencyTM / Basic to help students become fluent and expressive readers.

WRS addresses the areas of

  • phonemic segmentation
  • alphabetic principle – sound/symbol relationships
  • decoding (reading)
  • encoding (spelling)
  • advanced word analysis
  • vocabulary development
  • sight word instruction
  • fluency
  • comprehension with visualization and metacognition.

Program Components

Wilson Reading System is useful for one-to-one tutoring, in small groups, and in reading classes. There are two different vocabulary levels: The first one is the “Level A” which is appropriate for elementary, English-as-a-Second-Language and older students with inadequate vocabularies; and the second one is the “Level B” is appropriate for students who are beyond elementary grades with more complex vocabularies.

The program incorporates five elements for teaching at-risk populations:

  • direct teaching of alphabetic code
  • direct instruction in language analysis
  • coordination of reading and spelling instruction
  • intensive instruction
  • teaching for mastery


Banks, S.R., Guyer, B.P., and Guyer, K.E. 1993. Spelling Improvement by College Students who are Dyslexic, Annals of Dyslexia. 43: 186-93. A Study at Marshall University determined Wilson the most effective spelling program with college students with a learning disability.

Bursuck, W., and Dickson, S. 1999. Implementing a Model for Preventing Reading Failure: A Report From the Field in Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 14(4), 191-202, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. The study presents a model for improving reading instruction for students at risk for reading failure. The Wilson Reading System was selected for use with the at-risk students. Positive results were reported.

Clark, D., and Uhry, J. 1995. Dyslexia Theory and Practice of Remedial Instruction, Revised. Baltimore, MD: York Press. Chapter 23 describes the Wilson Reading System.

Mather, N. and Goldstein, S. 2001. Learning Disabilities and Challenging Behaviors - A Guide to Intervention and Classroom Management. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing Company. In this book the Wilson Reading System is referenced as an effective structured phonics program. A case-study is reported using the Wilson Reading System with success.

Moats, Louisa C. 1998. Reading, Spelling and Writing Disabilities in the Middle Grades in Learning About Learning Disabilities, Wong, B (ed.) Orlando FL; Academic Press. This chapter, by Louisa C. Moats, highlights the Wilson Reading System as one of 3 exemplary programs for students with language-based learning disabilities in the middle grades.

O'Connor, J. and Wilson, B. 1995. Effectiveness of the Wilson Reading System used in Public School Training. In McIntyre, C., and Pickering, J. (eds) 1995. Clinical studies of Multisensory Structured Language Education. Salem, OR: International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council. Results of study: 220 students in grades 3-12 had an average growth of 4.6 grade levels in Word Attack and 1.9 grade levels in Total Reading on Woodcock Reading Mastery Test after 62 lessons.

Schwartz, R. Using Phonemic Awareness with ESL Students, Linkages, Washington, D.C.: National ALLD Center. This article discusses the benefits of teaching phonology to ESL students who are at risk. The Wilson Reading System was incorporated into the instruction.

Shaywitz, Sally M.D. 2003. Overcoming Dyslexia: The New and Complete Science-Based Program for Reading Problems at Any Level. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Wilson Fundations and Wilson Reading System as appropriate reading programs for students and adults with dyslexia.

Wilson, B. 1998. Matching Student Needs to Instruction in Learning Disabilities, Literacy and Adult Education, Reder, S., and Vogel, S. (Eds.) Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing Co. This book focuses on adults with severe learning disabilities and the educators who work with them. Chapter 11, "Matching Student Needs to Instruction" describes various implementation models for using the Wilson Reading System with older students.

Wilson, B. and Schupack, H. 1997. Reading, Writing and Spelling – The Multisensory Structured Language Approach. Baltimore, MD. The International Dyslexia Association. This booklet is published by IDA as a part of The Orton Emeritus Series.

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External links

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