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Word Inquiry: It's a Structured Language Approach

Sandie Barrie-Blackley
posted this on October 13, 2011, 11:11

Dyslexia typically disrupts reading and spelling at a word level. In contrast, language (listening) comprehension and critical thinking are typically not disrupted (or not as disrupted) in dyslexia and are often a relative strength, so a method that uses structured conversation to understand words and word parts is particularly suited for dyslexic learners.  Research confirms that understanding the meaning of word parts is a key to reading comprehension (Deacon, et al., 2014).

The Word Inquiry method uses a Socratic, shared inquiry approach to explore the meaning and structure of individual words.  With a clear, procedural structure and a focus on meaning, Word Inquiry is a structured literacy (aka Orton-Gillingham) methodology.

Students can benefit from using the Word Inquiry method from the very beginning of Structured Literacy instruction. The Word Inquiry method begins with selecting a word for study and creating a Word Sum for the word.

A (unabridged) dictionary that includes word history information is a necessary tool when building a Word Sum. has this kind of detail and, with support, children can learn to navigate this online reference. 

It is all about the process!  It may take a few days for students to investigate a single word using the Word Inquiry Method.   Here is a video by Pete Bowers modeling this process.

Since the Word Inquiry method is a shared inquiry method it generally requires minimum of two people who work together to arrive at data-supported answers to the following questions:

  1. Does the word have any prefixes? [If so, write the prefix(es) in the far left box of the Word Matrix and specify the meaning of each prefix.] 
  2. Does the word have any suffixes? [If so, write the suffix(es) in the far right box of the Word Matrix and specify the meaning of each suffix.]
  3. What are the word’s base(es)? Write the base(es) in the center section of the Word Matrix and specify the meaning of each.

Word Inquiry is the main vehicle for explicit teaching about word parts (morphology) in Lexercise's Structured Literacy tele-therapy. The most common prefixes and suffixes are introduced systematically, across the Lexercise Levels and then practiced using Word Inquiry.  Suffix spelling patterns (e.g., doubling the last consonant letter before adding a suffix as in <running>)  are also introduced systematically throughout the Lexercise curriculum using a Word Inquiry approach..  Word inquiry is a powerful vocabulary builder since it helps the learner make connections between related words (e.g., port, transport, import, report, etc.). and it is used in Lexercise Structured Literacy therapy along with other practice routines (e.g., Descriptor) to develop vocabulary skills.

Using the same principles as the scientific method Word Inquiry does not put a heavy burden on working memory or processing speed, so students who might otherwise resist word study often enjoy it and excel at it.

See the handout attached below:  NCSHLA - 2014-Using Scientific Word Inquiry to Hook Kids on Words


A beginning word matrix

An advanced word matrix: <symphony>



Examples of fully developed word matrices

This is advanced example of a  Word Matrix of the bases <duct/duce> was created by Pete Bowers. For other examples, check out Pete Bowers' You Tube Chanel videos here


This is advanced example of a  Word Matrix for <curiosity>.


But what happens to <u> in <curious> when spelling <curiosity> ?



Who knew!?  (We said it was advanced!)




Deacon, S. H., Kieffer, M.J., , Laroche, A.(2014). The Relation Between Morphological Awareness and Reading Comprehension: Evidence From Mediation and Longitudinal Models,  Scientific Studies of Reading, p. 432-451.   doi: 10.1080/10888438.2014.926907

Carter, M.D., Walker, M.W and O'Brien, K. (2015). The Effects of Rate on Single-Word Reading Assessment, American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, Vol. 24, 13-23. doi:10.1044/2014_AJSLP-14-0021