of Wilson's® Multi-tiered System of Support
Prevention and Early Intervention:
Wilson Fundations®
Just Words®
Wilson Reading System®
WRS Description
WRS Target Population
Principles of Instruction
Distinguishing Characteristics
WRS Lesson Plan
WRS Alignment to Common Core State Standards
Supplemental Support:
Wilson Fluency/Basic®

Wilson Reading System® Description:

The Wilson Reading System is a research-based reading and writing program. It is a complete curriculum for teaching decoding and encoding (spelling) beginning with phoneme segmentation. WRS directly teaches the structure of words in the English language so that students master the coding system for reading and spelling. Unlike other programs that overwhelm the student with rules, the language system of English is presented in a systematic and cumulative manner so that it is manageable. It provides an organized, sequential system with extensive controlled text to help teachers implement a multisensory structured language program.

The basic purpose of the Wilson Reading System is to teach students fluent decoding and encoding skills to the level of mastery. From the beginning steps of the program, it also includes sight word instruction, fluency, vocabulary, oral expressive language development and comprehension. Throughout the program, a ten part lesson plan, designed to be very interactive between teacher and student, is followed. The lessons progress from easier to more challenging tasks for decoding and then spelling.

Wilson directly teaches the structure of words in the English language with an organized and sequential system with 12 steps. Steps 1 and 2 emphasize phonemic segmentation skills (the ability to separate the sounds in a word) and blending the sounds together again. Initially utilizing monosyllabic words, a student learns to segment sounds within words. In addition to using sound cards, the Wilson program uses a unique "sound tapping" procedure in these early steps. For example, in teaching the word "map" three lettered cards are put on the table to represent the three sounds in the word. The student is taught to say each sound while tapping a different finger to his or her thumb, as follows:

  • As he says the /m/ sound, he taps his index finger to his thumb.
  • As he says the /a/ sound, he taps his middle finger to his thumb.
  • As he says the /p/ sound, he taps his ring finger to his thumb.
  • He then says the sounds as he drags his thumb across the three fingers starting with his index finger and ending with his ring finger.
/m/ /a/ /p/ map


Other MSL programs include counting of sounds by various techniques, but Barbara Wilson believes that the sound tapping of fingers to the thumb has been a key for students in successfully learning to blend sounds as well as segment them. As the student succeeds at reading and spelling words (both real and nonsense) with three sounds, he then moves on to words with four sounds, then five, and so on. At the end of Step 2, the student is able to fluently blend and segment up to six sounds in a closed syllable.

Beginning in Step 3, multisyllabic words are used and the student is systematically taught to segment syllables in words. Steps 4-6 teach vowel-consonant-e syllables, open syllables, suffix endings, and consonant-le syllables. The students have extensive practice with controlled vocabulary for decoding and spelling application. Comprehension is addressed with vocabulary work and through the development of visualization skills with the reading of literature to students. Mastery, including fluent application, is required for progression at each step. Instruction after Step 6 combines continued "word attack" and spelling work with comprehension and an emphasis on the application of skills with non-controlled text as well as controlled text. In Steps 7-12, r-controlled syllable, vowel teams, and complex word structure is taught.


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