The Wilson Reading System: Empowering Literacy Through Structured Multisensory Education

Literacy is a basic skill that is important for success in school and for personal growth. However, for some individuals, learning to read can be a challenging and frustrating process. Fortunately, educators and experts in the field of literacy have developed various teaching methodologies to address these difficulties. One such highly regarded approach is the Wilson Reading System (WRS). This article explores the Wilson Reading System, its principles, techniques, and how it has proven to be a transformative tool in empowering struggling readers to achieve their full potential.

Understanding The Wilson Reading System

The Wilson Reading System is a research-based, structured, and multisensory reading program designed to support students with language-based learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. It was developed by Barbara A. Wilson and her colleagues in the mid-1980s. Initially, the program aimed to help adult learners with reading difficulties, but its success and adaptability led to its application in various educational settings, including elementary, middle, and high schools.

The primary objective of the Wilson Reading System is to explicitly teach students the connections between sounds, letters, and words, equipping them with essential reading and spelling skills.

Key Components Of The Wilson Reading System

Structured Multisensory Instruction: The Wilson Reading System’s core principle is to engage multiple sensory pathways during the learning process. This approach acknowledges that individuals have different learning styles and optimizes learning by combining visual, auditory, and kinesthetic elements. Students are encouraged to see, hear, and touch letters and words, enhancing memory and retention.

Syllable Division Rules: The program provides explicit instruction on syllable division rules, teaching students how to break words down into manageable chunks. By understanding the structure of words, students can improve their decoding and encoding skills, which are critical for reading and spelling.

Phonological Awareness: It is the capacity to perceive and manipulate the individual noises (phonemes) within spoken syllables. WRS dedicates significant attention to developing phonological awareness, as it forms the foundation for phonics instruction.

Systematic And Cumulative: The Wilson Reading System follows a structured, sequential approach to teaching reading and spelling. Concepts are introduced gradually and built upon previous learning, ensuring that students develop a strong foundation before progressing to more complex material.

Explicit And Direct Instruction: The program emphasizes explicit teaching, leaving no room for guessing or assuming. Students are taught the rules and strategies required for decoding and encoding words, empowering them to become independent readers and spellers.

Decoding And Encoding: Decoding involves translating written words into spoken language, while encoding is the reverse process—transforming spoken language into written words. The Wilson Reading System trains students in both skills, enhancing their overall reading and writing abilities.

Intensive Teacher Training: The successful implementation of the Wilson Reading System relies on teachers who are well-trained in the methodology. Educators undergo comprehensive training to effectively deliver the program, ensuring that students receive the support they need to succeed.

The Wilson Reading System In Action

Let us delve deeper into the various stages of the Wilson Reading System and how they contribute to student progress:

Step 1: Pre-Reading

The program begins with pre-reading activities, focusing on phonological awareness, alphabet recognition, and understanding the relationship between sounds and letters. This stage prepares students for decoding and spelling by laying the groundwork for a strong phonetic foundation.

Step 2: Word Study

In this phase, students learn sound-symbol relationships and how to blend and segment sounds to form words. They are introduced to syllable division rules and practice reading and spelling one-syllable words.

Step 3: Advanced Word Study

As students progress, they move on to more complex word structures, including prefixes, suffixes, and multisyllabic words. They also learn various strategies to decode and encode unfamiliar words.

Step 4: Fluency

Fluency refers to the ability to read with accuracy, speed, and expression. The Wilson Reading System includes activities and exercises to improve reading fluency, helping students become confident readers.

Step 5: Comprehension

The final stage focuses on enhancing reading comprehension skills. Students learn how to analyze texts, make inferences, and draw conclusions. This step completes the reading process, transforming students into proficient readers who can understand and interpret what they read.


The Wilson Reading System has emerged as a transformative force in literacy education, equipping struggling readers with the tools they need to overcome obstacles and thrive academically. Its structured, multisensory approach, combined with explicit instruction and cumulative learning, has proven effective in fostering phonemic awareness, decoding, encoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

As educators, parents, and communities continue to invest in providing comprehensive and research-based interventions, the Wilson Reading System stands as a shining example of a program that empowers individuals to unlock their full potential and embrace the joy of reading.

Through the dedication of skilled teachers and the unwavering commitment to every student’s success, the Wilson Reading System continues to pave the way for a brighter and more inclusive future, where literacy is accessible to all.