Printed from Afterschool Curriculum Choice - Literacy

Curriculum Details for
Wilson Reading System

Practitioner Expert
Content Expert
Wilson Reading System
Publication Date: 1988
Grade Level: 2–12
Content Focus: Literacy/Language Arts: Reading, Spelling
Costs: $149 for WRS Starter Kit, $20-$60 for additional student materials and $470 per person for training.
The costs shown were accurate at the time of the review. Please check the publisher's web site for current prices.
Developer Contact Information
Wilson Language Training
47 Old Webster Road
Oxford, MA, 01540

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Program Description

Design Summary

Wilson Reading System (WRS) is a school-based intervention for struggling readers that is easily adapted for afterschool.  It is a comprehensive program that specifically addresses the learning style of students with a language-based learning disability; however, it is beneficial to any student lacking basic reading and spelling skills.

For students with word-level deficits, the basic purpose of the Wilson Reading System is to teach fluent decoding and encoding skills to the level of mastery. From the beginning steps of the program, the program also teaches sight word instruction, fluency, vocabulary, oral expressive language development and comprehension. The main goals are improved academic outcomes, stronger ties to reading and spelling, and strategic approaches to learning.  Components include an instructor manual outlining the specific scope and sequence of daily activities.  Other materials include: a notebook of resources for word planning, lists of words and sentences, sound and word cards, and a notebook of all rules and concepts that are being taught. Hands-on activities and manipulatives for students are an important part of the curriculum.

The program is multisensory in nature, as students learn through active verbal and physical participation. Students learn by hearing sounds, manipulating color-coded sound, syllable, and word cards, and using a unique sound-tapping system with their fingers.  All skills and knowledge are reinforced through visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile senses.  Students also get direct practice with specific, basic skills, allowing them to build their mastery of reading and spelling as the program progresses. For example, students have Student Readers to practice controlled word lists, sentences, and passages that correspond to the skills being taught.  Lessons and text passages can also be tailored to the students’ specific needs and interests.

Costs and Staff Training

The starter set for Wilson Reading Systems costs $149, which provides the necessary materials for a teacher to work with one student for about one and a half years. Materials for additional students cost an extra $20-$60 per student. Current costs for program materials can be obtained at

A 3-day Introductory Workshop and enrollment in the online teacher support resource is available.  Training is generally delivered onsite, at a cost of $470 per person. Wilson Level I Certification for working with students who may have a language-based learning disability is also available.  This training costs $1,100 per person.

Staff Qualifications

Teaching experience is not specifically required to implement the Wilson Reading System. The content expert review suggests that instructors should know their content area, be organized, and know their students well in order to use the curriculum in a meaningful and relevant way.

Standards Alignment

  • National: None specified.
  • State: Contact the publisher for state alignment

Research Base

The Orton-Gillingham philosophy of reading instruction and phonological coding research form the basis of Wilson Reading System.

Evaluation Details

Several evaluations are currently underway. The Florida Center for Reading Research has conducted an independent evaluation of this curriculum to look at overall academic improvement in the areas taught. A second evaluation is currently in process in New York City with middle and high school students. They are testing the impact of 18 months of daily Wilson Reading System lessons on the reading skills of students who scored in the bottom 30% on standardized testing.

Overall Strengths/Overall Challenges

  • Students are actively involved and engaged with the learning process. 
  • Comprehensive curriculum, leaves no vocabulary, spelling or reading skill unturned or unexplored.
  • Thorough instruction teaches skills in-depth.
  • Materials are varied, and are simultaneously accessible for many learners and a variety of learning styles.
  • Solid research base.
  • Volume of material – manuals, books, journals, cards, DVDs, etc. – may require the teacher to take a good deal of time becoming familiar with and mastering the curriculum.
  • Materials are well-suited toward reading specialists or classrooms with more than one teacher.

Practitioner Expert Review

Practitioner Expert Background

Two practitioners were interviewed for this review of Wilson Reading Systems.  One practitioner is the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for a mid-sized school district.  She has also been teaching Wilson Reading in special education classes for the past six years, and has found it to be successful in improving these students’ reading skills. The second practitioner has been using Wilson Reading Systems regularly for the past 15 years.  The students she works with are multicultural and have a range of reading abilities.


  • Attended a two-day initial training. Felt training to be sufficient to start using Wilson Reading, although also found follow-up professional development sessions to be beneficial.
  • Preparation takes between 30 minutes and one hour to prepare for a two-day lesson for students in small groups.
  • As instructors become more familiar with the curriculum, the basics of preparation and set up become easier.
  • Has used Wilson effectively with classes of 12-16 students. Sometimes these students are broken up into smaller groups.
  • High quality, individualized customer service.

Student Engagement

  • Curriculum requires students to be involved orally, manipulatively, and physically.  Requires student response at all times.
  • Students tend to be engaged and rely upon the structure of the program to help them learn.
  • Monitoring piece, which allows them to see what they are trying to achieve, can be motivating for students. 
  • Comprehensiveness of program allows students to be able to focus on those topics they are struggling with the most.
  • Teachers can make up games to add to the program.


Adaptability to instructor needs
  • Program is structured, but not entirely scripted.  A specific scope and sequence is offered.  Teacher needs to know students well enough to know which words, stories, concepts, etc., to choose to teach students.
  • Differentiates introductory, accuracy, and fluency lessons, with fluency being the ultimate goal.
  • Structure is especially useful in special education classes.
  • Included are progress monitor pieces that help students.
General skills taught
  • Builds vocabulary, especially with students who may struggle in this area.
  • Helps students’ understanding of how to question, learn, think, and research to further push what they already know.
Addressing diverse student needs
  • Program is designed to be used for all ages—middle school through adult.
  • Has been effective with students who are English language learners.

Strengths and Challenges

  • Solid research base.
  • Comprehensive reading curriculum.
  • Students are actively involved and engaged with the learning process. 
  • This practitioner did not find any challenges with Wilson Reading.

Content Expert Review

Content Expert Reviewer

Shari Dickstein
Shari Dickstein, doctoral candidate in Educational Policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is also an independent instructional consultant. A former New York City high school teacher and adjunct professor at New York University, she now works with urban school districts (New York, Boston and Prince George's County) in a variety of ways to improve teaching quality and instruction at the systemic level. She has co-created instructional manuals on literacy and "writing across the curriculum" for students at Baruch College (an affiliate of the City University of New York) and on best practices for developing teachers for urban youth (for Boston's Teacher Residency program). Currently, she is working with Harvard's Teacher Education program to develop curriculum and on an evaluation of alternative teacher education programs in Prince George's County (Maryland).


  • Program is designed to show students how to decode and spell.
  • Constant stress on sounds, consonants and vowels, letter and word formation throughout the curriculum is critical.
  • Curriculum includes a host of activities for students that engage them in sounding out vowels and in relation to consonants.  This is key, as vowels can be more difficult than consonants for children to accurately identify and spell.
  • The materials included are colorful and compelling tools for teaching.


Academic Skills
  • Spelling and decoding
  • Manipulating sounds within words
  • Phonics and phonological processing
  • Constant stress on sounds, consonants, and vowels, as well as letter and word formation.
Study Skills
  • Independent learning and studying.
Non-Academic Skills
  • Can build self-confidence and other non-academic skills, depending on teacher’s interaction with students.

Alignment to Standards

Not explicitly aligned with any standards, but without the academic skills of spelling and reading that form the basis for this curriculum, students would be hard-pressed to master any learning standard.


  • Student completion of “student notebooks”
  • Additional work products completed by the students
  • Dictation exercises and read-aloud exercises


  • Curriculum is highly structured, such that teachers are provided with all of the materials necessary to deliver the content effectively.
  • There is little flexibility in regard to content.  Teachers can elect whether or not to teach the specific content as suggested; however, given that the skills emphasized are meant to build upon one another, a huge diversion may interrupt the natural learning process for students.
  • Many of the activities in the workbooks are directly linked to the stories provided by Wilson Reading Systems.
  • While most of the instruction is teacher-directed, the emphasis on skill-building for students lends itself to a variety of student-centered, hands-on learning tasks.

Addressing Diverse Student Needs

  • Teachers can tailor instruction in ways to make it most meaningful for students.
  • Variety of activities allows adaptation for students of different learning styles.
Developmental level
  • Content and activities geared toward younger students are developmentally appropriate. 
  • While materials designed for older students teach appropriate skills, the content of the stories is more appropriate for younger students.
Learning Styles Addressed
  • The curriculum is visual and can reach and adapt to a variety of learning styles.
  • Interpersonal learning: Emphasis on read-aloud and using “word cards” and “syllable cards” with each other.  Curriculum is very interactive and gets students and teachers to interact with each other in creative ways.
  • Artistic learning: The props, books, worksheets, and stories all lend themselves to opportunities for the teacher to incorporate artistic activities to enhance learning.
  • Curriculum does not explicitly address students’ diverse backgrounds.
  • Stories lack cultural relevance to a variety of backgrounds.

Strengths and Challenges

Strongest Features
  • Comprehensive curriculum; leaves no vocabulary, spelling or reading skill unturned or unexplored.
  • Thorough instruction teaches skills in-depth.
  • Materials are varied and are simultaneously accessible for many learners and a variety of learning styles.
Challenges and Drawbacks
  • Volume of material – manuals, books, journals, cards, DVDs, etc. – may require the teacher to take a good deal of time becoming familiar with and mastering the curriculum.
  • Materials are well-suited toward reading specialists or classrooms with more than one teacher.

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