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Words Their Way

Program Description:

Words Their Way is advertised as a phonics based spelling program. However, it is not an example of a structured literacy approach to phonics. Words Their Way is an inquiry based learning approach to phonics, which uses analytic phonics, instead of synthetic phonics. The program emphasizes the use of word lists that the students cut out and sort into word families. In order to properly assess the efficacy of an intervention, we should use a peer-reviewed meta-analysis; however, to the best of my knowledge there exists only one relevant study on the program. I attempted to find studies on Google, Education Source, Sage Pub, and the company website. 

Other Reviews:

What Works Clearinghouse reviewed the Words their Way program and found no studies that fit their inclusion criterion. 

Our Analysis:

We searched for studies on the company website, ERIC, and Education Source. Studies were included if they had a sample size of above 20, included a control group, and had sufficient reporting to calculate an effect size. Results were than evaluated by calculating an effect size, via the formula d = (treatment post test - control post test)/pooled SD. 1 study was found that fit the inclusion criteria:

Studies Reviewed:

In 2011, Eddy, Et al conducted a randomized control trial of Words Their Way, on grade 2-3 students. The authors calculated effect size results for this study that were statistically insignificant, suggesting a low efficacy for the program. However, more research should be conducted as one study is never enough to assess the efficacy of a program. 


Words Their Way does include two evidence-based principles within its program, phonics, and spelling instruction. However, the program specifically uses analytic phonics, which only teaches phonemes through larger word families and not synthetic phonics. This is problematic, as synthetic phonics has been shown to have higher results than analytic phonics. The NRP meta-analysis found a mean ES of .45 for synthetic phonics in comparison to non-synthetic approaches. It is also problematic that the program teaches phonics through an inquiry approach as the NRP meta-analysis found phonics programs with a direct instruction approach outperformed other approaches by an effect size of .48. For these reasons, I do not believe we can call Words Their Way as evidence-based or research-based. 

Final Grade: C-

A RCT found results between 0 and .1. Most of the program principles are not evidence based. 


Qualitative Grade: 2/10

The following program principles were essential evidence-based principles: phonics, and spelling instruction. 

Disclaimer: Please note that this review is not peer reviewed content. These reviews are independently conducted. Pedagogy Non Grata, does not take profit from conducting any program review found on this website.  

Written by Nathaniel Hansford: teacher and lead writer for Pedagogy Non Grata

Last Edited: 2023-10-11



Eddy, R. M., Ruitman, T., Hankel, N., Matelski, M. H. & Schmalstig, M. (2011). Pearson Words Their Way: Word Study in Action Intervention Efficacy Study Final Report.

ELL Toolbox. (2022). Words Their Way. Retrieved from <>. 


-NRP. (2001). Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence Based Assessment of the Scientific Literature on Reading Instruction. United States Government. Retrieved from <>. 

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