A randomized control trial compared the effects of two kinds of vocabulary instruction on component reading skills of adult struggling readers. Participants seeking alternative high school diplomas received 8 h of scripted tutoring to learn forty academic vocabulary words embedded within a civics curriculum. They were matched for language background and reading levels, then randomly assigned to either morpho-phonemic analysis teaching word origins, morpheme and syllable structures, or traditional whole word study teaching multiple sentence contexts, meaningful connections, and spellings. Both groups made comparable gains in learning the target words, but the morpho-phonemic group showed greater gains in reading unfamiliar words on standardized tests of word reading, including word attack and word recognition. Findings support theories of word learning and literacy that promote explicit instruction in word analysis to increase poor readers’ linguistic awareness by revealing connections between morphological, phonological, and orthographic structures within words.