,

How to Choose and Use Nonsense Words in Structured Literacy Lessons

Imagine walking into a kindergarten or 1st-grade classroom where the students are hard at work decoding words. 

As you walk from table to table, you see the students looking confident in their decoding skills and you hear words being read, like:

“tup,” “lun,” “jop,” and “rit”

Wait, WHAT?!? Those aren’t real words. 

You’re right, they’re not real words! They’re nonsense words. Nonsense words are like the unicorns of language – magical, fantastical, and utterly made-up!

But don’t worry, the teacher has not lost her marbles (or should I say, she has not lost her migs.) Nonsense words are made-up words that follow phonetic rules and can be decoded. However, they do not have a definition or meaning. They can be used as a tool to practice and assess phonics and decoding skills.

You might be thinking, “Wait, I’ve heard about nonsense words and I thought we weren’t supposed to use them!”

It’s true, the use of nonsense words in early literacy instruction has been a subject of debate and controversy within the educational community. However, the most up-to-date research on the topic tells us that the use of nonsense words in early literacy instruction is often associated with improved decoding skills.

Let’s take a closer look at nonsense words and how we can use them appropriately and effectively in our structured literacy lessons!

One of the main reasons we use nonsense words is to ensure students are really decoding the word in front of them and not simply working from memorization or – worse yet, guessing! 

Our goal is not to create students who are good at reading made-up words. Our goal is to train students to become strong decoders. They are a powerful tool we can use to send a message that reading the entire word is important.

These have quite a few benefits for our little learners. The most important is that it can aid in building fluency with the code. Because students aren’t relying on memorization or guesswork, we can tell their areas of strengths or weaknesses by assessing their ability to decode and encode these words.

And, second most importantly – can be fun and silly!

Although these words are a helpful tool for decoding practice, it’s best to use them together with real words, and let children identify which words are real and which are nonsense. This ensures children connect meaning to words and understand the importance of understanding what they read.

Nonsense words (made-up words) are a great tool for practicing accurate decoding when learning to read. This post has ideas to help you incorporate real and nonsense word practice into your instruction in kindergarten and first grade!

Here are a few simple ways to weave nonsense words into your lessons and practice.

Nonsense words (made-up words) are a great tool for practicing accurate decoding when learning to read. This post has ideas to help you incorporate these into your instruction in kindergarten and first grade!

You don’t want to confuse students by mixing made-up words in without ever explaining to them what you’re doing. Start by introducing their use and explaining their purpose to your students.

Just like when you’re teaching your students decoding using CVC words, start with continuous letter sounds. This makes blending so much easier! 

Continuous letter sounds are the opposite of stop sounds. They are phonemes (or sounds) that can be stretched out (think of ‘Mmmmmmm’ when hungry).

Examples of continuous sounds are the sounds represented by these letters: f, h, j, l, m, n, r, s, v, y, and z. Additionally, all vowel sounds are continuous sounds.

The key to using these words is to keep them decodable for your students. Make sure you are only using words that follow the skills and patterns you have already explicitly taught.

As your students become more accustomed to the use of nonsense words and their decoding and encoding skills improve, you can begin to increase difficulty… gradually.

When choosing words, don’t confuse kids by using a pattern that can be read multiple ways, especially if they’ve only learned one of the ways so far! For example, if your students haven’t yet learned about soft c and g, don’t use nonsense words like cif or tage yet.

Use them in moderation! Balancing phonics instruction with meaningful reading experiences is key to fostering successful literacy development in young learners, so be sure you are not overusing them. The goal is not to learn to read nonsense words, but rather to apply decoding skills accurately. Using nonsense words together with real words and having kids identify the real ones is a worthy exercise.

HOT TIP: Before you use any nonsense words, preview them to make sure they don’t sound or look too much like any curse words! #lessonlearnedthehardway

For done-for-you practice, grab this CVC pack! It has 5 activities for EACH short vowel, plus 5 CVC mix pages (total 30 activities). It also includes an assessment you can reuse for progress-monitoring.

Nonsense words (made-up words) are a great tool for practicing accurate decoding when learning to read. This post has ideas to help you incorporate real and nonsense word practice into your instruction in kindergarten and first grade!

You can grab this resource in my TOTS SHOP or on TPT.

Want a sneak peek? Grab five FREE activities from the Real & Nonsense Word Fluency Practice Pack below!

Do you use nonsense words in your structured literacy lessons? Let me know how you choose them and incorporate them into your lessons!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Suggested Posts

View site