A Guide Nonsense Words (pseudo-words)

These words seem like actual English words but aren’t. Using nonsense words, you can effectively detect if a child is able to apply the principles of phonics without having to provide real-word patterns. The use of nonsense words offers several benefits.

The key reason why nonsense words are crucial to assessing decoding and phonics is that students cannot decode a word without comprehending the phonics skills within that word. There’re two parts to reading a word: decoding a word and understanding a word. When a student is reading a word in context, the context can often help them comprehend what the word means. By using nonsense words, teachers can remove all context clues. It helps them get a true assessment of a child’s ability to decode and a true understanding of their knowledge of phonics.

Some students depend on memorizing vocabulary to be able to read. However, memorizing words isn’t an effective way to learn to read because if a kid hasn’t been exposed to a particular word before, they won’t be able to make meaning from it or decode it. When teachers use nonsense words, they eliminate the ability of a student to pass a phonics skills assessment because of word memorization.

Students often stop reading when they encounter a word they don’t instantly recognize. Students who’ve had practice decoding words that they know aren’t real words transfer their word attack skills to real words. These skills help them to properly use a sentence’s context to figure out the meaning of unknown words instead of inefficiently over-relying on context to decode those words.

Many students experience a plateau with reading in third/fourth grade. Up until that point, they’ve been able to get by with guessing strategies and memorization. By third/fourth grade, they need more advanced word attack skills. Multi-syllabic words require students to decode several small “word parts” and assemble them. These word parts are similar to nonsense words. One study found that children who practice syllabication skills by spelling and reading nonsense words made considerably greater improvements in reading comprehension, word attack, and word identification than their peers who didn’t have that practice.

Nonsense words are an effective way to practice encoding and decoding and to establish the alphabetic principle because they help children learn good phonics skills. Children should be able to decode and blend words they don’t know since they’ll continue to encounter unfamiliar words for the rest of their reading life.

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