11 Exhilarating Ways to Use Nonsense Word Activities
Nonsense words are key to reading success. We read nonsense words every day without even realizing it! These words often are syllables hidden within larger words. Think of the word “picnic”. This features two nonsense words: pic and nic. In order to successfully read the word, “picnic” students need to be able to break the word and read not only the individual sounds but blend them together to read the syllable chunks as well.
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Why Your Phonics Instruction Needs Nonsense Words
Strong phonics instruction needs work with nonsense words. Reading nonsense words allows students to work on applying their letter-sound knowledge and work on fluency without focusing on the meaning behind the words. Most of the time, when students know they are reading nonsense words, their fluency will increase. Why? Because reading nonsense words takes the pressure of understanding the word off. Students don’t have to worry if a word will make sense, or if they are reading it correctly because they know the words are going to be silly. Adding nonsense word activities to your phonics instruction will increase students’ knowledge of the target phonics skill, along with their confidence.
Why nonsense word activities work
Nonsense word activities also provide valuable insight and an opportunity for data collection. The teacher can notice that are students most often missing vowels? Or are they struggling with medial or ending sounds? Reading patterns are much more evident when a student is participating in nonsense word activities, allowing the teacher an opportunity to tailor instruction to meet the student’s needs.
What Is Nonsense Word Decoding
To put it simply, nonsense word decoding is using letter-sound knowledge to read nonsense, or made-up, words. Nonsense word decoding supports students learning and mastery of any phonetic concept. Practicing nonsense words allows students to work on the target phonetic skill, such as digraphs or r-controlled vowels, without worrying about the meaning behind the word. It’s a low-pressure way for students to apply their phonetic knowledge.
Improve reading with nonsense word decoding
Not only is nonsense word decoding a great way for students to practice their letter-sound knowledge, but it’s crucial to reading success. Think about reading a really large, scientific word like chemosynthesis. To read this word, most readers will chunk it into nonsense words before reading the entire word smoothly. It may sound like “chem-o-syn-thesis”. When readers are comfortable with nonsense word decoding, they gain the confidence to read any word given! Grab these to easily practice nonsense word decoding with your k-2 students!
Things to Teach Before Introducing Nonsense Words
Before incorporating nonsense word activities into daily phonics instruction, students first must have a working knowledge of some letters of the alphabet. Note: they do not need to know all of the letters. In fact, they shouldn’t! The earlier you can introduce blending activities, including nonsense words, into your phonics lessons the better! Blending shows students that letters rarely work in isolation. Letters work together to form words, which then become sentences. As students become readers they begin to understand the relationship between letters, words, sentences, and thoughts. Blending helps this relationship form.
What Letters to Teach First?
So, to teach nonsense word activities your students need to know some letters. But which ones to start with first? Common letters, or letters in their name? I don’t want to be the one to break it to you but: there is no best order to introduce the letters of the alphabet. You may have noticed each program has its’ own theory in terms of introducing the letters of the alphabet. Some choose to introduce letters based on formation, while others choose to introduce letters based on their sound or sound production, and still, others introduce letters based on frequency in words. It doesn’t matter the order letters are introduced as long as you are utilizing a systematic, multisensory approach in your instruction.
I prefer to introduce 3-4 consonants, then a vowel before introducing blending. Often I introduce the letters: t, c, m, and p. Then, I introduce the vowel: a. This allows students to build, blend and read the following words: cap, tap, mat, among others. These letters also are different enough that students don’t confuse them as often as they may confuse b and d. The variety of sounds, along with the introduction of the vowel, leads to student success when reading.
Real and Nonsense Words Activities
When students have grown comfortable blending and reading real and nonsense words, you can start adding some comprehension and meaning activities to your lessons! This means requiring the student not only to read the word but also to think about the word. No time to prep? Grab these games and know that your students are getting all the benefits of reading nonsense words.
3 Ways to Practice Real and Nonsense Words
Being able to tell the difference between real and nonsense words is a crucial reading skill. While we utilize nonsense words when reading, the word our student is trying to read should make sense once read in its entirety. To do this, students need to discern if the word makes sense. This is a large task that incorporates many different skills including vocabulary and schema but here are some simple activities to focus on if a word is real or made up!
- Write the Room
Take blank flashcards or cut-up pieces of paper and write both real and nonsense words on them. To make blending and reading a bit easier, you can write the vowels in a different color. Hang each piece of paper or card around the room. Give each student a blank piece of paper (or, you can make a grid if you’re feeling fancy!). Have each student draw a line down the middle and model writing nonsense words on one side, and real words on the other. Set the students off on their hunt! In the end, have students pair up or work in small groups to compare and discuss their answers.
Not sure how to run small groups in the elementary classroom? Check out this article about small group classroom management!
- Flashcard Sort
Using the same flashcards as above (or you can grab flashcards here with weeklong lesson plans and other activities!) have students work in pairs or small groups to sort the cards into two piles: real words or nonsense words.
- Paper Sort
This is the best, low prep, nonsense word activity! You can grab it here, along with week-long lesson plans and a variety of other phonics-focused activities. Just print and go! Students cut the individual words and then glue them on the appropriate side. There is even an alien for non-readers to easily tell which side nonsense words should be on. This activity makes a great center, assessment/check-in, or small group activity!
When to Use Nonsense Word Fluency Activities
Nonsense word fluency activities are a great way to increase reading fluency! They are a fun, silly way to practice phonetic rules and patterns in a low-stress way. Nonsense word fluency activities are a perfect warm-up or exit ticket for your K-2 small group instruction. Have students write nonsense words on a whiteboard or piece of paper. Trade with the student next to them and they must read the pretend word – be sure it phonetically sounds appropriate and is spelled using the proper phonetic rule.
Nonsense word sorts make a great whole group activity before breaking up into smaller group work. Give each student a notecard and have them add it to a “real” or “fake” pile as they transition to the next activity.
Decoding Nonsense Words Activities
Nonsense word activities are the perfect decoding practice. Before students decode nonsense words, they should be familiar with the phonetic rule (such as short vowels or digraphs) utilized in the words. For younger students, demonstrate how to isolate each sound before blending the word together. A quick activity to practice decoding nonsense words is to take a word card from the pile, decode the word then sort it into a real or fake pile. You can make your own, or you can grab these nonsense word cards here.
Nonsense Words Games Printable
Nonsense words are extremely beneficial to developing reading fluency. They are a perfect addition to any phonetic or reading program. Are you looking for an effective nonsense words games printable? Here are some for short vowels, or digraphs! Seamlessly embedded into week-long, targeted lesson plans your students will be able to read nonsense words and improve their fluency!
Nonsense Words Lesson Plans
When planning your phonics instruction, you can’t forget your nonsense word lesson plans! Are you unsure how to include nonsense words in your small group instruction? There are so many ways to teach reading, it is easy to get overwhelmed! These nonsense words lesson plans will make teaching K-2 phonics easy and effective. Layed out into easy-to-follow, 20-minute lessons your students will love building, reading, and creating nonsense words as they improve their reading fluency!
Be sure to grab those fun nonsense word activities here!
Running Your K-2 Small Groups
You can easily add nonsense word activities into your K-2 small group instruction with this no-mess, easy-to-follow FREE guide! These 7 tips will help you manage your class while teaching small groups and help you collect and understand data collection. Be sure to grab yours today!
Looking for more nonsense word resources? Check these out below!
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