Nonsense Monsters - why use nonsense words when teaching literacy?

May 5, 2023
Nonsense Monsters - why use nonsense words when teaching literacy?
What's all this nonsense about nonsense words in teaching literacy?.. and what does it have to do with monsters?

Each week in the Literacy Clinic, we are very fortunate to work with many children with varying talents and interests. The lessons we teach are from the Sounds-Write program and it is our role as practitioners to keep our students motivated and to keep their interest high. Students attending the Literacy Clinic for intervention range in age from 5 to 16 years old. 

One of our highly creative students, Sam*, aged 10, loves to draw characters and, on this day, in one of his Literacy Clinic sessions, he felt inspired to draw monster characters. We were swapping sounds in and out of non-words or nonsense words. Non-words are word-like groups of sounds that are not recognised as real words in the English language, such as: ‘bup’ or ‘skem’. Sam could visualise what a ‘shrop’ might look like.

The reason we use non-words is to practice the skill of segmenting and blending sounds to read unfamiliar words using sounds that are known to students. Students won't have been exposed to these words before, so they won't use their visual memories to read them, but are encouraged to apply decoding skills to read the word. 

The game that Sam was playing uses nonsense words designed to help develop phonemic awareness (which is important for hearing sounds and where the sounds are placed in words), an important skill for reading and spelling. Nonsense words are also a tool to assess what sounds students know and help to identify if they need to develop initial sounds, medial sounds or final sounds when decoding a word.  

Sam is quite the illustrator!

We hope you enjoy these monster illustrations that Sam drew in one of his sessions, which shows his artistic interpretations of a selection of non-words. It is a pleasure for us to celebrate the success of all our students on their learning journey.  

*Student’s name has been changed for anonymity.

We currently have limited places available in our Literacy Clinic. Please submit an application form, through our website if you would like a placement.