On Monday I published a post on reading fluency, and what I thought was the “secret sauce” in helping your child learn to read fluently. Today I wanted to talk about nonsense word fluency. Is it important for little readers to be able to read nonsense words fluently? What are some things we can do to increase nonsense word fluency. Why is nonsense word fluency important? When should we not worry about nonsense word fluency? What is the good, the bad and the ugly truth about nonsense words?
What are nonsense words?
Nonsense words that are….nonsense! As silly as that sounds, that is exactly what they are. They are words that are not real words. They are words that do not make any sense. They are words that the reader has to be able to look at and know how to sound out say fluently, yet the word has no meaning. One author that most people know who wrote using a lot of nonsense words is Dr. Seuss. In his book, There’s a Wocket in My Pocket, he asks: Do you ever get the feeling there is a wasket in your basket? Or a nureau in your bureau, or a woset in your closet?
If you can read the nonsense words in the last sentence (wasket, nureau, and woset), easily and quickly, you have nonsense word fluency! When someone hears you read the book with fluency (easily), they would know that even though many of the words have no meaning to you, you still know how to put the sounds together and read them…therefore, it sort of show that you are able to read.
If you think about it, to someone who is not able to read, all words are nonsense words. If you don’t know what the words are, you have to rely on your decoding skills to be able to figure out the words…you are not just relying on memorization. Take the poem, “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll. In it, Lewis Carroll writes, “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:/All mimsy were the borogoves,/ And the mome raths outgrabe.” In order to read that sentence fluently, you have to rely on decoding skills to be able to put sounds to the nonsense words.
So, because nonsense words require you to put your thinking cap on when reading them, they are used in schools to test whether a student can read fluently or whether a student needs help with phonics and breaking words down into segments.
So, we know what they are, and we know they are good to help diagnose someone’s ability to read…but, why are they bad? Well, if you are an English language learner, or someone who is struggling to understand the meaning of reading, nonsense words would just confuse you. One of my majors in college was Spanish. I had to read a lot more text in Spanish than I did in English… many of the things I read were old text, and old Inca or Mayan text. Many of those words just made no sense at all to me, and I would have trouble deciding if I should look it up, or just read over it, and I didn’t know what anything meant. Having an English Language learner, or a struggling reader try to read something that has no meaning just makes them feel more frustrated…(and as we learned with reading fluency, we want to give readers confidence, not confusion).
Nonsense Word Fluency
To help English language learners, struggling readers (and really all readers), with nonsense word fluency, take a back to the basics approach. Explicitly teach phonics instruction. Practice word ladders/word families to help build fluency. Then, when you feel you have mastered phonics, add in nonsense words. (We will have a nonsense word fluency activity in a few days!)
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Madreen Karle is a master first grade reading teacher with over 30 years of classroom experience. She taught reading in a special needs and English as a Second Language classroom. After retiring she wrote a reading program to help others learn how to teach reading. She is a trusted educator and author of 5 books to help teach children to read and write. In addition to her books, she is a mentor for 3 websites that give reading teacher tips (Mrs. Karle’s Sight and Sound Reading, Mrs. Karle’s Reading Patch, and Mrs. Karle’s Handwriting Patch). Through her teaching she learned that confidence was the key to learning to read. A child who is not confident at reading does not like to read and struggles to read. Mrs. Karle created “sunshine moments” to help teach children how to grow their confidence and learn to read.
Meeghan Karle Mousaw (Madreen’s daughter) has her Master’s in Special Education. She has 8 years experience teaching children to read online. In addition, she developed a curriculum to teach children handwriting called The Handwriting Patch. With the Handwriting Patch learning is fun because children learn to draw and learn handwriting at the same time. In 2019 The Handwriting Patch curriculum became an amazon best seller the first year it was released, helping thousands of kids learn handwriting with a unique, fun method. She is mom to 6 kids, each with differently learning abilities and struggles.
The Reading Patch was established by the creators of Mrs. Karle’s Sight and Sound Reading. Together they have been featured on the NBC media outlets and Parents Magazine online. Over the last 8 years in their online platform, Madreen and Meeghan have worked tirelessly with teachers, homeschoolers and parents looking to help children learn to read to become a trusted authority in teaching children to read and advocating early literacy skills. They often partner with other educational experts to deliver the most current information to the Reading Patch community.