What are non-words and why they should be part of the Y1 Phonics Check

Non-words are nonsense words made up of the spellings (graphemes) a child has already been taught by Year 1. Words like ‘bip’, ‘steg’ or ‘shromp’.  Read more to find out why non-words should be in the Y1 Phonics Screening Check.

Why is it a good idea to include them in the Y1 reading check?

Non-words are a very efficient way to check if a pupil knows:
a. the sounds that the letters spell
b. how to blend those sounds into words

And that is the purpose of the check – to identify the pupils who are falling behind. Those pupils will have gaps in their phonic knowledge and/or poor blending skills.

As children become readers they begin to store words in their memory bank. If they are given words they know how to read, they will not need use the strategy of sounding the word out and blending the sounds into the word. If we are trying to check what knowledge (the spellings and the sounds) and the skill (blending) it is best to do so with non-words.

There has been some criticism of this idea – claiming that it encourages children to read without meaning or that is it confusing for them.
We would say that, actually, it is very useful to be able to read non words because when we have to read multisyllabic words we don’t know, we break them up into chunks that initially may have no meaning. Take the word ‘frantic’. If we did not know how to read it we would have to break it up to ‘fran’ and ‘tic’. Both syllables have no meaning for the beginner reader. It is therefore, useful to be able to decode parts of words that have no meaning. Meaning is gained only when the syllables are combined.

Below are some street names.  In order to read them the reader needs to figure out the non-sense syllables and then put them together.



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