Teaching reading non words is be-ne-fi-cial

Some teachers claim that teaching children to read non words (nonsense words), as they appear in the Y1 phonics check, is a waste of time.

But, actually, getting children comfortable with reading non words is really useful.  When they decode multi-syllabic words they often need to read syllables that initially don’t make sense. They need to hold on to these meaningless syllables until they blend them into a recognisable word.

A random look at the dictionary under the letter ‘t’ reveals numerous examples:

tur – bu – lent

trum- pet

tru- ant



So teaching children to read non words is ac-tu-a-lly    ve-ry    be- ne- fi- cial!



  1. I don’t understand. Why is it more useful than having them decode actual words?
    I haven’t heard so many complaints that it’s a waste of time, rather that testing the skill of reading non-words in a high-stakes national test is a distortion of priorities.

    1. Non-word reading is useful for three reasons:
      1. It the most effective way to assess the skill of decoding by using words the pupil has not seen before. In many phonics programme this is one of the ways to asses a pupil who needs an intervention programme. How do you know where to start? If you offer the pupil a test with real words they may have memorised them by their shape and therefore they would not be decoding. Why does this matter? Because if they encounter any other word with the same grapheme they would not be able to decode them. The purpose of teaching the phonic code is to enable pupils to read any word they encounter. Beginner readers will have to work out (decode) most words as most words will be new to them. This is the reason is it in the Y1 Phonics Check.
      2. Phoneme manipulation is one of the underlying skills of reading. Being able to change sounds in words. It helps pupils self correct when they are reading. One of the exercises that is used to develop this skill is to change any sound in a word and read it – even a non-word.
      This exercise is very helpful for spelling at early stages of learning to read. It helps pupils really listen to sounds in words as they cannot resort to visualising a spelling they already know. This is the great way to unstick those adjacent consonants that children struggle to spell.
      3. As beginner readers can read only a limited number of words initially, new words are ‘words not yet met’ – a phrase made up by Alison Clarke a speech pathologist from Spelfabet (a good website to check out). As many of these new words may have multi-syllables, the reader has to read each syllable accurately without attributing meaning to each syllable. Children who are comfortable with decoding any word real or no-word will find this easier.

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