One way to see how well a child can use their phonics skills is by decoding real and nonsense words. Nonsense words have a variety of different nicknames. Your child may call them non-words, pseudo words, alien words or made up words. They are simply a collection of letters that follow phonic rules but the words do not mean anything. As these words are new to all children, they assess whether a child can decode a word using phonic knowledge rather than using their visual memory or good vocabulary knowledge.
At the end of Year 1, in the UK, all children go through a Phonics Screening Check. This short assessment consists of 40 words and non-words and identifies children who need additional phonics help. Our Spin A Word – Real vs Nonsense Words activity is a fun way to practise phonic knowledge whilst deciphering whether a word is real or not.
Related article – A parents guide to Phonics
Resources needed for Spin A Word – Real vs Nonsense Words
* Wooden dowling. A rounded craft stick or thin tube could be used instead
* Three cubes with a hole through the middle. We used yellow cubes from our Lacing Beads collection
* Playdough or blue tac
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* Whiteboard marker pen
* Two small white boards (or use paper)
How to set up Spin A Word – Real vs Nonsense Words
1. Thread the cubes onto the wooden dowling.
2. Place either playdough or blue tac at either end of the wooden dowling so that the cubes do not fall off.
3. Use the whiteboard marker pen to write four letters on each cube. You can choose whichever letters you wish. Just ensure that the middle cube contains vowels. I wrote:
1st cube – f, c, b and m 2nd cube (vowels) a, e, i and u 3rd cube – d, p, t and n
4. Draw an arrow on the wooden dowling. This will indicate which letters your child will be reading.
5. Place two whiteboards underneath the word spinner. I labelled one board with a tick to indicate a real word and a cross on the other to indicate a nonsense word.
How to play Spin A Word – Real vs Nonsense Words
1. Hold the dowling in one hand and spin the three cubes with the other hand. Your child may find this easier if you hold the dowling for them.
2. Wait for cubes to stop spinning and place the dowling on the table with the arrow visible.
3. Ask your child to sound out the three letters. Blend the sounds together to create the word. Decide if it is a real word or a nonsense word.
3. Write the word on either the real word whiteboard or the nonsense word whiteboard.
4. Repeat the activity several times until your child has filled the whiteboards. Were there more real words or more nonsense words?
How to extend Spin A Word – Real vs Nonsense Words
There are a number of ways you can easily extend the activity. If your child has mastered the activity using three individual letters then replace some letters from either the first or the third cube with digraphs (two letters to make one sound). Digraphs such as sh, th and ch would work well on either cubes.
Why not add an additional cube at the end of the wooden doweling. This activity would make CVCC words (consonant vowel consonant consonant). You could create words such as fond, bank and band.
After several spins, you could move the cubes around to create CCVC words (consonant consonant vowel consonant). For example crab, drag and trap.
Spin A Word – Real vs Nonsense Words is a fun way to practice phonic knowledge, decode words and prepare your child for the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check.
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