Is it okay to use them when teaching reading?

A reader sent us the following inquiry regarding nonsense words:

Why do you have nonsense work flashcards posted on the activity section of your site? They are great for testing alphabetic principle but I do not believe that they were ever intended to be used in instruction. The goal is to get students to read real words and comprehend what they are reading. Nonsense words do not make sense as an instructional activity. Reading instruction should be authentic and real, as much as possible. We need to teach alphabetic principle concepts and strategies. I would really like to know what research supports using these types of words in instruction?

The topic of nonsense words and their use tends to generate some healthy debate. Proponents of a whole language approach are especially critical of their use. Katie and I both believe that the use of nonsense words offers an effective way to establish the alphabetic principle and to practice decoding and encoding. Our belief is supported by research. In fact, several highly researched reading programs with documented effectiveness incorporate the use of nonsense words into their reading instruction. Some of these reading programs include Orton-Gillingham, The Barton Reading and Spelling Program, Wilson, and The Lindamood Bell Phoneme Sequencing Program for Reading, Spelling and Speech. The International Dyslexia Association endorses the Orton-Gillingham approach so we take the stance that if this credible organization is comfortable with the teaching of them then we are too. As with anything, knowing the appropriate time and way to use them is of the upmost importance. If one does not understand their purpose we would suggest not using them. But make no mistake, the teaching of nonsense words does have an appropriate place in a highly structured, sequential system for teaching reading and spelling, which is what all reading teachers should use, especially for students with learning disabilities.

Check back soon for a page dedicated to this topic and suggestions for the appropriate use and purpose of these types of words.

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