How to Teach Nonsense Words, and Color by Nonsense Word Worksheets for CVC Words!

Do your students struggle with the concept of "nonsense words?"  Teaching nonsense words can be a a little bit tricky, but when you take it step by step, it's really not much harder than any other skill.  In this post, I'll explain exactly how to teach nonsense words, and I'll also explain WHY it's important to teach them- and basically, it has to do with comprehension and phonics.  They really can be beneficial to students for a lot of reasons.  I also am really excited to tell you about our new Color by Nonsense Words Worksheets for CVC Words, too!

First, let me tell you about the new worksheets, and then I'll tell you how to use them in a lesson so that you can teach your students to read those nonsense words.  Our new Color by Nonsense Word Worksheets Set One and Color by Nonsense Word Worksheets Set Two are perfect for helping kids with basic comprehension of CVC words, because they have to really think about what each word MEANS (or rather, if it means anything at all) before they can color in the section!  They are also wonderful for helping kids exercise those phonics skills in a fun way, because they must use phonics to sound out each word.

These are the word families included in the CVC Volume One Book, AND the Color by Nonsense Words Worksheets, Set One.

These are the word families included in the CVC Volume Two Book, AND the Color by Nonsense Words Worksheets, Set Two.

Each of these sets support our CVC (Consonant-Vowel-Consonant) Workbooks, Volumes One and Two.  That means that all of the word families that appear in our CVC Book, Volume 1 are in our Color by Nonsense Word Worksheets, Set One.  And, all of the word families in our CVC Book Volume 2 are found in our Color by Nonsense Word Worksheets, Set 2.  It is also means that Set One accompanies our Word Family Songs DVD as well!

I originally created some worksheets like these several years ago to give children a fun way to practice phonics skills and comprehension when reading those all important three letter words with a CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) spelling pattern.  I also created them to help them practice for their DIBELS tests- but more on that below.  Color by Nonsense Word Worksheets Set One has 42 worksheets for the 15 word families included in the HeidiSongs CVC Workbook, Volume One, including at, an, it, of ip, in, ig, ot, op, ox, et, en, eg, ug, ut, un.  ($4 for the download.)

Color by Nonsense Word Worksheets Set Two has 40 worksheets for the 13 word families included in the HeidiSongs CVC Workbook, Volume Two, including ap, ag, ad, id, im, od, og, ed, em, um, ud, ub, up.  The photos below are from Set 2.  ($4 for the download.)

Why Nonsense Words?

Learning to Read Nonsense Words is Helpful for Children That GUESS at Words

When children learn to read simple three letter words, such as “cat” or “dog,” they sometimes start GUESSING and pay little attention to the actual letters that they see, other than the beginning sound.  Reading nonsense words can help isolate those phonics skills for children that have not yet developed them because they have become great at GUESSING!  Many children are so smart that they can make very astute guesses at words, based on no more than the first few letters of the word and the context of the reading passage. But you can’t guess at a nonsense word!

Other children may try to memorize these tiny words rather than learn to sound them out, and that becomes a problem when they are suddenly confronted many DOZENS of these tiny words that all start to look alike!

Deciding If a Word is Real or Nonsense is an Exercise in Basic Comprehension 

Some children have to put so much effort into sounding out words that they totally forget to think about what they are reading  MEANS!  One solution is to give the children some words to read that are “real” and actually make sense, and have them compare them to “nonsense words.” Nonsense words, of course, are really made up words that mean nothing at all, at least in standard English! So the children are forced to think about the meanings of each word and decide if each one is an actual word that means something or not.  (Example:  Does the word make sense? Does it mean anything?)  In these worksheets, the children must color the objects or sections in each picture a specific color, depending on whether it is a real word or not.  And when they learn new words in the process, children's vocabularies also grow.

Learning to Read Short Nonsense Words Helps Kids Read Longer Words Later

Reading nonsense words is good preparation for reading long, multisyllabic words such as “encyclopedia,” “condominium,” “auditorium,” or “hippopotamus.” The reason is because each syllable in these long words is made up of a small nonsense word! Children with solid phonics skills can be trained later to apply those skills to any word, long or short. They should be able to take a word apart, syllable by syllable, and read it without guessing.

This particular Nonsense Word Worksheet is from Set 2.

To help get kids started using these worksheets, I recommend that you do these worksheets TOGETHER as a group.  Do them as a guided lesson.  I did them in small groups by first showing the children the letters on large flashcards and helping them sound out the words.  I found it very helpful for me to wear my Show and Tell Apron that I got from the Kinder-Gardening TPT store!!  Even though I was sitting down for the lesson, I just left the apron untied and lifted up the pockets each time we needed to sound out a word.  It kept my hands free and left more space on the table.

Note that the Kinder-Gardening apron comes with some very nice downloadable letters, which I forgot to print out.  (Duh!)  So I just wrote my own letters on index cards and trimmed them down to two by five inches.  Worked fine!

How to Teach Nonsense Words with the Color by Nonsense Words Worksheets:

-Show the children the letters on large flashcards and helping them sound out the word as a group.

-Together, decide if the word has any meaning or not. Basically,  I talked them through the decision of whether or not it was a real word or a nonsense word by asking them things like, "Can you "vip" me?  Can you give me a "vip?"  Does this paper look "vip" to you?  Does the word "vip" have any meaning at all, or is it silly?" (Notice how I tried to use the nonsense word as a verb, a noun, and an adjective with the children, looking for meaning in the nonsense word.)

-Together decide which color to use on the worksheet by re-reading the directions each time if necessary.

-Together, find that word on the worksheet and color it (or underline it with the correct color so that later the children can go back and color it.)

-Repeat this process until the worksheet is completed, or until you are confident that the children understand how to proceed on their own.

-While the children are coloring, try to find the time to go back and listen to the individual children read some of the words to you, asking them if the word is real or nonsense.

We underlined the words with the correct color first, and then I released them to finish the coloring.  I also gave them ONLY the colors that they needed, rather than all of the colors in the box.

Here's a little movie that shows you the lesson that I did:

Sometimes certain words appeared multiple times, so we decided to “work smart” and color all of them at once.  The children really enjoyed trying to find ALL of them, and then counting them, calling out, "I found another!  That's three!" etc.  In fact, they were having so much fun with it, proudly showing each other where to find the words that we decided it was a lot like playing "Where's Waldo?"  It actually made me wish I had "planted" more word doubles in it, LOL!

The boys really enjoyed the car theme of this Nonsense Word Worksheet! I did have to clarify that the color words were meant to be colored that specific color, rather than being treated as a real word. Notice how we underlined the words with the correct color first, and then went back and colored them in later.

Here's a management tip for getting the worksheets done more efficiently as a group: have the children look for the words in the SMALLEST sections FIRST, and then it will be easy for them to color them with you as you go along.   Then the children can easily all color them together. When almost all of the sections are colored, then you can release the group to do the rest of the worksheet on their own (although one group was not ready for that.)  I wished I had figured that one out BEFORE the very last group.  Oh well!

I know that the children enjoyed this activity. And I LOVE this group of kids!! They are the sweetest group of children that I have worked with in quite a long time.

Make sure that you watch out for reversals that look like real words when they are not, such as "bat" vs. "dat."  It is frustrating for some children when they mistakenly color a section, and cannot fix it!  I found that warning the kids ahead of time that this might be a problem helped quite a bit.  I thought it was interesting that the children that had the most trouble with reversals seemed to already realize it and were immediately on the lookout for those b's, d's, and p's once I warned them that they were coming!  Other children were confident that they could tell the difference- and for the most part, they could!

This Nonsense Word Worksheet is also from Set 2.

These pictures are from my friend Julie's class that I have been volunteering in, but I used to really enjoy doing Color by Nonsense word worksheets in my own Kindergarten class before I went out on my leave of absence!  I actually started doing it to help prepare them for their DIBELS tests (which I DESPISED- and that's not a strong enough word!) but in the end, I discovered that teaching the nonsense words themselves was not a bad thing- as long as we didn't have to deal with ENDLESS rounds of timed tests and gobs of pressure!  And teaching them through coloring?   Well that's FUN!

These are students from my OWN class doing a ladybug nonsense word worksheet that I made for them in 2011! Aren't they cute? And quite photogenic! I had a lot of fun taking pictures of that class of children, especially! LOL!

The bottom line is that I know that Kindergartners CAN get to the point later in the year when you can simply give them the worksheet and they can do it on their own (like around March or so, for my student population.)

Here are some of my sweet little boys from my class in 2011, also working on their ladybug nonsense words worksheet. Ahh, I miss those kids!

I used to give it to a small group, get them started, and then stop one child and listen to him or her try to read as many of the words on the page as he or she could in one minute or so, telling me if it is real or nonsense.

And here's one more photo of my class from 2011. What lovely children! Love their precious smiles!

I LOVE this because it's a built in management system to keep the rest of the group busy while I listen to just ONE child read.  PERFECT.

Want to try these out for yourself?  Here is where you can purchase them, and also where you can pick up the free samples, too!

Color by Nonsense Word Worksheets Set One 

Color by Nonsense Word Worksheets Set One Freebies

Color by Nonsense Word Worksheets Set Two

Color by Nonsense Word Worksheets Set Two Freebies


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