Skip to main content


Just a few examples of the types of words students are asked to read on a Nonsense Word assessment. Some assessments are timed (how many nonsense words can you read in one minute?), and some assessments use a ceiling (stop when the student incorrectly reads 5 in a row).

Nonsense word measures are one part of DIBELS (opens in a new window), a widely-used assessment for young children, they’re one part of the Orton Gillingham approach to teaching reading, and are one part of most diagnostic work done with struggling readers.

Nonsense word lists and task are also finding their way into general education classrooms as part of curriculum based measures (opens in a new window). At this point, teachers often balk. “I want kids to read for meaning. There’s no meaning in this!”

Nonsense word fluency measures a student’s ability to decode individual phonemes and then blend them together to read. They’re an indicator of a student’s progress in acquiring early alphabetic principle skills. By using nonsense words, we can find out whether a child knows the most common sound for letters (letter–sound correspondence), and whether a child can blend the sounds to read words he has never seen before.

So, nonsense word reading works really well as a quick, reliable, and valid way of assessing part of the alphabetic principle. BUT, we can teach and develop the alphabetic principle without ever explicitly teaching nonsense word reading. Hooray!

About the Author

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Publication Date
November 14, 2007