How to Use Nonsense Words to Demonstrate How to Use Context for Vocabulary

Written by chrissie reinhart
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How to Use Nonsense Words to Demonstrate How to Use Context for Vocabulary
Teach the concept of context by using gibberish words. (girl teach to write image by Julia Britvich from

Context is a strange concept for a child to grasp. Using a paragraph interspersed with nonsense words can be a helpful tool for illustrating the principle. Most kids can figure out a word that would make sense in place of the gibberish word and through mental interaction with context in this practical form, they can then extend their understanding of context to other settings.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Copies of your story
  • Worksheets
  • Pencils

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  1. 1

    Write a simple story in preparation for the lesson and substitute three to six words with nonsense words. For example, one of your sentences might read, "After school, Amanda went flanip and ate a snack." Make a worksheet containing sentences with underlined gibberish words for the children to define using context as a guide.

  2. 2

    Introduce the lesson by telling your students that you are going to learn how to guess the meaning of words from the other words around them, which is known as the context.

  3. 3

    Pass out the copies of the story with the nonsense words. Depending on your group, you may choose to read the story out loud, ask a volunteer to read, have several children read or ask the kids to read on their own.

  4. 4

    Working in small groups, pairs or on their own, have the children write down words they think might be substituted for the gibberish words in the story.

  5. 5

    Ask for some of the words the children came up with and write them on the whiteboard. Then read the story substituting the kids' suggestions for the nonsense words. Discuss whether or not the substitutions made sense and how the children knew which words to pick. Guide the discussion to show that contextual clues helped the kids know the meaning of the gibberish words.

  6. 6

    Pass out the worksheet you created either as in-class or homework. Have the kids define each underlined gibberish word using the context, or other words in the sentence, to help them determine the meaning.

Tips and warnings

  • If a child provides a word that would not make sense in one of the sentences, carefully guide the discussion to suggest a different word based more accurately on the context instead of dismissing her answer.
  • You may want to do the first sentence or two on the worksheet together in class to illustrate how the rest of the sentences should be finished.
  • If you have time, play a game of Mad Libs to illustrate what happens when words are out of context as well as to reinforce parts of speech.

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