My granddaughter is repeating first grade because she has problems with reading, especially nonsense words. What are nonsense words? I would love to be able to help her. -- Grammie


Nonsense words are words that have no meaning ("mog," "moof," "plizzle"). Children should be able to sound them out and say them using their knowledge of phonics. In fact, the ability to do this is one way to distinguish the difference between good and poor readers.

Because your granddaughter cannot read nonsense words, she probably does not have a good grasp of the relationship between letters of the alphabet and their sounds nor the ability to blend sounds together easily to form words. These skills are the building blocks not only for reading but also for spelling.

You can begin to help your granddaughter develop a better awareness of sounds by reading books to her that have many rhyming words. Stop frequently and ask her to tell you if two words ("hat," "sat") rhyme. It takes considerable practice for young children to learn the sounds of letters. Make this fun for her by looking for books in which the initial sound of many of the words is the same one. For example, the book "Six Sleepy Sheep" is a good way to work with the "s" sound, just like "Four Fur Feet" helps with the "f" sound.

Games are another good way to teach letter sounds. For example, place a number of objects that begin with the letter "b" in a bag along with a few beginning with another sound. Have your granddaughter try to find the ones beginning with "b." Work only on one letter at a time until it is mastered.