This is a great way to practise spellings, phonics, or even ask comprehension questions. When the glass is placed in the dish of black water, it reveals the words written beneath. It is a simple concept, cheap to do and easy to differentiate to suit children of different ages.


  • Pyrex dish
  • Water
  • Black food colouring
  • Paper with phonics/ words/ sentences on
  • Glass


Year 1: Alien and real words

I wrote a list of alien (nonsense) words and real words on a piece of paper, then placed a pyrex dish on top of it. I also created a table for Ioan to record which words were alien and which were real.

Then I filled a jug with water and used food colouring to colour it black. I poured the coloured water in to the pyrex dish, hiding the words underneath.

What are alien words?

Alien words are often also called nonsense words or pseudo words, and are words made up of sounds a child has already been taught through the DfE Letters and Sounds scheme.

Alien words are included in the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check, a test completed by all Year 1 children in June each year, as a way of assessing their ability to blend sounds into words. 

This was Ioan explaining the difference between alien words and real words, then having a go at revealing the first word.

Whilst Ioan carried on revealing the words and classifying them, I set Finn the task of writing a message for Daddy to reveal.

Once Ioan had finished sorting the words, I asked him to record the totals in a tally. As you can see, this is our new reality of homeschooling with a one year old in the house.

EYFS: Phonics

Next it was Finn’s turn. He’s just read the phonics book, “Nat Naps”, which focusses on the phonemes (sounds) and graphemes (their letter representations): s a t p i n.

I explain more about phonemes and graphemes in the post ‘Penguin Writing’.

I decided to pick out some of the key words from the story to reinforce his learning.

Finn found the words relatively easy. To extend his learning I asked him to find the revealed word in the book.

Answering questions and spellings

To finish off, I wrote two questions for Ioan to answer. One involved him spelling.

DfES Early Learning Goals (2017)

Physical development

ELG 04 – Moving and handling:

Children show good control and co-ordination in large and small movements. They handle equipment and tools effectively, including pencils for writing.


ELG 09 – Reading:

Children read and understand simple sentences. They use phonic knowledge to decode regular words and read them aloud accurately. They also read some common irregular words. They demonstrate understanding when talking with others about what they have read.

ELG 10 – Writing:

Children use their phonic knowledge to write words in ways which match their spoken sounds. They also write some irregular common words. They write simple sentences which can be read by themselves and others. Some words are spelt correctly and others are phonetically plausible.

DfES Outcomes for EYFS and National Curriculum (2013)

English Year 1 programme of study

Reading – word reading

  • apply phonic knowledge and skills as the route to decode words
  • respond speedily with the correct sound to graphemes (letters or groups of letters) for all 40+ phonemes, including, where applicable, alternative sounds for graphemes
  • read accurately by blending sounds in unfamiliar words containing GPCs that have been taught
  • read common exception words, noting unusual correspondences between spelling and sound and where these occur in the word

Writing – transcription


  • words containing each of the 40+ phonemes already taught
  • common exception words
  • the days of the week