Can you Tell Me, Mr Tick?

poem by Terry Lavelle , illustrated by Amy Golbach

Learning intention:

I am learning how to experiment with language so that I can expand my writing skills and explore ways to use humour in poetry.


Success criteria:

  • I can identify the purpose of nonsense words
  • I can identify the way authors use context to give nonsense words meaning for the reader
  • I can create my own poem using nonsense words.


Before reading the poem, discuss students’ knowledge and understanding of nonsense words. Familiar examples may come from popular texts such as Alice in Wonderland or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. These may include:

  • Pishsalver
  • Guddler
  • Unbirthday
  • Scrumdiddlyumptious
  • Snozzberry
  • Oompa Loompa

Ask the students what they believe the purpose of such nonsense words may be. Answers may include:

  • To express an idea that a word doesn’t yet exist for
  • To combine or exaggerate words
  • To make writing humourous or whimsical

Read the poem and ask students to identify the nonsense words. These should include:

  • Squozen
  • Freezed
  • Osen
  • Plosen

Ask students why they think the author has used these words and how they help form the basis of the poem. Students should understand that the author is questioning the inconsistencies of the English language in a humourous way.

View the video:

Jabberwocky: One of Literature’s Best Bits of Nonsense

Ask students for their thoughts on how the author managed to incorporate nonsense words in a way the audience could understand (e.g., using the context of the story, the way the other words frame it in the sentence).

View the video:

Roald Dahl Fans Guess the Meaning of His Weird Words

Ask students if there is a difference in the way people figured out the meaning of the nonsense words in isolation when they are unable to rely on surrounding context (e.g., combining familiar words, the sounds used in each word).

Explain to students that they are going to be ‘Gobblefunking’ (playing around with words and inventing new words and meanings). Students should then work independently or with a partner to make up nonsense words that can be used in a short poem. The subject and style of the poem should be free choice, with the main focus being to create and incorporate nonsense words and give them context by the way they sound and are framed in the poem.