Friday, October 23, 2015

Exploring Onomatopoeia with Kids

Exploring Onomatopoeia with Kids
by Susan Stephenson,

Onomatopoeia is such a fun concept to share with kids. It refers to a word which mimics the sound something makes. So the word “sizzle” actually sounds a bit like the noise of a sausage sizzling on a BBQ plate. “Quack” sounds like the noise a duck makes, though not exactly. (In French, ducks go “coin” which I think is even closer to the real sound. Or perhaps the ducks who live near me are all French?)

While I wouldn’t use the term “onomatopoeia” with quite young children, I love to find literature that introduces them to the fun of playing with words. Two fantastic children’s picture books for starting off an exploration of onomatopoeia are I’m a Dirty Dinosaur by Janeen Brian and Ann James, and Thunderstorm Dancing by Katrina Germein and Judy Watson. I would certainly use both books with children of all ages.

Here’s an activity from my review of I’m a Dirty Dinosaur: “*Look at the vocabulary in the book. Lots of words make wonderful pictures and sounds for us. List them and discuss them. Take a look at phrases like “flick it in the muck” and “slide it like a snail.” Have kids experiment with saying the phrases in different ways. Older children might notice that the short vowels and hard ‘ck’ of ‘flick’ and ‘muck’ contrast with the long vowels and sibilance of ‘slide’ and ‘snail’. Can they translate that contrast using their bodies?”

Here’s an extract from my review of Thunderstorm Dancing: “Germein has gifted us with lyrical prose carefully constructed to create tension. Each word contributes to the intense drama of an approaching storm, and yet this is all language kids will understand and relate to. What fun they will have using words like “flicking and flashing - tricking and dashing - crackling zap! - sizzling snap!” in their own poems to create word pictures and sound bites for an audience!”

This playing with words can be extended to a family or class collaborating over a collection of onomatopoeic words. Kids might like to illustrate their favourites. Apart from animal noises and sound words kids may already know, poetry, stories and songs will also be rich sources for more. Australian author, Alison Reynolds, has a list of many onomatopoeic words she has collected. The Australian Curriculum stresses the importance of reading poetry and prose aloud, to enhance enjoyment.

Comics and graphic novels are also great fodder for onomatopoeia collectors. Kids who love superheroes will certainly be familiar with Biff! Zap! and Bang! Help kids explore the use of onomatopoeia for themselves while they create their own cartoon/comic. If you’re new to comic editors, check out my free PDF, Using Comic Editors with Kids. Or read my article Using Comics for Information Reports. Image editor, Pic Monkey, has lots of great comic word art and effects we can use - look under Themes/Comic Heroes.


  1. I love onomatopoeias. My writing is full of them. They're such fun to read aloud and I love how they give me a licence to make up words.

    1. I hadn't thought about it that way, but I will in future - a licence to make-up words. Thanks, Sandy!


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