Onomatopoeia – Figurative Language

Figurative language is language that authors use to make their writing more colorful.  Alliteration, hyperbole, similes and metaphors, personification, and idioms allow writers to say things in more interesting ways.  The last type of figurative language we will discuss is onomatopoeia.


The simplest way to explain onomatopoeia to children is by telling them that onomatopoeia words are sound words.  You could also say that onomatopoeia words are words that imitate the sounds they are describing.  Animal sounds like “moo”, “baa”, and “meow” are common onomatopoeia words.  Children love to imitate the sounds they hear around them.  The difficulty comes in teaching them that the words for those sounds are called onomatopoeia. (It’s such a big word for young children!)

Onomatopoeia in Books

Any books that focus on sounds can be used to teach onomatopoeia.  One popular books is Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? by Dr. Seuss.  In this book, Mr. Brown lists many sounds that he can make including the “dibble, dibble, dibble, dopp” of the rain and the “grum, grum, grum” of a hippo chewing gum!  Even though this is a book for young children, it is a great book to introduce sound words and the term “onomatopoeia.” Another fun book written by famous trumpet player Wynton Marsalis is called Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!: A Sonic Adventure.  This cute book takes not just instruments but also common actions such as scratching an itch and turns them into sound words with some creative onomatopoeia.  It will really make children pay attention to the sounds that are happening all around them.

Scratch, Scratch Goes the Pencil on the Paper

A fun activity to help your child identify onomatopoeia is to listen to soundsaround them and attempt to put them into words.  And if your child comes up with new or made up words for sounds, let them.  After all, Dr. Seuss made up new words for many of his books!  Letting them make up words for sounds will not only teach them to use onomatopoeia, but it will also increase their imagination in other areas as well.

Remember figurative language is meant to be fun for the reader.  In the same sense, it should be fun for your child to learn about.  How do you have fun teaching your children about onomatopoeia?

Elementary Reading Curriculum at Smart Tutor

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