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Onomatopoeia — A Poetry Lesson Plan

This lesson plan uses excerpts from famous poems to demonstrate how onomatopoeia can be used in a poem. Students will closely read the poem excerpts to identify the onomatopoeia words. They will then choose three onomatopoeia words from a suggested list to use in a poem of their own.

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Onomatopoeia refers to words that sound exactly or almost exactly like the thing that they represent. Many words that we use for animal or machine noises are onomatopoeia words, such as “moo” for the sound a cow makes and “beep-beep” for the noise of a car horn. Words like “slurp,” “bang,” and “crash” are also onomatopoeia words. Even some ordinary words like “whisper” and “jingling” are considered onomatopoeia because when we speak them out loud, they make a sound that is similar to the noise that they describe.

Poetry often uses onomatopoeia words because they are so descriptive. This type of word helps us to imagine the story or scene that is happening in the poem.

Here are two examples that show how famous poets have used onomatopoeia in their poems. In these poem excerpts, the onomatopoeia words are underlined.

Meeting at Night (by Robert Browning)

Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match…

 

Gathering Leaves (by Robert Frost)

Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.

I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
Running away.

Exercise 1

The following lines are taken from famous poems that use onomatopoeia. In each poem, circle all of the onomatopoeia words that you see. If you have trouble finding the onomatopoeia word, try reading the poem out loud.

The Bells (by Edgar Allan Poe)

Hear the sledges with the bells—
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!

 

Fossils (by Ogden Nash)

At midnight in the museum hall
The fossils gathered for a ball
There were no dreams or saxophones,
But just the clatter of their bones…

 

Onomatopoeia (by Eve Merriam)

The rusty spigot
sputters,
utters
a splutter,
spatters a smattering of drops,
gashes wider;
slash
splatters
scatters
spurts
finally stops sputtering
and plash!
gushes rushes splashes
clear water dashes.

Exercise 2

Here is a short list of onomatopoeia words. Choose three words from the list and use them to write your own poem. It’s okay to use a different version of the word in the list. For example, if you choose “boom,” you might use one of these instead: booms, boomed, booming.

  • zap
  • gurgle
  • achoo
  • boom
  • jingle
  • clanging
  • fizz
  • pop
  • hiss
  • rattle
  • vroom
  • smash

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