pow! bam! wow! print referencing and onomatopoeia

I’ve said time and time again that read-alouds are an absolutely perfect time for sneaking in some learning with our kiddos, I believe there the sky’s the limit as far as what concepts, terms, and ideas we can teach our little ones during these times.

My kiddos love to learn ‘big’ words, so when I introduced Maddy and Owen to ‘onomatopoeia’ during our bedtime reads last week, they were all over it. Paired with a little print referencing, some superheroes, and some really silly books, it was time well-spent.  (And they had no idea they were learning along the way!)

  • Print Referencing and Onomatopoeia: Print referencing is really nothing to be afraid of; it’s simply paying attention to the print (form, features, and function) on a page, pointing out and chatting about it with our kids.  That’s it.

Onomatopoeia, on the other hand, is much more exciting in my opinion. I have always been a lover of words, and ‘onomatopoeia’ is one of my faves for obvious reasons–it’s fun to say (it just rolls off of your tongue!), it’s like no other word I use, and the meaning is just plain cool. Onomatopoeia is using words whose sound suggests its meaning, like buzz, hiss, pow, or bang. So fun.

So when Maddy, Owen, and I read Superhero ABC, by  Bob  McLeod, along with Mungo and the Spiders From Space, by Timothy Knapman, print referencing and onomatopoeia were obvious connections and emerged naturally during our reading. Superhero ABC is an alphabet book that incorporates superheroes for each letter, along with tons of alliteration (repeated initial consonant sound in words).

Mungo and the Spiders From Space is a wacky book where Mungo, the little boy, is peacefully enjoying his book about Captain Galacticus trying to save the universe from the evil Dr. Frankenstinker when all of a sudden, Mungo jumps into the book and saves the day!  With tons of onomatopoeia and wild and crazy text features, Mungo lent itself to many learning opportunities, even in a short time, even with a silly, silly book.

Owen just pointed to ‘yow!’

Drawing attention to text features, even simple words on a page, helps our little ones’ early literacy skills.


Initially, all I did to throw in a little print referencing was simply point to the words as I read them. I did this as we read through the comments and description on the pages of Superhero ABC.   Maddy can read on her own at this point, so this was more for Owen.  But we all got involved.

In the first few pages of the text, I’d point to the words as I read: Choke! or Caw! on Captain Cloud’s page, or Gross!, *Gulp!*, or She Grins and Giggles with Glee! on Goo Girl’s page.

When I hit ‘E’, The Eagle’s page, where the little squirrel says EEK!, I said, Hey! Do you know that there’s a special name for words like this–‘eek’?  Words like ‘ouch’, ‘bam’, and ‘buzz’ are called ‘onomatopoeia’.  Isn’t that a wonderful word, ‘onomatopoeia’? I love it. I always have.  It was one of my favorite things to teach kids because it’s so cool.

Like a big nerd, I had them each say it themselves a few times, saying it slowly at first and then speeding through it so it barely came out correctly.

From that point on, Maddy took over as ‘the pointer’, and by ‘T’ (The Terrific Three’s page–and just in time for Upside-Down Man’s page), Owen took over. I’d read the word, and they’d point to it.  It was a simple, but important, exercise for Owen to listen for the sounds in the words I was saying and then look around on the page for words with letters that made that sound.

It’s silly, playing with onomatopoeia in the first place, but it was a cool way of also working on phonological awareness–figuring out which groups of words created the sounds I was saying.


By the time we finished Superhero ABC, we were ready to read an actual story, and Mungo–with all its superhero silliness and unusual text layouts–was a really cool (totally random and completely lucky) follow-up.

I read the story, and for the first few pages, I’d point to  the words as I read them just to make sure Owen was following the left to right movement of text and so both he and Maddy could appreciate onomatopoeia when we bumped into it.

Sometimes I’d read a page with particularly unusual fonts or spacing without pointing to the words. Instead, I’d say something like:

  • I just read, Boom! and Zoom! two great examples of onomatopoeia.  Owen, can you point to either ‘Boom!’ or ‘Zoom!’?
  • The rocket ship went, vrooom-vrooom.  Take a minute and search for those words on the page. Can you find them? Who can point to them?
  • Wow!  I just said a word in a really loud voice, and the author showed me he wanted that word read loudly because all of the letters are in uppercase.  Look on this page for that word and point to it when you find it. Good. Now read it exactly the way the author wants us to read it.
  • Sometimes this author shows us how he wants us to read certain words by making the whole word bigger than the other words.  Like this one here, ‘Yeerrpp!’
  • How do you think he wants us to read this word, ‘HOORAY!’? Like this, ‘hooray!’ (in a tiny voice) or like this ‘HOORAY!’ (in a big, booming voice).

That’s it. We rocked it out with some serious onomatopoeia and print referencing, superhero style, and then Maddy and Owen hit the sack.  Here’s to hoping that their dreams were comic-book crazy.


Print referencing is easy–and it can be done with just about any book, to any degree, at any time.  It’s as simple as putting your finger at the top left of a page when you begin reading and touching the last word at the bottom right of a page.

It can be pointing to the title of a chapter or a character’s dialogue.  It can be asking a child to point to a letter in a word or a word on the page (just always remember to give choices–Can you find the word ‘dog’ or ‘cat’?–so that we’re setting our kiddos up for success!).  Print referencing can be just about anything relating to the form, features, or function of print on a page.

These two books are about as close to comic-book reading that my kiddos do at this point, but I do know that comic book reading can yield some really worthwhile results for reluctant readers.  In fact, I found Jason Ranker’s article, “Using Comic Books as Read-Alouds: Insights on Reading Instruction from an English as a Second Language Classroom” (The Reading Teacher, December 2007) incredibly interesting and packed with ideas.





  1. says

    This is so super fun. My daughter is learning about adjectives, verbs and nouns right now and I am pretty sure she would love to learn this word too. In fact, I think I will make it our word of the day! Thanks for the fun, informative post!

    • amy says

      Thank YOU for taking the time to write. I’ve been thinking about starting a ‘word of the day’ too, with my family. . . thanks for the reminder!!

  2. Maria says

    Earlier this year we learned about onomatopoeia with the Froggy books by Jonathon London. It is fun and easy to learn about…and fun to say, too : )

    I didn’t know that pointing to the words (first and last, etc.) was called “print referencing.” It’s encouraging to know something I’ve always just done is on the right track.

    • amy says

      Maria! I totally forgot about using Froggy books for that purpose–such a great idea: flop, flop, flop. . .

  3. says

    You and your kiddos should try the Benny and Penny comic book series by Geoffrey Hayes. They are absolutely sweet books about a brother and sister who have all sorts of adventures in their backyard. And the best part is that there’s an accompanying cartoon maker online where you can make your own Benny and Penny cartoons, complete with backgrounds, props and text bubbles.

    • amy says

      RACHEL!!!!! OH my gosh, I cannot wait to check this out. Thank you, thank you–sounds right up our alley just about now!! Many thanks for sharing–

  4. Heather K says

    We watch the old Batman shows and there are a lot of BAM! WHIFF! BOP! for the kids to read. And we love our Superhero ABC book, too.

    • amy says

      Oh, we need to check those out–thanks, Heather!! You are the BEST–and I should have mentioned somewhere that YOU were the one who introduced us to the totally incredible Superhero ABC in the first place! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  5. says

    My daughter came home yesterday and announced that she no longer likes Princesses but now loves Superheros. It is sometimes difficult to find graphic novels or comics for very young kids so I will definately check out these two books you talked about.

    • amy says

      Ha! Gotta love the up’s and down’s of our kids’ interests! Check out these two–they’re a little silly so you need to read it first (Superhero ABC includes ‘underwear’ and ‘vomit’ which may cross the line for some…).

      Good luck, and let me know how it goes!


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