Empowering Writers

February 2011 Lesson of the Month

This month you will stretch your student’s repertoire of author’s craft by including a lesson on alliteration and adding a simple twist using onomatopoeia. Have fun with words this month.

Here’s what you’ll do:

1) Explain to the class that it’s time for a little fun with language. You can discuss with your students that authors and poets select all their words very carefully, considering the meaning of the words, the images the words conjure up, the actual sound of the words, and the way the words function (parts of speech).

Write the following on the board:

Nouns – Verbs – Adjectives

Discuss and define each, providing examples:

  • Noun – person, place, or thing – Mom, Edison School, apple
  • Verb – an action word – run, fly, scream
  • Adjective – a describing word – lumpy, golden, terrifying

2) Ask what they notice about this little poetic text (Write it and read it.)

February – freezing, frosty, finicky, frustrating – February

They will probably mention that all the words begin with “f”. Ask if anyone knows what we call this pattern of repeated initial sounds. Alliteration.

Question them further by underlining the adjectives between the “bookends” of our topic word: February – freezing, frosty, finicky, frustrating – February

Ask them what part of speech these words represent. (adjectives)

3) Share another example and use the same questioning process:

Sledding – sliding, scooting, speeding, sluicing – Sledding

See if they notice that the alliteration includes words that are verbs. (You can also try this without the gerund form: Sledding – slide, scoot, speed, sluice – Sledding

Ask if anyone knows what the word “sluice” means. If not, how can they find out? Have someone look the word up in the dictionary.

NOTE: For less experienced students, (or for a shorter lesson) you can shorten each “Alliteration Poem” by including only 2 examples of the series of adjectives or verbs:

Ex. February – freezing, frosty – February.

4) Explain that in poetry and sometimes in prose, that authors can select, or even make up words that sound like what they mean. The name for this technique is: onomatopoeia. Have them practice pronouncing that mouthful a few times!

Give an example of this: Puddle – plink, plop, plunk, ploop – Puddle

5) Explain that their job will be to create this kind of poetic description. They must use alliteration, begin with a noun or verb as their “bookends” and fill in the middle with either verbs or adjectives. You may challenge them to use a collection of only verbs, or only adjectives, or allow them to mix the two, as long as they can identify which is which. This is a fun whole class activity, or small cooperative group effort. You might even assign it individually as a week-long homework project.


Select a topic that begins with a frequently used letter. How do you know if it’s a frequently used letter? Open the dictionary and compare sections. Is the “s” section larger than the “q” section? It will be easier to find related descriptive adjectives or vivid verbs if you have more choices.

Ask them to begin by finding only 2 verbs or adjectives:

TOPIC – verb – verb – TOPIC or TOPIC – adjective – adjective – TOPIC

Then, as a challenge they can add two more!

Encourage them to use the dictionary to help come up with their verbs or adjectives. Show them how to skim and scan, how to read the abbreviations that identify words as nouns, verbs, adjectives, and encourage them to learn some new words that might relate to or describe their TOPIC.

Point out that it is the letter SOUND that needs to repeat, not necessarily the letter – ex. Giant, could use words that begin with a “j”, but couldn’t use a word such as “glaring” as the hard “g” sounds different than the soft “g.”

Encourage them to “invent” sound words if their topic is a “noisy” one (as in the puddle example, above.)

Be sure to have students identify the parts of speech, alliteration, onomatopoeia, as they appears, and encourage them to use the proper terminology. For fun, you might have students color code – write their nouns in blue, adjectives in red, verbs in green.

Here are a number of additional examples, below:

  • Snow – slippery, slick, slushy, sloppy – Snow
  • Hockey – hallowed, harrowing, happy, hazardous – Hockey
  • Piano – play, practice, plink, plunk – Piano
  • Swim – splish, splash, swish, swoosh – Swim
  • Princess – pretty, perky, poised, perfect – Princess
  • Knight – noble, natty, neat, nervy – Knight
  • Ghost – ghoulish, glistening, glimmering, goggle-eyed – Ghost

Here’s a list of some suggested topics: puppy, kitten, seagull, skunk, squirrel, tornado, giant, fire, bee, snake, worm, crow,

As an extension, have students illustrate or create a collage depicting their poetic description!