Symbolic sounds and exclamatory words often come before children’s first words. In this blog post, you’ll learn 8 engaging activities for encouraging symbolic sounds and exclamatory words in your early intervention sessions.
What are symbolic sounds and exclamatory words?
Symbolic sounds and exclamatory words are sounds/words that are short and easy to produce. Many symbolic sounds are onomatopoeic in nature (the words imitate the sound they are representing).
Symbolic sounds include animal sounds (such as “baa” for a sheep, or “woof” for a dog), environmental sounds (such as “tick tock” for a clock, and “knock knock” when you knock on a door), and vehicle noises (“nee-naw” for an emergency vehicle, and “brum” for a car, etc.). Some of these sounds are classed as ‘functional’ because they are associated with the object/thing that they represent, others are simply used to imitate sounds in the environment (Laing, 2014). Similarly, exclamatory words are short, simple words, associated with an action/object (they hold meaning).
Why is it helpful to focus on symbolic sounds and exclamatory words?
Symbolic sounds and exclamatory words are typically phonologically easier to recall, plan, and produce. Consonant+Vowel (CV) words, and those with consonant harmony, tend to be the easiest to produce for infants (Laing, 2014). For some children, these types of sounds and words often come before their first true words, and can be a stepping stone to real words. In fact, despite their limited occurrence in adult speech, symbolic sounds and exclamatory words are surprisingly common first words (Menn and Vihman, 2011).
Engaging activities for encouraging vehicle sounds
Play is a great way to encourage symbolic sounds and exclamatory words. Here are 3 fun activities for targeting vehicle sounds during play. These ideas are taken from the Symbolic Sounds and Exclamatory Words resource, available from my TpT store.
- Road blocks- As the child is playing with the vehicles, put small road blocks in the way, so the child stops their vehicle or drives around it. You can then model the symbolic sounds that they could use in play, e.g. “honk” when the truck approaches the road block, make a “screech” sound when they brake, “zoom” when cars go fast, etc.
- Racing- Make the vehicles race, model the symbolic sounds as you drive the cars- “zoom”, “brum”, etc. When the cars are driving fast you can emphasise “vroom”, if the plane is flying, you can model “nnnewww” etc. Say “wow” when they’re going fast.
- Car ramp- Make a ramp to roll the vehicles down; take it in turns rolling the vehicles, and chasing after them when they reach the bottom. Model the symbolic sounds as the vehicles are rolling down the ramp. To make the ramp, you can use cardboard, empty boxes or even sofa cushions.
Effective activities for encouraging exclamatory words
Play and daily routines are also great times to encourage symbolic sounds and exclamatory words. Here are two ways you can encourage exclamatory words in your parent-coaching sessions. These ideas are taken from the Symbolic Sounds and Exclamatory Words resource, available from my TpT store.
- Daily routines- Model exclamatory words like “oo”, “wow”, “hmm”, etc., as appropriate during daily routines when something is surprising/new/amazing, etc. E.g. if you see something large, something pretty (decorations), new toys, etc. Particularly when the child is pointing at something of interest.
- Picture books- When looking at books with the child, model “oo”, “wow”, “oh!”, etc., to anything that the child is pointing at.
Engaging activities for encouraging animal sounds
It’s fun and easy to encourage animal sounds during play too. Here are 3 engaging activities for encouraging animal sounds. These ideas are taken from the Symbolic Sounds and Exclamatory Words resource, available from my TpT store.
- What’s in the bag?- Put all of the animal toys inside a bag. Shake the bag and ask “what’s in the bag?”. Take it in turns pulling an animal out of the bag. Name the animal, use the sound, play with it, etc. Allow the child to look at and play with the animal, then, once they have indicated that they are finished, shake the bag to pull their attention back to it. Ask “what’s in the bag?” again, then take another animal out of the bag; repeat this sequence until all of the animals have been taken out of the bag.
- Old MacDonald- Sing Old MacDonald and encourage the child to choose which animal to sing about next. Model the sound of the animals; hold the animal up (or let the child hold it) while you sing. Make it silly by using the wild animal toys too.
- Peek-a-boo- Put an animal under a sensory scarf/piece of cloth. Play “peek-a-boo” with the animals; be animated, ask the child who is hiding, make the sound to pull their attention to it. Then, when they take the cloth off, you can make the animal noise again.
Effective resources for encouraging symbolic sounds and exclamatory words
Check out the Symbolic Sounds and Exclamatory words resource, available in my TpT store for more effective, ideas, and handouts for supporting Symbolic Sounds and Exclamatory words.
Liang, C.E. (2019). Phonological motivation for the acquisition of onomatopoeia: An analysis of early words. Language and Learning Development. Vol. 34(5) 387–405
Menn, L., and Vihman, M. (2011). Features in child phonology: Inherent, emergent, or artefacts of analysis? In N. Clements, & R. Ridouane (Eds.), Where do phonological features come from? The nature and sources of phonological primitives (Language Faculty and Beyond 6.) (pp. 261–301). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: John Benjamins Publishing Company.