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Basic Concept Depiction: The Study of Iconicity

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A group design was used to determine the iconicity of basic concept symbols employed in 6 widely used symbol sets (i.e., Unity, Boardmaker, SymbolSix, SonoKey, Gateway, and Compass software). Two groups of children, preschool-age (3;0-5; 11, N = 30) and school age (6;0– 8; 11, N = 30), participated in an identification task and a preference task. The identification task asked each child to guess the referent of 50 individual basic concept symbols. Answers were analyzed based on name agreement. The preference task presented every available symbol depictions for 30 basic concept words. Children were asked to select their favorite depiction for the target word. Results for the identification task indicate a significant difference between the age groups (F (1, 21) = 42.24, p = 0.00) with preschool children identifying fewer symbols overall (preschool, M = 1.23; school-age M = 8.11). Preference results indicated regardless of the age group there was significant differences between the preferred symbol sets F (4,236)= 56.124, p=<. 00 with SymbolStix being selected more on average (M= 8.47). A statistically significant group level difference was also observed with preschoolers (F(4,116)=29.20, p = <.00 selecting SymbolStix (M=8.47) more on average. School-age children F(4,16)= 28.66, p = <.00 also selected Symbolstix (M= 8.67) more on average. These findings suggest that the iconicity of the current symbols sets used by pre-literate children is low, thus requiring significant teaching to learn the meaning of the symbol. While preference data suggest potential appealing characteristics that could help support learning across ages.


Morgan Ashworth    
University of Tennessee Health Science Center
United States

Jillian McCarthy    
University of Tennessee Health Science Center
United States

Allison Wegman    
University of Tennessee Health Science Center
United States


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