Compound Words

Compound words can be a language learner’s best friend or worst nightmare. On the one hand, if you know the two smaller words, you can usually guess the meaning of the larger word (Doghouse = house for a dog). On the other hand, the combination of the two smaller words doesn’t automatically result in an understanding of the larger word (Honeymoon? You need some further understanding to make sense of that one!). Since compound words are inescapable, I have developed a plethora of games and activities to help my students practice them. Here are six of the most popular and effective ones.

Total Physical Response

Total physical response, or TPR, is a well known technique in language learning circles. In short, language is learned by using movement to respond to verbal prompts. It is based off the theory that by involving movement, getting more of the body involved, learning will be increased; not a new concept for most teachers. I use it to help my students remember what a compound word is.

The verbal aspect is a short sentence we repeat: “You take one word, you take another word, you smash them together, and make a new word.” Physically we demonstrate this by holding out one hand, palm up, when saying the first phrase (“You take one word…”). We then hold out the other hand, palm up, when saying the second phrase (“…you take another word…”). While saying the third phrase (“…you smash them together…”) we press the palms of our hands together (my middle school boys tended to be a bit more vigorous with this part than absolutely necessary). For the final phrase (“…and make a new word.”) we’d lace our fingers together, essentially folding our hands, and put up just our index fingers to form the number one.

It may seem like a very silly activity, but it really helps students remember the basic definition of a compound word. I have even “caught” a few of them making the hand gestures and whispering to themselves during standardized tests when asked about compound words.

Compound Word Guessing Game: FREE

Guessing Game

Another whole class practice activity, the Compound Word Guessing Game, is a great introductory activity as well. Each slide of the PowerPoint starts by showing two pictures. Students must identify the pictures, put the words together, and state the compound word (which is revealed by clicking once anywhere on the slide). There are 15 different compound words included and you can download a free copy by clicking the picture on the left of the above link.

Compound Word Flashcards / Sort

Flashcards / Sort Activity

I prefer to use these flashcards as an individual or pair sort activity. I print, laminate, and cut the cards ahead of time. I then mix them up and place each set of cards into a Ziploc bag. Students then work, either individually or in pairs, to sort the cards into 22 compound word groups. Each group has both smaller words as well as the full compound word. The activity takes up quite a bit of space, but not too much time. My students love spreading out on tables, rugs, and even the bare floor to do it! This activity can be done with any set of compound word flashcards, but I have never found a set I liked for my older learners. Everything I’ve ever found commercially available were puzzles, not flashcards, and were very childish in their look and feel. They were also simply the two individual words, no designation for the compound word, and most included extra hints as to how they went together (usually in the shape/joining of the puzzle pieces). The straight flashcard nature of the set I use provides more of an “adult” learning experience and reinforces the new meaning of the compound word.

Compound Word Memory

Memory Game

Who doesn’t have fond memories of playing Memory as a child? I loved laying the cards out in neat rows and columns before trying to find all of the matching pairs. This game uses the same concept, but with compound words. Each half of the compound word is shown on a card. Each card also includes a picture and word for the half of the full compound word, which is represented only by a picture, and a question mark for the second half of the word. Students turn over two cards, see if the compound word pictures match, and read the two halves of the word to make the complete compound word. It’s a relaxing, slower-paced game, and perfect for early practice because there are a lot of supports provided through both pictures and words.

Compound Word Spoons

Compound Word Spoons

Spoons is the game with the greatest potential for action, and is a favorite of my older students, especially the boys. I give a full explanation of how to play the game in the post Collective Noun Spoons, but the short version is repeated here. The goal of the game is to collect a compound noun triplicate (two small words and the full compound word they form) and grab a spoon. The last person to grab for a spoon will be left empty-handed and receive a letter. Gain enough letters to spell S-P-O-O-N-S, and you’re out of the game. Directions for an alternate version of play, one that doesn’t involve grabbing and wrestling for spoons, are included, and tend to be preferred by my less competitive students. Similar to the flashcards/sort activity, this game (which includes 40 compound words, rather than the 22 of the flashcards) can be played with any set of compound word flashcards that includes cards for each of the smaller words and a third card with the compound word, if you can find such a set, which I never have.

Egg Pairs

Similar to Eggcellent Contractions, this next activity is a great way to use and reuse those plastic eggs you see at the store every Easter season. Write one half of a compound word on each half of an egg. Separate the egg halves and toss them in some kind of container (I use an old shoebox, but you could also use a plastic container of some kind). Students then work individually, in pairs, or in small groups to put the halves of the eggs together to form compound words. This activity is more challenging than the others because it lacks the picture support. You can increase the difficulty level again by making sure the egg halves that form a compound word aren’t the same color.

Six different activities may seem like a lot for a “simple” concept, but I regularly use them all. I’m not really sure there is such a thing as too much compound word practice, and by using all six activities I am able to find something appropriate for students of multiple proficiency levels. Give some of them a try and see how your students like them! Happy teaching, everyone!