Compound words can help kids become better readers. Compound words for kids are often easier to read than other multi-syllable words. Kids can typically recognize the smaller word components of compound words.
Kids enjoy learning about compound words because there are many fun strategies teachers and parents can use. Below we’ll do a deep dive with plenty of examples and hands-on activities. We also include a list of compound words and two free worksheets to help you teach compound words.
What Are Compound Words?
Compound words are two or more complete words that can be put together to form a new word. All compound words are made up of at least two syllables.
Learning compound words is an essential part of learning to read. Kids often grasp short, one-syllable words quickly but struggle with longer words. Compound words can help build students’ reading confidence, as they’re slightly easier to read than other longer words.
Compound words can be almost any part of speech. While most are nouns, some are verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.
Types of Compound Words
There are three types of compound words. Students will likely be familiar with closed compound words, but open and hyphenated may be new concepts for them. They will need instruction in identifying compound words.
1. Closed Compound Words
Closed compound words are the most common. They’re made of two separate words put together with no space between them.
Examples of closed compound words:
2. Open Compound Words
Open compound words have a space between the two words making up the compound. The two separate words work together to represent one word. Many open compound words are made up of an adjective and nouns. The adjective doesn’t just modify the noun but creates a new meaning.
Open compound words may be more challenging to spot than closed compound words.
Examples of open compound words:
- ice cream
- fire truck
- living room
- peanut butter
3. Hyphenated Compound Words
Hyphenated compound words have a hyphen between each word. Some are compound nouns, such as sister-in-law and merry-go-round.
Most hyphenated compound words are adjectives. When the words come before the adjective, you add hyphens. When it’s after the adjective, you don’t add hyphens.
Many students signed up for the off-campus class.
Students were allowed to take the class off campus.
Examples of hyphenated compound words:
Is It a Compound Word?
Kids in kindergarten and first grade often have difficulty deciding if a word is a compound word. Younger kids may think that all longer words are compound words.
For closed compound words, teach kids to split the word into two parts. If they can find two words within the word, it’s a compound word. They may have to split it in a few different ways until they find the two words.
Open compound words are trickier. When students find a pair of words that they suspect may be compound, then they’ll need to analyze the word to be sure.
Teach students to consider the meaning of the words together and individually. If the meaning of the words changes when put together, then it’s likely a compound word.
Compound Words vs. Portmanteau Words
Some people confuse compound words with portmanteau words. Both involve using two words to make a new word with a different meaning. A compound word is made of two complete words that are put together with no other change to the words’ spellings.
Lewis Carrol (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) coined the term “portmanteau word.” It’s a word that is made up of parts of two other words.
- smog (smoke + fog)
- brunch (breakfast + lunch)
- dramedy (drama + comedy)
Portmanteau words shouldn’t be taught until kids are in later elementary or middle school. They’re fun words to learn but may be too confusing for kids who are just developing an understanding of compound words. However, some kids may mistake a portmanteau for a compound word, so be prepared to explain the difference.
Strategies for Teaching Compound Words
Below are some fun, hands-on ways to teach compound words. These activities are great for use in a center after you’ve introduced the concept.
1. Compound Word Puzzles
Write compound words on index cards and cut them apart into two words. Shuffle the words. Students will sort through the words and make compound words.
2. Compound Word Drawings
Students will create illustrations to help them visualize sight words. For example, at the top of their paper, they will write the compound word “doghouse.” They will draw a dog and a house under the appropriate components.
Next, they will draw a picture of the compound word. You can put these together in a notebook or on the classroom wall for students to review.
3. Compound Word Memory
Students can use the split compound word cards to play this game. Shuffle the cards and lay them upside down. Students take turns drawing two cards until they get a match.
4. Made-Up Compound Words
Students will make up their own compound words to share with the class. While this activity doesn’t familiarize them with actual compound words, it does help them better understand the concept. This skill can help them recognize compound words.
5. Compound Words Worksheets
We’ve included two printable worksheets to help you teach compound words to kids. The first printable is for younger children and uses picture cues. Students figure out the two smaller words and combine them to form a compound word.
The second printable is for older children. It gives them the first part of a compound word. They write the second word to create a new word. Many of the words have more than one option to form a compound word.
200+ Examples of Compound Words for Kids
|cell phone||cheesecake||coffee mug|
Compound Words Build Strong Readers
Compound words are highly motivating for kids. It’s a fun topic for kids to learn and practice. These words also build their confidence as readers, helping them to easily read longer words. Once students have a solid foundation in compound words, they’ll be ready to move on to more complicated words.