10 Fun Compound Noun Activities

By Alex Case
Stimulating presentation and practice activities for noun + noun, adjective + noun, etc.

Compound nouns are made up of two or more words, most often a noun or adjective plus a noun, but act like a single noun (“post office” working like “office”, etc). A lesson on them can be a great way of building up students’ vocabulary, especially for tricky specialist areas such as engineering and medicine. It is also a good introduction to teaching collocations more generally. Ten entertaining practice activities are explained below, with ones that can also be used to present the language top.

Compound noun pairwork matching

Choose around 15 compound nouns that you want to present, make example sentences for each, split them in the middle of the compound nouns (“I was brought up on a rough housing” + “estate near Brighton”, etc), then put the halves on Student A and Student B worksheets. Students work together to put all of the compound nouns together, reading out the context if they aren’t sure.

Compound noun word snakes

Put all the compound nouns that you want to present into a line with no spaces between any of the words as in “telephoneboxtaxiranktouristinformationpolicestation”. Students split the list into compound nouns, then are tested on them in another way such as trying to remember the compound nouns for each definition.

It should also be possible to write one where each word forms compound nouns with words both before and after, as in “cookbookshopassistantmanager”.

Compound noun dominoes

Collect around 20 compound nouns that you want to present or practise, and split them into cards which have the end of one compound noun on the left-hand side and the beginning of a different compound noun on the right half. Students work together to put all the cards together in a big circle by joining up the compound nouns and/ or play a game of dominoes, starting with around five cards each.

This can work with packs which have been designed so that there is only one match for each card, or packs which have multiple matches (making it more like real dominoes).

Compound nouns hangman

Make a worksheet where Student A and Student B have halves of compound nouns labelled 1, 2, 3, etc, as in Student A 1. Phillips Student B 1. screwdriver. The students write gaps for each letter of the word that they have and take turns trying to guess the missing letters of the half that they don’t have, using the half that they do know to help. After at least six of these, test them another way on those and related compound nouns.

Compound noun jigsaws

Put compound nouns into a table with one half in each box, e.g. a four-column table with “kick” “boxing” “swimming” “pool” as the top row, then “goal” “keeper” “yellow” “card” under that. Cut the table into cards of different sizes with at least two boxes from different compound nouns on each card, e.g. “boxing” “keeper” and “yellow” together in an upside-down L shape. Students work together to put the cards together to make a big rectangle with all correct compound nouns joined. They could then do the same with a copy which is just cut into individual cards.

Compound nouns random pelmanism

Make at least 30 cards by splitting compound nouns that you want to present or practise into halves. Students spread the cards face down across the table and try to find pairs. As well as words which can be put together in a compound noun, allow other matches such as both words taking the same word to make other compound nouns (“chair” and “post” matching because both can take “man”), and both forming compound nouns with another connection such as being on the same topic (“book” and “kitchen” because they are related to houses when they make “bookshelves” and “kitchen scales”).

Compounds nouns definitions game/ taboo

Students explain what compound noun they have been given or chosen without saying either half of the expression until their partner works out what it is, as in “Their job is to look after people such as the elderly and disabled” for “care worker”.

Compound nouns storytelling

Choose around 20 compound nouns which could be used to tell an interesting story such as “police officer” and “bullet hole”. Put the halves on different cards, and tell students they can use either the individual words or combinations of them while they tell a story. To make it more fun and encourage using compound nouns, you could give one point for each card that is used correctly, meaning two points for a compound noun.

Compound nouns find someone who

This can be played with the same kind of split compound nouns in context sentences as the pairwork matching game above, but in a more dynamic way. Make cards with half of an example sentence split at the compound noun, like “I was caught in some heavy” and “rain without an umbrella” on two cards, with at least four cards per student. Mix up the cards and give each student one or two. They go around the class trying to find someone whose card matches theirs, at which point they both come to you for one more card and start doing the same again.

For this to really work and be fun, you need at least eight students, and make sure that:

  • there is at least one match in the first set of cards you give out
  • no one gets two cards that match each other

Compound nouns brainstorming races

Students work in groups to write down compound nouns which are correct and other groups don’t think of in categories like compound nouns which all:

  • include the same word (e.g. “shop”)
  • are related to one area (e.g. “finance”)
  • have the same number of syllables
  • have the same stress pattern
  • have the same grammar (e.g. are all adjective + noun)
Written by Alex Case for Tefl.NET June 2023
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
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