Compound nouns: teaching methods and tasks

Teaching vocabulary is one of the most exciting things for a teacher. Students are always eager to learn extra words and enrich their wordstock. One of the best ways of widening vocabulary baggage is teaching compound nouns. Most students know both parts of the compound noun and they get excited when ‌they can make a new word out of the ones they already know.

What is a compound noun?

A compound noun is a noun made up of two or more different words. It can comprise two nouns (doghouse) or a noun and an adjective (high school), as well as combinations of prepositions and verbs (merry-go-round). They can be written as two words (swimming pool), one word (underground) or a hyphenated word (mother-in-law).

How can you teach compound nouns?

As compound nouns comprise several parts, the main challenge while teaching them is to use these parts in the correct order and in the correct form. There are several ways which are quite fruitful in terms of methods: they include matching two separate parts into one compound one, sorting out compound and non-compound nouns, chain stories, storytelling, etc. 

All these methods really help to get hands-on practice of compound nouns and use them with ease. 

Let’s discuss each of them in more detail in the form of classroom tasks to have a better insight into the topic.

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Tasks to teach compound nouns

1. Matching

Cut up compound nouns and divide the words between the students (if possible, one half of the word can be in the picture form). They need to move around the classroom and find their corresponding half. When they find one, the teacher checks whether they are on the right track and asks them to sit together. After all students have found their halves, the teacher boards all the compound nouns on the board, and as a next step, divides the class into two teams. Each team is given a set of definitions which they need to match to the nouns written on the board. 

After this stage, the teacher times students and asks them to choose 5 compound nouns from the list and prepare questions with them. When the time is over, students are divided into pairs and asked to interview each other by the questions they have written. The sequence of these steps will help the learners to get a better understanding of the formation, meaning and the use of the compound nouns. 

2. Storytelling

Storytelling has always captured learners’ interest, irrespective of the age and level of language competence. Whenever I incorporate storytelling activities into my classroom, I see how involved my learners are. This gives its results and perks up the class. I find a set of images which tell a story and give a list of compound nouns which can be used in the story.

Then I ask them to work in small groups for 2 minutes and come up with a list of compound nouns which they think can be used in the story. As a next step, I ask them to work in groups and create the story based on the pictures. When the time is over, they tell their stories to the opposite group and its members jot down all the compound nouns used in the story. At the end, the teacher calculates the words used by each group and the one who has more words wins. However, consider whether they have used the words in the proper context or not. 

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3. Chain story

This is also a storytelling activity which works well as revision. At the beginning of the lesson, students are given a list of compound nouns they have already studied. The teacher starts by saying the first sentence of a story, which must contain a compound noun. A student must then continue with the story until they can add in a compound noun. Each student gets a turn, adding in a new compound noun. This continues until the story is totally meaningless or the students have run out of compound nouns.

4. Sort out the odd halves

The teacher prepares word cards, each of them containing a half of the compound noun. However, the teacher prepares a lot of other cards with halves which don’t go with any of the cards and they don’t make a compound noun. The students need to find the odd halves. This is a great sorting activity that initiates active group work and helps the students learn the target compound nouns effectively.

5. Sort compound words and not compound words

The teacher writes on word cards several compound words and non-compound words, shuffles them on the table and asks students to work in two groups. One group needs to sort the compound nouns, the other group sorts out non-compound words. Then each group comes up with a story in which they use their list of words. This sorting activity helps them to get a better understanding of the way the compound nouns are formed. 

Take a closer look at these activities and see which ones can be better ingrained in your lessons. Either way, the lesson would be fun and effective since all the activities worked pretty well in my case. 

Which activities have you used in your classroom to cement the work with compound nouns?

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