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The Essential Guide to Teaching Compound Words

blue mailbox teaching compound words

What do a mailbox, a milkshake, and a notebook have in common?

Actually, nothing … except that they all happen to be compound words.

Compound words are formed when two smaller words combine to form a new word, as in these examples:

mail + box = mailbox
milk + shake = milkshake
note + book = notebook

The resources in this article can help you introduce compound words to your children and make them feel like superheroes for being able to read and spell such long words!

Download This Free List of Compound Words

Compound words can be lots of fun for young readers and spellers. And they are easier to tackle if we think of compound words as two smaller words that are combined to form a new word. This big list of kid-friendly compound words will be a great resource as you work on this skill together.

Preview of big list of compound words for kids

Teach How to Look for the Two Smaller Words in the Compound Word

The easiest way to introduce compound words is with letter tiles. Choose a word such as bathtub from the resource list and build it with the tiles.

teaching compound words with letter tiles

Explain to your child that the word bathtub has two smaller words in it, and invite him to find those two smaller words. Letter tiles are great for this activity because your child can separate the compound word into two words, like this:

teaching compound words with letter tiles 2

Suddenly, longer words are no longer scary! See why I love letter tiles so much? You can practice this concept with fun words like sandbox, anthill, backpack, and windmill. This is a wonderful method for helping students visualize the words that form compound words.

Games and Activity Sheets for Compound Words

Hands-on games and activities make learning about compound words more fun! Here are three free printables that you can use with your child. The first two activities come from All About Reading Level 1, and the third activity was designed for all reading levels.

“Bird Friends” Activity

Birds of a feather flock together … and in this fun reading activity, birds of a feather make compound words, too! Just have your child select two matching birds and place them side by side on the branch. Each pair of birds makes a compound word!


“Chop-Chop” Activity

Practice compound words with this fun (and safe!) chopping game! Just cut out the knife and the foods, then let your child “chop” each compound word between its two smaller words. Read each smaller word, and then read the compound word.


activity cover for Banana Splits Game

“Banana Splits” Game

Use compound words to build the yummiest banana split ever in this delicious multi-level reading game. Every player gets an ice cream bowl and a stack of candy covered scoops of ice cream to play with. And the best part? Students of different levels can play together!

Spelling Tips for Compound Words

When your child is spelling, it may not be obvious when to combine two words into one. This process is made more difficult by the fact that there are actually three kinds of compound words. There are closed compounds, which we have been discussing in this article so far. And then there are open compounds and hyphenated compounds.

graphic showing sample compound word types

If your child needs to spell the word ice cream, for example, there is no rule that will help her decide whether this is a closed or open compound word. She’ll just need to determine what “looks right,” and the only way to do that is to have seen it in writing before (preferably multiple times). The Practice Sheets in All About Reading and the Word Banks in All About Spelling are excellent tools to do just that.

Of course, reading word lists isn’t all that exciting. Reading a short story about a sassy cat, on the other hand, is a much more engaging way to practice reading compound words! Here’s the first story with compound words that beginning readers encounter in All About Reading Level 1.

Cobweb the Cat short story

In this story, young readers encounter fourteen different closed compound words, including bathtub, catfish, and sunset. All of these words are pre-taught through various activities, so even before reading the story, the child has already become familiar with them.

The more times your student sees compound words in print, the easier it will be for him to spell them. And that leads us to our final tip for teaching children to spell compound words…

Provide Oral “Hints” During Spelling Dictation

To increase your child’s awareness of compound words during spelling dictation, provide prompts such as “This next sentence has a compound word.” After your child sees closed compound words in print a number of times, he’ll begin to get a sense of when to combine two smaller words into one.

The bottom line when teaching compound words is practice, practice, practice! But make practice a joy by incorporating letter tiles, activity sheets, short reading selections, and spelling dictation “hints.”

What are your favorite ways to practice compound words? Let me know in the comments below!

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Lauren L Lawrence

says:

I love Cobweb the Cat! Thanks so much, but can it be printed in book form. I tried flipping on the short side and the long side and I can’t get it to work right.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Lauren,
The “Cobweb the Cat” file should print fine. It may be best to select “fit” or “fit to page” (depending on the program), however.

However, if you want to purchase it printed in full color, we do have it available. It is one of fourteen stories in our Cobweb the Cat Reader.

ananya raut

says:

thanks a lot to know about compound words. the games and activities were so amazing an lot of fun :)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Ananya. Thank you for letting us know the games and activities were enjoyed!

Pallavi

says:

So true

Maria

says:

Awesome resources

Sarai

says:

Words compound with space

Kathleen

says:

i am amazed at how well you set out the lessons. I especially love the three different types: open, closed and hyphenated you give the children. super to work with it like that.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for letting us know you appreciate this lesson on compound words, Kathleen.

Deborah Armes

says:

Thank you for these resources. They have be so helpful in working with struggling kiddos!

Meghna

says:

Very helpful

Alison O

says:

Sometimes I just cover one word with the bookmark or I split the word with the bookmark so they can see the split (or stop freaking out about the “HUGE” word). I like the idea of getting the tiles out if we need to.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Alison,
The tiles do help to transition students to be able to split compound words into the two smaller words themselves. It’s great to help by covering up a portion of the word, but encourage your student to try covering it part of it himself. If he can cover a part of it himself and read it, then he is only a step from reading it without covering it.

Nathalie

says:

I like the idea of using letter tiles to visually split the compound word in two.

Kathe Himebaugh

says:

This is great! We have been working on compound word in All about Spelling. Thanks for the resources.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Kathe. Let me know if you need more ideas or help with teaching compound words.

Kandi

says:

We love AAR and are so excited to start level 3 color edition this month.

C. Elam

says:

These activities for learning compound words are going to be great for my little girl she was struggling last year to figure out which consonants to divide between. Thanks for all the great resources!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome. Let me know if you need further ideas to help your little girl.

Ariaha

says:

This is a great way to make bigger words not scary.

Jill

says:

I love your game ideas. It helps take their minds off the fact that they’re learning. Why can’t it be fun?

Amber Deuel

says:

Love this great examples, easy to follow!!! Thank you!!!

Elizabeth Ott

says:

I am so thankful for all the fun, free games available through All About Learning Press! They give us a little extra fun and motivation along the way.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

It wonderful to know that our games and activities are being well received in your house, Elizabeth. 😊

Shannon Alexander

says:

I really love that you have games and activities for everything! It helps bring in fun for the school day!

George

says:

Whats the shortest compound words?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great question, George. I don’t know for sure, but I would guess four-letters is about as short as compound words go. Examples include: into, upon, and onto.

pamela

says:

hyphenated
compound
word

Edith Walker

says:

Wonderful!!!!! Thank you.

zayda isabel

says:

do you know what derivational compound adjectives are?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Zayda,
A derived adjective is when a word from one part of speech, such as a noun, is made into an adjective usually by adding a suffix. For example, the noun joy becomes the adjective joyful or the verb talk becomes the adjective talkative.

A compound adjective is when two or more words work together to modify a noun. In the phrase, “the three-page letter,” three-page is the compound adjective. Neither of the words would work to modify the noun alone (we wouldn’t say “three letter” or “page letter”). Compound adjectives are hyphenated. Other examples: “seven-year-old child”, “once-weekly cleaning”, or “well-known singer”.

A derivational compound adjective would be an adjective that is both derived and compound. An example would be: “a most-troublesome dog” (“troublesome” is a derived adjective and “most-troublesome” is compound).

Does this help?

Ashlok

says:

Thank you sir/madam, It really useful for me and easily understandable .

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Ashlok. Please let me know if you havce questions or need further help.

Selvarani sasidharan

says:

Very useful for second language learners… thank u mam…

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Selvarani! If you have any questions or need more help, just let me know.

Madhumita Chandramore

says:

Very helpful, Thank you very much.

Maria Choy

says:

Thank you so much for sharing this lesson! I am very excited to laminate the materials and to share them with my students.

DHEERAJ KAMLEKAR

says:

very helpful thanks

Glysky

says:

Very helpful.Thank You

Linda

says:

I stand amazed and inspired by your dedication to children and to the art of reading!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Linda!

Crystal G Kuffner

says:

What a great way to teach this concept!!

Haley

says:

This program is simple to understand and follow which is helpful since the concepts can be overwhelming at first glance. Thank you for these amazing tools.

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