Compound Word Strategy

Instructor: Joe Ricker
Compound word strategy is a way to teach or learn compound words that is fun, engaging and educational. It also gives students the opportunity to build their vocabulary.

Three Categories of Compound Words

Compound words are words created by joining two different words together to form a word or words with their own meaning separate from the individual words that were joined together. For example, boyhood, high school or well-being. Teaching or learning compound words incorporates the knowledge of root words, prefixes and suffixes. Compound words fall into three categories: open compound words, closed compound words or hyphenated compound words. There are several different strategies to learn or teach compound words that can be fun and engaging.

Closed compound words are formed when two words are fused together to form one single word. These are words like bedroom, sidewalk, fireman or campground. Open compound words are joined together to create a new meaning but are not fused together like open compound words. Open compound words are words like high school, child's play or book report. When two words are used consecutively to describe or modify a noun, a hyphen is used to offer clarity of the sentence's meaning. These words are hyphenated compound words and of the three types of compound words, they're the trickiest. The best tool to use for determining when a compound word should be open, closed or hyphenated is to use the dictionary, but there are other strategies for developing knowledge of compound words as well.


If you've ever been to an arcade, you've probably seen a game where you hold a foam mallet and bonk gophers as they stick their heads out of a hole on the game board. A similar strategy can be used to identify compound words in a sentence, though it's not quite as fun as bonking gophers on the head. Make a list of sentences using the various forms of compound words. Students should then identify the words by circling them in a sentence and determining if they are open, closed or hyphenated. Here are some examples:

Sophie graduated high school when she was sixteen. (high school - open compound)

We put our hand prints in the wet cement on the new sidewalk. (hand prints - open compound, sidewalk - closed compound)

In class, we learned about Hitler and anti-Semitism. (anti-Semitism - hyphenated compound)

Jigsaw or Bingo

Another clever way to teach compound words that is both fun and interesting is to use the jigsaw and/or bingo method. This is particularly beneficial for learning closed compound and open compound words. The jigsaw method takes a series of words on small pieces of paper, cardboard, index cards, etc., and students then match the words that will create compound words. Teachers can take this a step further and use a range of words to help students with sentence structure.

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