Published 3rd May 2016


Teaching vocabulary can seem like a long road, so it’s helpful to consider the different aspects of teaching vocabulary to break it down into smaller parts for your students.

Here we’ll take a look at compound nouns – what they are and how best to teach them in the EFL classroom.

What is a compound noun?

A compound noun is a noun made up of two words. It can consist of two nouns or a noun and an adjective – though they can be combinations of prepositions and verbs as well. They can be written as two words (swimming pool), one word (underground) or a hyphenated word (dry-cleaning).

Here are a few more very common compound nouns.






Teaching compound nouns is useful for our learners not only as words in their own right but because it shows them that they basically know the words already; they aren’t learning anything new!

How can you teach compound nouns?

Matching exercises

Cut up compound nouns and divide the words between the students. The students must work together to decide which words match with which. For younger learners this can also be done with pictures.


These same words can be used in a game of Snap. Each pair of students must have an entire set of words. Divide them between the two. At the same time each student must turn over a card. If the two cards form a compound noun, either student can say Snap. If they say Snap and they are correct, they can take the pair of cards (and any underneath them). If they say Snap and they are wrong, their partner gets the cards. The aim of the game is to win all the cards. continues until the story is totally meaningless or the students have run out of compound nouns. dent must then conti


Find a set of images which tell a story. As you show the images to your students, tell them the story which includes several compound nouns. Tell the students that as they listen they must write down all the compound nouns that they hear.

An alternative storytelling activity involves the students coming up with a list of compound nouns. They must then incorporate these into a story.

Chain story

Another storytelling activity, this works well as revision. Make sure the students are familiar with various compound nouns. The teacher starts be 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.

Compound nouns are a great way to increase our students’ range of vocabulary without too much effort on their part. There is no need for them to learn new words completely but they are able to put together two words they know to form a new one. Using these fun activities which help your students enjoy learning vocabulary.