Bowling to Build Bigger Words


Activity Description

Children will roll balls at ‘bowling pins’ to see if they can build compound words from the words on the pins.


30-40 min.

Key Outcome(s)

Combine two words to form a compound word.

Materials and Preparation

Prep Time

20-30 min. 


  • We provide: Simple word picture cards’; ‘Compound word picture cards’. Click HERE to download.
  • You find: Soft or light-weight balls; Targets (e.g., plastic bowling pins, empty cereal boxes, paper towel rolls, storybooks); Small containers; Tape


  1. Print and cut out the ‘Simple word picture cards’ (one set for you and one set for the child(ren)).
  2. Print and cut out the ‘Compound word picture cards’ (one set for you and one set for the child(ren)).
  3. Locate the tape, balls (two), targets (ten), and a small container to hold the ‘Compound word picture cards’.
  4. Create ‘bowling pins’ (i.e., targets) by taping a ‘Simple word picture card’ onto each target.
  5. Set up the balls and bowling pins in an open area. Provide ample space between the bowling pins so a ball will only knock down one pin.
  6. Add a small container and a set of ‘Compound word picture cards’ nearby.

The Activity

What will we learn?

“Today we’re going to try to make bigger words when we put two small words together.”

What do we know?

  1. "Let’s talk about some special words, called compound words! When we take two smaller words and stick them together, we get one big, brand-new word, which we call a compound word. For example, if we take the words rain and bow and put them together, we get the word… rainbow!”
  2. Show children the ‘Simple word picture cards’. “These cards have small words on them. They’re going to help us make some bigger compound words about clothing. First, let’s name all of the pictures on these cards.”
  3. “Let’s see which words go together to make bigger clothing words!” Help the children make a few clothing and accessory words with the ‘Simple word picture cards’ and in the correct order (i.e., ‘sun-hat’, not ‘hat-sun’). Each time, show the corresponding ‘Compound word picture card’ to confirm that they made the word

Watch me first!

  1. “We’re going to build compound words by playing a bowling game!” Show children the bowling pins and point out that each one has a small word and picture on it. Read the words on the bowling pins. “We’ll roll balls at these bowling pins to see if we can create a really big word using two smaller words.”
  2. Give the child one of the balls and explain that now you and the child will each roll a ball so you each knock down a bowling pin at the same time.
  3. Collect the knocked down bowling pins. “Let’s see if these words make a clothing compound word when we put them together!” Read the two bowling pin words and discuss what to do. For example, “We knocked over ‘shoe’ and ‘suit’. Do these two words combine to make a bigger clothing word? Shoe + suit = shoesuit. Is this a clothing item? No. Let’s switch the words around. Suit + shoe = suitshoe. Does this make sense? No, this isn’t a clothing word either.”
  4. Set up the bowling pins again. See if a clothing compound word was made. For example, “Our words now are ‘sun’ and ‘dress’. Let’s put them together. Sun + dress = sundress. Is this a clothing compound word? Yes!”
  5. Explain that since you made a compound word, you’ll now find the card (i.e., in your ‘Compound word picture cards’ pile) with that compound word on it (i.e., ‘sundress’). Place the card in the provided container.

Let's try it!

  1. Have the child(ren) continue to bowl and create compound words.

What did we learn?

  • “What can happen when we put two small words together?” (It can make up a larger word: a compound word.)
  • “What is a compound word that you made today? What two smaller words are in your compound word?”
  • “Do you know any other clothing compound words? Do you know any other compound words?”


To make this activity MORE challenging:

  • Add some provided ‘Additional simple word picture cards’ and ‘Additional compound word picture cards’. NOTE: use more bowling pins or exchange some of these cards in place of the original activity cards.
  • Use the provided ‘Blank cards sheet’ to add (or exchange) more simple and compound word cards. Suggested compound words: headband, armband, hardhat, rainwear, footwear, snowboard, wetsuit, spacesuit, tracksuit, pantsuit, jumpsuit, bodysuit, turtleneck, eyeglasses, nightgown, underwear, earring, bathrobe, handbag. NOTE: Some cards are already provided (i.e., rain, glasses, snow, suit, neck, under)
  • Add a step so the children have to decide what word they are targeting before they roll the ball.

To make this activity LESS challenging:

  • Set the bowling pins up in the regular bowling pin configuration (i.e., in small rows close to each other) so that many pins fall at once. Ask the children to try building compound words from the fallen pins.
  • Use fewer bowling pins. For example, only set up the pins that can form a compound word (e.g., the ‘sun’ pin with the ‘hat’, ‘dress’, and ‘glasses’ pins).