Fragments and run-on sentences present instructional challenges to teachers and students alike. Sentence fluency involves several aspects that work together to create an overarching skill set. Students must first be able to distinguish between complete sentences, fragments and run-ons. They need to know how to quickly correct fragments so they send a complete message, as well as identify where ending punctuation is needed in a run-on. Today’s post focuses on several activities you can do with your students to improve their sentence writing skills in these areas.
Fragments vs. Sentences
Earlier this week, Chris Biffle at Whole Brain Teaching gave an excellent webcast addressing the question, “What is a sentence?” I would encourage you to watch it for ideas on how to effectively communicate the difference between a sentence and a fragment with your students. Go to the WBT teaching website and scroll down to just under the Live Stream screen. Click on Program 549. It lasts almost an hour, but is an excellent resource. Consider how often you ask your students to write sentences, and I think you’ll be able to find the time to watch it. For additional practice, you can go to the Worksheet Works website. Follow their directions to create your own PDF’s that you can use with your students.
As the year progresses, I also teach students how writers will sometimes use a fragment to vary the rhythm of their sentences. A good way to do this is to teach students how to “hook” their reader with a fragment chain. This is a series of intentionally written fragments at the beginning of a piece of writing written to grab the reader’s attention. For example, if a student is writing a memoir about their grandparents, they could begin:
“Cookies fresh from the oven. 1000-piece puzzles. Staying up late. These are just a few of the things I look forward to when visiting my grandparents.”
However, that’s a lesson that comes only after students can successfully distinguish between the two. First, the writer must master the basics before they can break the rules for an artful effect.
Correcting Run-On Sentences
At the other end of the writing spectrum is the run-on sentence. As a whole class, model for students how to recognize a fragment versus a complete sentence. Tell your students, “A complete sentence sends a complete message.” Work with your class to recognize the information that’s missing from a fragment. They will need to know a subject and a predicate work together to make a complete sentence. These lessons integrate well with a grammar unit on sentences you may teach. For more resources, you can purchase an eBook by Laura Candler entitled Sentence Go Round, which is about correcting fragments and run-on sentences. It’s only $3.00 and provides lots of ready-to-use lessons and printables for further practice with your students. If you enjoy using cooperative learning structures in your class, you will especially like Laura’s resources.
As you can tell from this post, there are many sub-skills associated with being able to write a complete sentence. Today’s post focused on the “beginner level” with distinguishing between fragments, run-ons and sentences. In subsequent posts, the complexity will increase. This is a major principle in how I plan and teach my lessons throughout the curriculum – the level of difficulty increases progressively all year long. The skills I’ve discussed today are ones that I would typically do at the beginning of the school year. Next Friday, I’ll share additional sentence fluency activities that are more challenging.