I imagine most of us would agree that the pandemic has left some major gaps in students' learning; one of these gaps is in understanding the difference between fragments and complete sentences.
I recently did an informal poll with teachers to ask what errors they found were most common in their students’ writing. Overwhelmingly high school teachers indicated that their students often fell prey to including sentence fragments in their written work. When I saw that feedback I knew I had to share a lesson for addressing fragments in student writing. Let me show you a simple and effective plan to help you teach fragments and complete sentences to your high school students!
Why You Need To Spend Time Teaching Fragments
Often students write a series of sentences and inevitably there’s a fragment included because they might view the whole group of sentences rather than each individual sentence as a complete thought. Students might not even recognize that they’ve written a fragmented sentence. They might not know that a sentence fragment means a subject or verb is missing and therefore it’s an incomplete thought.
Sometimes including incomplete thoughts in writing is fine. Sentence fragments don’t always have to be avoided or corrected. These sentences are well-suited to dialogue, personal narratives, or other forms that call for a more conversational tone. What is important though is that students know there are times when they can and can’t use them depending on the audience and purpose of their writing.
How To Teach Fragments and Complete Sentences
Using mentor sentences applies to so many different grammar lessons, and fragments are no exception! Mentor sentences really are a game-changer in that embedding grammar lessons into your teaching routine will embed grammar knowledge into your students! So, let’s get to it.
Step 1: Review Subjects and Verbs
As a first step, review subjects and verbs. Students might be familiar but a refresher is a good idea. You can check out my free unit featuring mentor sentences to review verbs and to encourage students to use action verbs when possible. This set of carefully-selected sentences shows students what action and linking verbs are, and how great writers use them in their own writing.
Step 2: Use Mentor Texts That Showcase Both Complete Sentences and Fragments
Next, use mentor sentences to showcase and to clarify the differences between fragments and complete sentences. This will provide students with a model for their own writing. First, have students observe and discuss different sentences. A few guiding questions you can use:
- What do they notice?
- What is different?
- What is the same?
You could do this as a think-pair-share with elbow partners or split students into small groups to review mentor sentences and discuss their observations.
Next, using sentence frames, students should create their own fragments and complete sentences similar in style to mentor sentences that you provide for them.
Step 3: Have Students Practice Writing Fragments Intentionally As Well As Complete Sentences
You can follow this up by giving students engaging writing prompts (such a video or picture prompts), and have them describe the prompt using only fragments, and then using only complete sentences. In doing this they really have to spend some brain power thinking about their subjects, verbs, and whether a complete thought is expressed.
A few go-to places for great pictures for writing prompts are the National Geographic Photography archive or the New York Times’ “What’s Going On in This Picture?” weekly posting.
Using short films is another great way to engage students and to focus on grammar too. This post with 3 Excellent Short Films for Teens includes short films that can be used. The films can be an inspiration for students to write their own fragments and complete sentences as pairings. They might rewrite or extend a scene and use the two types of sentences.
When To Teach Fragments and Complete Sentences
Any time is a great time to teach sentence fragments because it's something that most high school students struggle with to some degree. Incorporating grammar into your lessons from the beginning of the school year will set students up for success for the rest of the year. It can provide a review of key ideas - subjects and verbs - and then develop their writing skills through a focused lesson on fragments and complete sentences.
What’s more, teaching this lesson early in the year provides students with something to look for in their own writing as well as in the texts they’ll read in class. This can build students’ writing skills and create a database of student-selected mentor sentences for future use!
Want To Have Some Fun With Fragments?
It’s important that students see that fragments are a writing tool that they can actually use in their writing depending on the purpose of their writing. I am a big proponent of having fun with grammar because your students won't expect it!
Grammar has long been taught as something to hate, a series of rules we must all follow begrudgingly, so let's turn that idea on it's head and have some fun with it.
Write Dialogue Using Fragments
If you have a short story or novel study unit that needs some revision, use a lesson on fragments and complete sentences. Students can write a scene between characters that is not in the original text by using a mix of fragments and complete sentences. Have students highlight their written work in two different colors to reinforce what the fragment sentence is in their work.
Another option is a pass-the-paper writing activity where students write dialogue that “should have” been in the original text. Start with a fragment, then a complete sentence, then another fragment, and so on. Afterwards, students can examine the effects of the different types of sentences.
It's All About Purpose and Audience
Now while using a well-placed sentence fragment can be a good thing, the better thing is that students are intentional in their use of them. Once students know what the fragment sentence is they will be better equipped to tackle their next writing task in your class.
I've got an entire lesson on fragments ready to go for you. It includes mentor sentences that showcase fragments and complete sentences, plus sentence frames and writing prompts for students to practice their own fragments and complete sentences.
And to set yourself up for success to start the school year, check out this post where I plan your first week back to school for you!
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