Teaching kids to identify two kinds of run-ons

Not recognizing run-on sentences is a common problem among the middle school students I tutor.  Two categories of run-ons are the most common:  those using a comma instead of a period or semicolon to separate clauses, and those whose second clause starts with a pronoun.


Run-ons which use a comma as the punctuation to separate the two clauses are sometimes called “comma splices.”  Here are a few examples:

  • August runs to his homeroom, no one wants to sit next to him.
  • Julian bullies August every day, Julian even starts the “plague.”
  • August forgives Jack later, Jack says “sorry” to him.

I have tried using sentence grammar to make students see that sentences like these are run-ons.  But that doesn’t work.  The most effective way I have found is to have the student say aloud the clause before the comma.  “Does that sound like a sentence?” I ask.  The student usually knows if it sounds like a sentence or if it sounds “funny.”  Then I have the student say aloud the second clause.  Again I ask if that sounds like a sentence.  We do this over and over.

Run-ons which begin the second clause with a pronoun are another kind I often see.  Some examples are

  • The meanest of all is Julian he puts mean notes in August’s locker.
  • Jack’s friends help them escape they become friends with August.
  • August runs away he has been betrayed by one of his friends.

I ask students who often write run-ons to look for pronouns in the middle of a sentence.  “Read aloud what comes before the pronoun.”  They do.  “Does it sound like a sentence.”  It does.  “Now read the part that starts with the pronoun.  Does it sound like a sentence?”  It does.

For students to identify run-ons this way, they must know what a pronoun is.  Sometimes one or two lessons on identifying pronouns must precede lessons on run-ons.

Students pay attention more when the examples come from their own writing or when the sentences contain their names or those of their friends.

What's your thinking on this topic?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s