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.

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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.

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