In almost two decades (!!!) of teaching, I’ve taught every grade 7-12. And whether I’m teaching 12-year olds or 19-year olds, run-ons and comma splices abound.
I’m not going to spend time here theorizing about why this is true. I suspect that if I interviewed my high school English teachers, they’d say it was prevalent 20 years ago, too. The question isn’t “why is this a common error?”; the question isn’t even “how can we fix it?” (I think we can fix this pretty quickly by beating it out of student’s writing — but would they have actually learned anything? Or made writerly choices?)
The question is: How can we help students understand this error and empower them with multiple options for correcting it in order to give their ideas meaning?
Our favorite way to engage students in learning conventions — to actually spark their interest + engage them in a writing process around grammar rather than simply having them seek-and-find-and-correct errors — is to engage them in inquiry. We pose a question, give students some mini-mentor texts that can answer that question, and ask them to seek patterns in the writing that will provide answers and options for their own writing.
Recognizing that my students were trying to “fix” run-ons and comma splices (thoughtlessly removing errors) instead of thinking through run-ons and comma splices (asking themselves, “How do I want my reader to understand this information, and how can I fix this run-on/ splice to make that happen?), I created a set of mini-mentors divided into three patterns to help my youngest students see the patterns more quickly.
I asked students: What are three different ways that writers can fix a run-on or comma splice? What is the effect of each option?
(Here is a link to the PDF of mini-mentors!)
What might your students notice with these mini-mentors? You’ll notice I’ve invited students to give the pattern a name (like always) so that it makes sense to them and remember it more easily. But, they’ll notice that writers use two separate complete sentences, a comma + conjunction, or a semi-colon to fix run-ons and splices. Each of these impacts pace, impacts tone, and impacts the way the reader holds the ideas together in their minds. And writers play with that — they use these different tools to change the way their ideas are processed and understood.
Student writers can do this, too. They don’t have to simply “fix” run-ons and splices. They can make choices like writers to impact the way we understand their ideas.
Like all the mini-mentors I’ve shared (here and here), you can use these in a variety of ways. I left the work above for my students to work through in small groups on a day I was absent from school. They’ve had a lot of practice with this kind of work, and I knew they could handle it. You could also be fun as stations (a station for each pattern). Or, if your students are much better at fixing run-ons and splices than mine are, this could be something you offer only to a small group of students who need the reinforcement.
How might you use these mini-mentors in your class? What other strategies do you use to fix problems with run-ons and comma splices that makes a lasting change in your students’ writing? Leave a comment below or find me over on Twitter @RebekahODell1.