Each year, I make it a goal to focus on grammar. Last year, I became determined to find a solution to the problem of run-on sentences. Each time after reading student writing, I found myself repeating the age-old question, “What is a sentence?” My students could explain the components of a sentence: subject, predicate, capital letters at the beginning, and ending punctuation. With some prompting they could conclude that a sentence must have a complete thought. So, how was it that they could identify a sentence and explain what one is, and still write paragraph-long, never-ending sentences? How could I change this?
Read on to discover my solution. Included here is a SMART Board activity and a free FANBOYS poster.
In previous years, I used the workshop approach, teaching mini-lessons and providing students with the opportunity to apply the new skill to their own writing. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of value to mini-lessons in Writer's Workshop. However, my students were not transferring the newly learned skill into their writing, or were not retaining it beyond the immediate assignment. I began to realize that they needed guided practice. I decided to adopt a more thorough, direct approach based on what I had learned from my literacy specialist training: teacher modeling, guided practice, independent practice, and finally, application to the student’s own writing. It takes a 40-minute class period; however, it results in an accurate transference of skills and a higher retention rate. Once I teach the grammar skill, I display a poster in the classroom.
How can FANBOYS help us to become better writers?
I define a subject as the "who" or "what" part of the sentence, and the predicate as the part that tells what the subject is or does. Some of my struggling writers need a review of the content area vocabulary. Students must know what subjects and predicates are in order to understand the structure of compound sentences. This "Subjects and Predicates" handout from Scholastic Printables is helpful for reviewing or preteaching this knowledge. SMART Exchange offers a plethora of FREE activities for teaching subjects and predicates. To give your students additional guided practice, download the "Diagramming Sentences" handout from Scholastic Printables. The visual and spatial learners often benefit from creating a visual representation of sentence structure. And for more on what comprises a sentence see "(Interjection)! Grammar: How to (VERB) (PLURAL NOUN) to (VERB)" on Scholastic's Homework Hub.
Start the lesson by building on the students’ prior knowledge of compound words to define compound sentences. Explain that a compound sentence is like a compound word, except two sentences are joined instead of two words.
FREE Notebook interactive viewer to view this file and interact with it in your classroom if you don't have a SMART Board
Student journal entries (student choice)
Differentiating Lessons or Additional Practice
Scholastic Printables resources are highly useful in meeting the needs of all students in an inclusive classroom. You may want to limit the number of FANBOYS to "and," "but," and "or." These are the popular coordinating conjunctions. The handouts below are useful for differentiating instruction and giving students additional practice.
- "Grammar Rules": a glossary of grammar terms for student notebooks
- "Simple and Compound Sentences": test review for grade 6
- "Combining Sentences With 'And'": combining sentences and revising run-ons
- "A New Challenge": combining sentences with "and," "but," and "or"
- "Time to Experiment": revising a paragraph using compound sentences
If you do not have a SMART Board, download the free Notebook interactive viewer, and you will be able to use the lesson in your classroom. Use a mouse to interact. The video below illustrates the structure of the lesson: teacher model, guided practice, and independent practice.
- Identify FANBOYS: Explain that the acronym FANBOYS stands for the words "for," "and," "nor," "but," "or," "yet," and "so." Chant the words, starting out slow and gaining speed. Give the students a couple minutes to memorize the words in the acronym, and see if they can say it impressively fast — like a tongue twister. Go around the room, allowing each student to take the FANBOY chanting challenge.
- Clarify Comma Usage: The comma is inserted BEFORE the coordinating conjunction. If your students are kinesthetic or visual learners, write a compound sentence on a sentence strip: sentence one, comma, coordinating conjunction, and sentence two. Then cut it apart and have the students reassemble the sentence. The restless students may enjoy acting out the parts of a compound sentence. One student can be sentence one, a second student is a comma, a third student is a coordinating conjunction, and the fourth student is sentence two. The students form a human chain creating a compound sentence.
- Teacher Modeling: Model how to combine two sentences using a comma and a coordinating conjunction. I create sentences that relate to their lives. However, there are many sample sentences in the guided practice section.
- Guided Practice: Provide guided practice sentences that students can do at their seat. While students write their answers on their personal whiteboards, I walk around and troubleshoot. They erase their boards and turn them over as soon as I correct them. I have 32 student whiteboards that I made out of a 4' x 8' shower board laminate ($20) cut into 12" squares. We recycle used dryer sheets for erasers. They work wonderfully.
- Cloze Activity: I created a cloze activity to teach my students that coordinating conjunctions have different meanings. On the SMART Notebook file the students drag the word that BEST fits the sentence. I tell them they can use any word more than once. After they are done, I ask them how they would change it so that only one coordinating conjunction is used once. They have to analyze the relationship between the two sentences carefully to accomplish this task successfully.
- Identifying Compound Sentences: In this part of the activity, the students analyze the sentences to determine if they are compound sentences or not. It is necessary to clarify that "for," "and," "nor," "but," "or," "yet," and "so" are not always joining two sentences. Otherwise, some students will insert commas before every “and.” Reiterate that there must be a complete sentence, a subject and a predicate, on both sides of the coordinating conjunction before it can be identified as a compound sentence. They underline the coordinating conjunction, determine if there is a sentence on both sides, and drag the comma to the correct position in the sentence if it is necessary.
- On Their Own: Students save their free writes or journal entries. They select any journal entry to revise or edit. They identify FANBOYS, and then insert the proper punctuation, transferring the skill into their own style of writing.
Deleting FANBOYS to Fix Run-ons
For most of my students, the activity above is at their instructional level. These students achieve success quickly. However, those students who struggle with run-on sentences may get somewhat confused. I teach them to use their knowledge of FANBOYS to fix their run-on sentences — those one-sentence paragraphs. Often they are substituting FANBOYS for ending punctuation. I teach these students to read through each paragraph and replace the FANBOYS with ending punctuation, and then delete the FANBOYS. Once they are successful at simple sentences, I teach them how to join them, creating compound sentences. However, when they start experimenting, I tell them that they cannot use more than one coordinating conjunction in a single sentence.
For more practice, direct your students to these grammar games:
- Putting Sentences Together (on the BBC's Skillswise site)
- Sentence Sort (identifying types of sentences on Harcourt's site)
- Edit Dan's Copy (on Scholastic's Homework Hub)
- FANBOYS Online Quiz (on my LACS grammar Web page; password is "fanboys")
Please post your great ideas for teaching grammar in the comments section.