Rule #1: No sentence fragments.
Rule #2: Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
Rule #3: A writer must not shift your point of view.
See what is happening?
In How Not to Write, William Safire breaks the rules he pronounces, then creatively explains the rules, tossing in some rule breakers in his explanations.
Ideas for how to use this book:
* Read the rules, finding and fixing the mistakes Safire includes.
* Mark or highlight the times Safire breaks the rules in his explanations.
* Demonstrate the rules with original, correctly-written sentences.
* Marvel at how Safire can take potentially stuffy content and make it fun.
When students are learning to write, we tell them that fragments--partial sentences that are missing either a subject or a verb--are no-no's. We don't want them writing grammatical horrors, such as "David bought a gopher ranch. Hoping to strike it rich." or "David bought a gopher ranch. Although he knew nothing about rodents." These examples show that the writer lacks sentence sense.
Rules are sometimes made to be broken, though, right? Writers break the complete sentence rule all of the time, using fragments to their advantage.
When I began reading Eileen Spinelli's The Best Story, I noticed fragments. Plenty of them. (Whoops. There's one of my own.)
Use Spinelli's book with your students, giving them a closer look at fragments. Start by reading the story together, being reminded that the best stories we write come from our hearts.
Okay, now for some grammar in context. Look at page 2.
I ran home.
How many sentences do we have here? If your students think sentences start with a capital letter and end with a period, we have ten. In that case, maybe Mr. Morton of Schoolhouse Rock can teach them about the essential parts of a sentence.
Test Mr. Morton's lesson with two-word sentences here, finding the subjects and predicates.
Now return to Spinelli's text. Look at the first line. Is there a subject? Yes. Is there a verb? Yes. It passes the test.
How about the second line. Is there a subject? No. What subject can we add to make it a sentence?
Continue through each line, writing the revised sentences line by line as Spinelli does.
When you are finished, compare the two lists. What do your students think? Why do they think Spinelli chose to use fragments instead of complete sentences?
Now revise the first eight lines, linking them with commas, so they are all part of one longer sentence. How does it compare to the other two lists? Which one do they prefer?
Read the story a second time, pausing at fragments and discussing how to "fix" them.
Bonus: Look at page one, where it says "Write the best story. Win first prize." Discuss with your student whether these are fragments or sentences.
A Second Bonus: Do you remember teachers telling you never to begin sentences with and, but, or so? Maybe Spinelli is rebelling against language arts teachers or something because most of her sentences start with one of these three conjunctions. Again, discuss why she may have chosen to do this. How would the text sound if these words were eliminated?
A Little More Practice: If your student tends to use fragments unintentionally, pull out some of her pieces to analyze and revise. If your student has sentence sense, ask him to sprinkle a couple of fragments in an assignment to see if he likes the effect.
Gopher sentences come from Steps to Writing Well by Jean Wyrick.