What are Sentence Fragments?

When students are learning to write, they have what seems to be a never-ending checklist. First, there is capitalization and punctuation. This is everything from the first letter of a sentence to all of the proper nouns. On top of that, students have to keep the sentence in the same tense. Additionally, the sentence actually has to make sense. Due to this, sentence fragments often happen. In order to help students avoid this common mistake, the tips and tricks below will help all improve their writing. 

What are Sentence Fragments?

Sentence fragments are a group of words that may look like a sentence but are actually not one. Commonly, fragments are missing a subject, verb, or do not express a complete thought. In other words, a sentence fragment cannot stand on its own as it does not have a full thought. 

what are sentence fragments

1. Student-Friendly Tips to Identify and Fix Fragments 

One of the hardest parts of teaching is explaining a tough concept that all students can understand. Even after explaining the same concept in multiple ways, there are often some students who simply do not grasp the information. This commonly happens with sentence fragments because they often look like a sentence. Thankfully, here are some tips on teaching students to identify fragments as well as ways to fix them. 

  • Is there a subject?

When teaching students how to identify fragments, the first step involves the subject. Ask students if there is a subject within the sentence. Readers should know what or who the sentence is about. For instance, show the fragment eating so many cupcakes. Then, ask them who is eating the cupcakes. Hopefully, students won’t know this answer because the fragment does not contain a subject. For fun, have students put their own name in the sentence! 

  • Is there a verb?

For another way to help students identify and fix fragments, ask them what is going on in the sentence. In other words, what kind of action is being done. For example, show the fragment after the storm stops. Then, ask students what is going to happen. Most likely, their responses will show some sort of action. For instance, some students may say that after the storm stops, they can run outside. Here, students are adding in a verb or action. Thus, they will see that the original response was actually a fragment as they had to add essential information. 

  • Are there red flag words?

Commonly, fragments include red flag words. These are typically subordinate conjunctions. Have students see if they started their fragment with because, since, even though, unless, that, and since. If they did, have them see if there is a complete thought together. Oftentimes, it helps to read the sentence aloud to another classmate. If the sentence does not make sense, it very well could be a fragment. Students can have fun adding in the missing subject or verb to complete the thought. 

  • Can you answer who, how, where, or why?

Fragments do not make sense on their own. If students know about dependent and independent clauses, fragments will be dependent clauses. This is due to the fact that they do not make sense by themselves. As students progress in writing, ask them to identify the who, what, where, or why components of the sentence. For instance, provide a sentence, such as I ran to the store because I needed carrots. To break down the sentence, I is the who, ran is the how, the store is where, and the need for carrots is why. By teaching students to break down a sentence, they will be able to see if it has a complete thought. If they cannot answer these questions, they may only have a fragment or dependent clause. 

2. Hands-On Teaching Ideas to Teach Sentence Fragments

Hopefully, the above tips will help students identify sentence fragments and what is needed to fix them. However, students may often say something makes sense when it actually doesn’t. This is often why students write fragments in the first place. Therefore, it takes time and different techniques for students to understand how to tell if there is a complete thought or not. To further help students, hands-on techniques may be very helpful in identifying fragments. 

  • Sentence Highlights: Subject and Verb

Oftentimes, students need to have the required parts of a sentence stand out. Thus, in this activity, students will need some sort of colors. For instance, highlighters, markers, and crayons will all work. To start, students will be given a list of sentences. If this is overwhelming, using sentence strips greatly helps! This means that students are only working with one sentence at a time, which will help them avoid rushing through a sentence. To complete, students will highlight the subject one color and circle the verb with another. If students can’t do this, then they know that it has to be a fragment. 

  • Dependent versus Independent: Complete Thought  

Since the third requirement of a complete thought is often the hardest, students may need to review dependent versus independent clauses. A popular activity involves a clause sort. To do this, students are given strips of paper with dependent and independent clauses. Then, students sort them into two rows: one for independent and one for dependent. As a helpful tip, allow students to read the clauses aloud. This often helps them tell if the clause can stand alone. 

3. Revise the Sentence

When students use fragments, they typically have the rest of what is needed in the surrounding sentences. For instance, a student may have She went to practice. Forgot to grab a water. However, Forgot to grab a water is not a complete sentence. Thankfully, students do not need to stress about adding in more details. Instead, they can learn how revisions can help correct mistakes. To fix this, students can combine the statements above in various ways. For instance, it can be: She forgot to grab a water when she went to practice. Or, it can be: She went to practice, but she forgot to grab a water. 

  • What are Sentence Fragments Activities?

Students can complete this activity in a few ways. First, they can play the game Sentence or Fragment in a jeopardy style. As the questions get harder, it can be worth more points. Students can play independently or in teams and be given a statement. Then, they can work together to say if it is a sentence or fragment. Additionally, students can complete this activity as an activity sort. One row can be for sentences and one can be for fragments. 

Since fragments are such a common mistake, there are already resources ready to go for teachers. Therefore, they can focus on helping students versus creating engaging materials. In both of the above resources, everything is ready for students. There are over 30 task cards or Boom Cards to help students identify run-ons, complete sentences, and sentence fragments. Students will gain so much confidence while working on these activities! You might also like this activity! If you need to know more about Boom Cards click here!

Sentence fragments can be very overwhelming for teachers and students. For teachers, a variety of teaching methods can be used, but some students may still struggle. For students, they try to understand what a fragment is, but the material just doesn’t make sense. It can be heartbreaking to hear the student insist the fragment makes sense and have the required elements when it really does not. Hopefully, with the above tips and tricks, students will become more confident writers as they begin to understand complete sentences. 

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I am Kirsten Tulsian, an elementary educator with 18 years of experience as a teacher and counselor. My passion lies in empowering students to discover their inherent brilliance through the use of engaging, rigorous, and meaningful activities. I look forward to connecting with you!

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