"Strip Prompts" Reduce the Struggle of Teaching Sentence Construction by Raising Students'"Fragment Consciousness"

by Elaine FeinCalvin
Like most writing instructors, I have struggled for years with teaching students how to recognize, correct, and edit sentence fragments. When I was teaching ESL in Taiwan, I picked up the interesting idea of distributing to the class small strips of paper containing conversational fragments, or prompts. I used these to enable students to get up and moving and be less self-conscious about speaking in English. At this college, for CAP A and B classes, I have adapted the "strip prompt" concept to teaching students how to deal with sentence fragments in their own writing. 

The fragment activity I have developed and used for the past five years is interactive and humorous-downright silly at times. But it does seem to raise students' "fragment consciousness." 

Before doing the exercise, the students are introduced to coordinating conjunctions and run-on sentences in a previous class. Right before I use these fragment activities I do a ten minute traditional blackboard explanation of independent/dependent clauses, subordinating conjunctions, comma placement, etc. and give students a list of subordinating conjunctions for reference. There are three parts to this exercise, which I do over a few classes. 

1. Strip Fragments: Students walk around (20 - 30 minutes) 


Make up 30 to 40 dependent clauses beginning with a subordinating conjunction-see mine for examples (see 1. Elaine's Dependent Clauses, page 4). Type them in 16 point type. Print out and cut each strip. 


Tell the students they're going to play a silly game. Have them move the desks and chairs back against the walls to create a playing area. Choose a student and demonstrate. Give him/her a strip. Choose one strip for yourself. 


Teacher: Kim, I'm going to read my strip to you. Listen carefully, add to it to make it a complete sentence, and tell me where the comma should go. "Since he lost 40 pounds, _____." 

Kim: "He can play basketball." 

Teacher: Give me the whole sentence beginning with "Since." 

Kim: "Since he lost 40 pounds COMMA, he can play basketball." 

Teacher: Good. Now read me your strip. 

Kim: "After I spilled chocolate all over my shirt, _______." 

Teacher: "After I spilled chocolate all over my shirt COMMA, I licked it up. Now exchange strips with me and go and find another partner and do the same thing. 

This is an oral activity, so I tell students they must read aloud from their strips to their partners rather than allowing their partners to just read the strips silently before responding orally. While students are exchanging strips, I roam around and monitor to see if they are answering in complete sentences. If there is an odd number of students, I also participate. After a few minutes, I start giving new strips to each pair. 

2.Strip Fragments: Students sit in pairs (20 - 25 minutes) 


Make up 30 - 40 dependent clauses with a blank space in front of each so that the students can add an independent clause-or you can use some of mine (see 2. Elaine's Dependent Clauses, page 4). Number the sentences. Print out one sheet for each pair of students. 


Put students into pairs. Give one sheet of numbered dependent clauses to each pair. Divide the number of clauses by the number of pairs and give each pair a different group of sentences to do. (Encourage humorous sentence production.) After ten minutes, have the pair who did the first group of sentences present them to the class. Have them reverse the clauses and tell where the comma goes. Continue with all the pairs until all the sentences have been done. 

3. Creating and Editing Class Chain Stories: Writing and editing sentences with subordinating and coordinating conjunctions (30 - 40 minutes) 


For a 20 student class, prepare 12 - 15 story prompts- or add to mine-(see 3. Elaine's Story Prompts, in the box above). You can also get students to write story prompts. Type or print each story prompt at the top of a blank page. Put a list of coordinating conjunctions and common subordinating conjunctions on the board. 


Writing Class Chain Stories is a variation of an old parlor game. Students get involved in both the creative and the editing process because each student has contributed at least one sentence to the 12-15 chain stories. 

Distribute the story prompt sheets to the class. (It helps if the class is seated in a circle). 

Tell students they must continue each story they receive by adding a complete sentence. The twist is each sentence must contain either a subordinating conjunction or a coordinating conjunction and must be correctly punctuated. Then they fold the paper down accordion style so that only the last sentence written can be seen and pass the sheet to the person on the right. (You can monitor for momentum: if the next student is not ready for a new sheet, just take the sheet and pass it to the first student who is ready.) 

When there is no more room to write on the story prompt sheets, collect them. Read a few out loud-very dramatically. 

For the next class meeting, type three or four stories and make copies for all students. Divide the class into pairs or groups of three and ask them to edit for fragments and correct punctuation. When students have finished editing, go over the story with the whole class. This is also a good opportunity to review run-on sentence editing and correction, sentence variety, and sentence rhythms. 

1. Elaine's Dependent Clauses PRINT IN 16 POINT TYPE. CUT INDIVIDUAL STRIPS. 

  • Although he/she wanted to get married, _________________
  • Although the apartment is not expensive, ________________
  • After we broke up, __________________________________
  • After I spilled chocolate all over my shirt, ________________
  • After I get my college degree, _________________________
  • As the car sputtered to a stop,_________________________
  • Because I love you to the ends of the earth, ______________
  • Because she hated giraffes, __________________________
  • Before she would go out with me, ______________________
  • Before she would introduce me to her parents, ____________
  • Before I even let him/her kiss me, ______________________
  • Even if you can dance all night, ________________________
  • Even though you may be able to eat five pizzas and six cheesesteaks, ___________________
  • Ever since you braided your hair, ___________________
  • Ever since she started playing drums, ___________________
  • If you are going to sell your rap songs, __________________
  • If you get an A in math, ______________________________
  • Since I went to Atlantic City, ___________________________
  • Since he lost 40 pounds, ______________________________
  • Since I learned how to use a computer, __________________
  • Though she wanted to mud wrestle with him, ______________
  • Though you are the sweetest stud around, ________________
  • Unless my mother changes her mind, ____________________
  • Unless she has absolutely no money, ____________________
  • Until he understands women, ___________________________
  • Whatever you do, ____________________________________
  • When you go skinny dipping, ___________________________
  • When you grow up and have your own children , ____________
  • When you buy your first car, ____________________________
  • When I sit down to eat, ________________________________
  • Whenever you dance the salsa, _________________________
  • Whenever they go out, ________________________________
  • Wherever I go shopping, _______________________________
  • Whether you are male or female, ________________________
  1. _____________________________although I tried very hard.
  2. _____________________________although she drives me crazy.
  3. _____________________________after he won the lottery.
  4. _____________________________as she got on the crowded bus.
  5. _____________________________as they argued with the clerk.
  6. _____________________________as if he had never seen a beautiful woman before. 
  7. _____________________________because they had never climbed a mountain before. 
  8. _____________________________because her mother was very strict with her. 
  9. _____________________________before the volcano erupted.
  10. ____________________________before they got married.
  11. ____________________________even if you are the sweetest stud around.
  12. ____________________________in order that her car could start on a freezing day.
  13. ____________________________in order that she could go to law school.
  14. ____________________________since the cheesecake melted.
  15. ____________________________since my baby girl learned to walk.
  16. ____________________________so that we can continue to mud wrestle.
  17. ____________________________so that her breasts wouldn't sag.
  18. ____________________________though his gut dragged on the ground when he walked. 
  19. ____________________________though he sang like an elephant in heat.
  20. ____________________________unless he killed his pit bull.
  21. ____________________________until hell freezes over.
  22. ____________________________until her father found out.
  23. ____________________________whatever happens.
  24. ____________________________whatever makes you happy.
  25. ____________________________when pigs fly.
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