This post is a part of the essential toolkit of grammar knowledge I feel all kids should have. The following parts can be found here: the subject, the predicate, the simple sentence, the compound sentence, the complex sentence, sentence fragments, and run-on sentences.
Sentence fragments are shards of broken thought. Well, more or less.
A sentence fragment is an incomplete thought. Sentence fragments are usually the result of a missing subject or predicate or the addition of an AAAWWUBBIS word like because. The following are all sentence fragments.
A spectacular day to start the new project. (Missing a subject)
Goes to school by bus. (Missing a subject. Who goes to school by bus?)
Because our teacher got mad. (Because our teacher got mad….. (then what happened?))
This is not a perfect definition because sentence fragments can be used by writers if their meaning is clear in relation to the context of the sentences that precede and follow. For example, in the first paragraph above, there is one sentence fragment, Well, more or less. This phrase only makes sense in relation to the phrase that preceded it.
And ultimately, if the reader doesn’t mind, and your meaning is clear, you can write as many sentence fragments as you like. But. What you. Will. Find. Is that it’s hard to concentrate. On the meaning. When you don’t follow accepted norms of writing.
Spoken English is full of sentence fragments, interruptions, and incomplete thoughts. BUT, there are also a whole lot more contextual clues to aid in the conversation. Raised eyebrows. A swipe of the hand. Background knowledge between the participants. And so on.
ELLs often have many sentence fragment type errors in their writing and will benefit from a bit more explicit instruction. Over the course of a few weeks, teach students simple, compound, and complex sentences. Get them to practice combining sentences. And then provide regular feedback in journals so that they can see when they make those errors in their own writing.
Check out these exercises from Khan Academy for some additional practice.
Finally, let’s move on to the writing error that plagues many students, but especially those who are orally proficient in English: run-on sentences.