Fragments, Run-ons, and the Death of a Plant

I have had many teachers throughout my life. Some have been good teachers, and some have been not so good. Out of all the teachers I have ever had, I have only had ONE excellent teacher. What I learned from her about writing and grammar and punctuation has carried me through decades of writing, grading, revising, editing and reading.
However, when she first started teaching our class, it was ugly – a battle of wills. My class had been told over and over again throughout the years that we were smart. We weren’t. Instead, we had a pretty well-developed vocabulary. Our teacher decided that it was her duty to actually TEACH us, rather than just pass us on along. She started from ground zero with us and worked her way up.
In her class, we got to meet the Grammar Unit. I imagine that this is like an intellectual boot camp. We were grammarian weaklings. She broke us down, stripped us of our bad habits, and then built us back up with the correct tools and weapons we needed.
A few highlights from Grammar Boot Camp – she killed her ivy plan, danced some strange jig in front of the class, made us want to throw up over green ink, and continued to give me migraine headaches as she talked about how college would destroy us. “If you don’t learn how to write, college will destroy you. And, I won’t have it be my fault.”

Death of a Plant – she sacrificed her ivy plant for grammar. We were learning, and I say learning instead of re-learning because we didn’t know what was going on to begin with, about fragments and run-on sentences.

Here is what she said:
“A fragment is an incomplete sentence. A run-on sentence is two or more sentences run together without correct punctuation.”

Here is what I heard:
“A fragment wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah. A run-on sentence wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah.”

She handed out huge stapled packets. I got a little excited. Alright – finally some worksheets!
The directions – Read the sentences. Identify the sentence as either a (F)ragment or a (R)un-on, and then correct the sentence.
Did I mention that I had migraine headaches and had developed a habit of cussing due to this class?

I read each sentence. They looked good to me.
“Can any of these sentences be correct?” someone asked.
Good question, I thought. They all looked correct me.

She frowns, “No.”
Well, crap.

So, I guess that looks like a fragment. It’s pretty short.
I guess that looks like a run-on because it is pretty long.
I got every single question wrong – every one of them. I wasn’t alone.

She stood in front of the class again, “What don’t you understand? What part isn’t making sense?”
I broke my silence. “None of it. What is the difference between a fragment and a run-on? I don’t know what either one is.”
At that point, she sort of looked like she might charge me, like in football, but she walked passed me to this one lone ivy plant on top of a bookcase, and starts plucking off all these leaves.
I panic. I finally opened my mouth and I sent this woman over the edge of insanity.

She just keeps plucking until she has her hands full of ivy leaves, whirls around, and
Click, click, click, click – back to the front of the class. She holds up three or four ivy leaves in one hand and three or four in the other.
“All complete thoughts, all run together. No periods, no commas and conjunctions, no semicolons. Just all running into each other.”
That made sense. It was scary and made me afraid of what was coming next, but it did make sense.

Then, she lays all the leaves down but one, and she tears that leaf into twenty or thirty tiny pieces, and she holds one of these tiny pieces in the air.
“See this piece?”
We all nod in unison.
“Well, this tiny piece is a fragment. Understand?”
Yes. I finally understood the difference between a run-on sentence and a fragment. The plant died. She said it was worth it.

And, I have never forgotten.


About melindamcguirewrites

The young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. ------ William Faulkner, Nobel Prize Speech, Stockholm, 1950
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6 Responses to Fragments, Run-ons, and the Death of a Plant

  1. jennifer starks says:

    That is one hell of a lesson lol!

  2. DM says:

    Sounds like an excellent teacher.

  3. Pingback: Mind Sieve 8/15/11 « Gloria Oliver

  4. Reblogged this on melindamcguirewrites and commented:

    In memory of Ms. Dawn Casey Bradshaw who passed away in December of 2015. My constant reader, my favorite teacher, my dear friend – you will be missed.

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