Comma Complex


Give kids hands-on practice with complex sentences.

The preparatory work for this partner activity involves familiarizing kids with the 2 basic parts to any sentence: the subject and the predicate. I’ve variously seen teachers refer to these as the NOUN part and the VERB part, or  WHO or WHAT the sentence is about and then WHAT it DOES or IS. Comma Complex is an activity in which children use a conjunction to combine two simple sentences into one complex sentence. Kids need to be familiar with the idea that a conjunction is the glue word that binds the two simple sentences together. If it occupies the space where the two come together, no comma is necessary because the conjunction is in position to act as the glue. But if the conjunction is far away at the front of the sentence, then you use a comma like a hook to join the two simple sentences.

Some students enjoy this clever reminder:

You don’t use a comma if the conjunction is in the middle. If the conjunction is at the beginning , you use a comma.*

Pairs of students are given color coded cards. 10 cards of one color signify predicates, 10 cards of another color signify subjects, 5 cards of a third color are conjunctions, and there are 8 punctuation chips: 5 periods and 3 commas. The pair’s mission is to make 5 sensible complex sentences using all their materials. They’re told to spread out their cards by category and to start by finding sensible simple sentences. The second step is to combine 2 of these into a complex sentence with an appropriate conjunction. The key is to be flexible! It also helps to be aware of the clues provided by capital letters.

* For those who are interested: Traditional grammar rules count sentences with the conjunctions and, or, but, so, and yet as compound sentences. These sentences use a comma in addition to the conjunction in the middle. (The difference is that in these cases, the clause with the conjunction is an independent one, not a dependent clause–meaning it can stand on its own as a sentence.)

Subject                     Predicate             Conjunction        Punctuation

the president                 chewed on it                 because                     5 periods
I                                         eat breakfast                  After                           3 commas
the dog                          dug up a bone                Since
My uncle’s car             will not start                    while
Washington, DC         lives there                         If
he                                   is the nation’s capital
I                                      watch TV
your sneakers             wear out
you                                get a new pair
the gas tank              is empty

I’m not providing the completed sentences, so you can experiment in the way your students will. But if you’d like to see them on a cheat sheet, you can request them by using the CONTACT tab, and I’ll gladly send them to you.