RUN-ON Sentences

Why do my sentences RUN?  Stop the Rambling!

Our students with dyslexia often struggle with using punctuation marks in their writing because they view them as strange symbols and are unsure about where to place it in relation to a word.   As a result, they may merge two or more ideas into one long sentence without proper punctuation.   Learn more about run-on sentences and how we can tackle them so they do not run on and on!

Let’s take a look at the two sample pieces of writing below. What do they have in common?


Student sample 1 and 2:


If you immediately noticed the lack of punctuation, you are spot on! How did you feel as you read these texts? Was it disorienting? Did you struggle to understand what they were trying to tell you? Both students actually have creative ideas and a decent vocabulary bank, but what is extremely concerning is the lack of punctuation marks in their writing.

Often, our students with dyslexia struggle with putting punctuation marks in their writing because they view them as strange symbols and are unsure where to place them in relation to a word. The correct usage of punctuation marks is rarely reinforced with students in schools as most typically developing students intuitively understand where an idea ends and where another begins. Most students are taught that a full stop “comes at the end of a sentence”, and it is easy to understand that concept when students are only given 1 sentence accompanied by a blank space (see example below). However, in a long chunk of text, our dyslexic students often struggle with identifying where one idea ends and where the next idea begins.


Here is an example of an exercise that may be given to students to teach punctuation. Students will often be asked to place full stops at the end of each sentence. 

  1. Tom walks to the park ⚪
  2. That fish is small   ⚪
  3. She has a red hat   ⚪

However, when you give students multiple ideas strung into a paragraph, they are often unable to identify where to put their full stops because it requires them to comprehend the text in chunks of meaning.


A run-on sentence is a sentence that is not properly constituted as far as grammar is concerned.  It occurs when two main clauses are joined with the wrong punctuation or conjunction.

A sentence can only contain two or more independent clauses if they are properly fused. To correctly fuse clauses, proper punctuation or conjunction must be incorporated into the sentence.

A sentence can only contain two or more independent clauses if they are properly fused.  To correctly fuse clauses, proper punctuation or conjunction must be incorporated into the sentence.



I love to play computer games I would play daily if I had time.

There are two independent clauses (complete sentences) in the above example.

Why do students with dyslexia tend to have many run-on sentences in their writing?

Firstly, our students with dyslexia struggle with many aspects of the writing process. They struggle with coming up with ideas, finding the correct vocabulary, spelling those words, sentence structures, and more. This heavy cognitive load leaves them with little cognitive capacity to pay attention to punctuation marks.

Secondly, they often struggle to understand where one idea ends and where the next idea begins. This is especially true once sentence structures become more complex, and more conjunctions are used. Many of our dyslexic students are unfamiliar with the functions of words. Most students intuitively understand how different classifications of words (eg. nouns, verbs, adjectives, conjunctions etc.) come together to form meaningful sentences, even if they might not be familiar with the jargon. However, our students with dyslexia may lack that intuition and need to be explicitly taught and reinforced in order to internalise the functions of words before they can fully appreciate where to place punctuation marks.

Lastly, they perceive punctuation marks as merely a decorative feature that is non-essential in their writing. They may think, it’s just a dot or a mark on the paper, who cares? Since they do not know where to put their punctuation marks, they might think “I will just wait for the teacher to identify it for me” and when the teacher says “put your full stops here, how many times have I told you?”, then they will just do the corrections accordingly and pretend that they had forgotten. In reality, they might genuinely not know where to place their punctuation marks, but they are afraid to admit it. This is extremely problematic and also unproductive because when adults blame it on their forgetfulness and just continue reminding them to “put their punctuation marks here and there”, it does not truly do anything to help them. It does not teach them how to independently identify where to place their punctuation marks and this issue of run-on sentences will continue to persist over time.


How do we help such students?

As an educator who has helped numerous students to manage this difficulty, I would like to share some strategies we can use to help these students. Firstly, there should be a common understanding that punctuation marks need to be explicitly taught and more importantly, reinforced consistently over time with Dyslexic students. It needs to be taken as seriously as any other aspect of writing.


Here are some sample activities that I have done with my students to build their awareness of run-on sentences. These activities target students’ awareness of word functions, ie. their awareness of what is a subject, a verb, object, adjective etc. These activities are introduced in an ascending level of difficulty.

When reinforcing usage of punctuation with your students, placing circles at the appropriate place can be a good starting point. By magnifying the space that the punctuations fill, it magnifies the importance of punctuation marks to students as well.  I also tend to use different coloured circles to help students distinguish between the different types of punctuation marks.

Activity 1: How many ideas are there?




Activity 2: Place the full stops in each line

Activity 3: Get students to identify the subject and action and rewrite the sentences with appropriate punctuation marks.

The purpose of this simple activity is to help students understand word functions and where a full stop should be placed in relation to the ideas. I would often provide students with two ideas or sentences for a start, and gradually increase the difficulty by introducing coordinating conjunctions later on. When students are asked “How many ideas are there?”, they are forced to comprehend the meaning of the given text in order to tell you how many ideas there are. They can then slowly understand that a full stop has to be placed there to separate the two ideas.


Activity 4: Provide a passage or sample piece of writing without any punctuation marks. Get students to edit and place the appropriate punctuation marks.

If students find this activity too challenging, you may guide them in identifying the ideas and word functions. Full stops typically come before a new subject or noun. This activity can also be further scaffolded by giving students one paragraph at a time instead of a full text.

In conclusion, run-on sentences might seem like a formidable foe to our students with Dyslexia. However, if they are armed with the knowledge of tools to fix them, they can certainly untangle their web of words and transform their writing from a disorganised labyrinth to a coherent masterpiece! Let’s try out some of these strategies to help our students master the art of crafting well-structured sentences!


Educational Therapist & Curriculum Developer, RETA Associate Member Plus

30 November 2023