Common grammar mistakes and how to avoid them

By Anna Tarbet

10 Oct 2022

Two students writing in a classroom.

A firm grasp of grammar is one of the bedrocks of literacy; it is crucial to your learners becoming expert readers and communicators. But let’s face it, teaching grammar can be tricky.

Grammar is the glue that holds everything together and, as a compulsory element of the UK National Curriculum, it’s important to be aware of possible common grammar mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Incorrect verb tense

Do you find your learners inadvertently change tense whilst writing? English is a difficult language to master and understanding grammar takes years of practice. Tenses in particular can cause trouble for many learners in their writing. Incorrect verb tense stems from the learner being unable to determine when events occur in a timeline.

Children learn a lot about tenses through everyday conversation. Most children will pick up tenses naturally and will soon learn incorrect verb tenses when they hear them. Reading aloud to your class is an easy way to expose learners to as many verb formations as possible. However, there are lots of other ways to implement the understanding of the correct verb tenses that are more engaging and memorable.

A visual way of presenting verb tenses could be on a timeline to emphasise the difference between past, present, and future. Children could sort sentences or write their own and place them on the timeline to help them develop an understanding of when events occur and what tense to use in relation to the timeline.

Learners often spot more mistakes when they read their work aloud. Activities such as pairing up and asking learners to read their partners work aloud to them, or utilising useful educational technology such as a text-to-speech programmes, will help them hear how different tenses are used in sentences and can spark a realisation when they’ve accidentally changed tense.

It would also be beneficial to look at examples of writing that include errors. Use highlighters to underline the mistakes and let your learners explain which words highlight that the tense is wrong. They could also re-write pieces into a different tense and explain the difference.

For children learning English as an additional language, learning the correct tenses will take longer. English can be a confusing language, especially at first. It is normal to see errors in written work even when learners seem almost fluent in speech. If your learners are struggling readers or are learning English as an additional language, be patient with them and keep your grammar instruction clear and consistent.

2. Overuse of adverbs

Sometimes we see learners overusing adverbs in their writing. We know it's not technically a grammatical mistake, but replacing overused adverbs with ambitious describing words is one of the best ways to level up your learners' descriptive writing, so we're including it.

When adverbs are first understood and incorporated into children’s writing, it can be tempting for them to use too many.

A good way for learners to realise when they are using too many adverbs in their sentences is to allow them to go over their work with a coloured pen and put a line through each additional adverb. This will allow both the learner and the teacher to see how many adverbs have been used unnecessarily and help them to realise how the writing now has a better flow with fewer adverbs.

Another teaching technique to help abolish the overuse of adverbs is to provide a model piece of text with multiple adverbs and ask the learners to remove them, making the text more concise and of better quality.

Acting out the adverbs can also help learners understand when they have overused them. For example, the class can act out ‘running really quickly’ and ‘sprint’ to realise they describe the same action. Classroom activities like these are an excellent way of developing a learner's Tier 2 vocabulary.

3. Misplaced apostrophes

The main aim of teaching apostrophe use is to differentiate which scenarios you apply them to. The three uses are: 1) to form possessive nouns; 2) to show the omission of letters; and 3) to indicate plurals of letters, numbers, and symbols. This can be confusing for learners to begin with. Here are some ideas to make teaching apostrophes engaging and memorable.

Write a list of phrases that can be changed into contractions. Set a short timer and have your students rewrite the phrases into one word answers with apostrophes. Challenge them to beat the clock. Here are some examples:

  • We have -> We’ve
  • They are -> They’re
  • Do not -> Don’t
  • Is not -> Isn’t
  • Who have not -> Who’ve’nt (kidding - but throwing in a red herring like this can challenge your learners to make sure they really understand the task and are thinking actively)

This activity will help make adding apostrophes and recognizing contractions more automatic.

Another activity could be to create some cards with learners’ names on them and then another set of cards with the names of various items. Your learners can pick their name card first and then an item card. The idea is that they will use both words in a sentence, making sure to remember the possessive apostrophe. They can then keep picking a name and an item and writing them down in a sentence.

Using video content is another great way to make teaching apostrophes engaging without losing accuracy. Here at Bedrock we offer interactive content to enable learners to click, drag, drop and slide their way through grammar lessons.

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4. Confusing homophones

A homophone is when each of two or more words have the same pronunciation but different meanings, origins, or spelling. There are around 75 common homophones which can be difficult for learners to grasp.

Teaching homophones can help widen a student's vocabulary by learning the meaning of new words and also provides an opportunity to practise and improve spelling.

Homophones are best learnt in context. As you read a text as a class or when learners read independently, encourage them to keep track of all the homophones they come across. After a set amount of time, ask the learners to match up the homophones and see if they can differentiate them. You can also set a task to put the homophones in sentences which will make it clear to see if an understanding has been achieved.

A homophone memory game can be fun and engaging for learners. Start by laying all the cards face down on a flat surface and allow them to take turns trying to match pairs of homophones to each other.

Similarly, homophone Pictionary can be played in the classroom. You could even incorporate a scoring system to encourage a competitive environment.

5. Extended sentences

When learners progress to more advanced writing skills, it becomes easier and easier to neglect the basics. Learners caught up in using high-level vocabulary, complex sentence structures, accurate paragraph breaks and the occasional semicolon might find themselves falling victim to the run-on sentence. This can lead to sentences becoming too long and lacking full stops.

Encourage learners to read their work aloud. If learners are finding themselves running out of breath before reaching a full stop, the sentence is probably too long. As a classroom, adding a clap when the full stop needs to be added in helps the whole class be involved. It is also important to emphasise that a “new idea = new sentence”.

Of course, as well as guided practice, classroom activities and reading out loud, learners need opportunities to practise their grammar skills independently. Educational technology such as Bedrock Grammar can be very helpful for this independent practice.

Bedrock's grammar curriculum immerses learners in engaging learning experiences, using stories, videos, interactive activities and scaffolded writing opportunities. Everything is taught through original fiction and non-fiction. Bedrock Learning allows you to build a complete understanding of your learners’ grammatical knowledge using our diagnostic tool and progress tracker.

We hope you have found these techniques useful in highlighting the common grammar mistakes learners make and how to avoid them through unique and engaging teaching techniques.

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