It is human to err; and the only final and deadly error, among all our errors, is denying that we have ever erred.

G.K Chesterton, the Prince of Paradox

In 1993, two researchers (Robert J. Connors and Andrea A. Lunsford) and 50 analysers collected 21,000 teacher-marked essays to find the most common errors made in college papers.

The reality of their request resulted in several tonnes of paper that filled (and tested the strength of) 9 meters of improvised shelving.

After calculating that reviewing each of the papers would take more than 3000 hours, it was decided that they would use a representative sampling of the marked-up mountain instead.

I reckon it was a fairly short deliberation.

Their findings were interesting, but what’s far more captivating is that the Grammarly, a spell and grammar checking app, would find that students would be making the same mistakes 30 years on.

Here are the 5 most common errors and how to save your kids from making them.

Commas after an introductory phrase

While reading your students work you might realise that they forget to include a comma after an introductory phrase.

Just like I did.

It should have read ‘While reading your students work, you might realise…’

This comma serves two purposes. First, it lets the reader know that what they’ve read is background information. Second, it gives the reader a pause to relax on before the sentence continues.

Tip: Get your kids in the habit of reading their work aloud! The missing comma becomes obvious when you read aloud (it sounds like your mouth can’t keep up with your tongue).

Sentence fragments

If you’ve used MS Word, you’re probably familiar with this one.

A sentence fragment is a group of words pretending to be a sentence. What makes a sentence whole is an independent clause – a subject and verb that can stand on their own.

When the subject is missing (the thing that’s going to act), or the action is missing (the verb), the sentence is incomplete.

For example:

‘From start to finish’

What’s starting and finishing?

To give this sentence the information it needs to be complete, we’ll add a subject:

‘I did the job from start to finish’.

Tip: Get your kids to think about each sentence as a complete thought. Ask them to make sure each sentence has something or someone it is about (the subject) and tells what the subject is doing (the verb).

Subject verb agreement

Life is better when we all get along, and the same is true when it comes to subjects and verbs.

We want them to agree on the numbers they’re referring to – whether it’s single or plural.

If the subject is singular, the verb should be singular

If the subject is plural, the verb should be plural

Here are a few examples:

My cat never purrs for guests.

Carmen loves the smell of cauliflower.

This laptop is too big to carry.

Tip: Encourage your kids to take their sentences apart and see if they still make sense when the verb is changed from singular to plural, and vice versa. For example, ‘my cat purr’ or ‘Carmen love cauliflower’.

Access Printable Literacy Fundamentals Worksheets

Using too many words when fewer would suffice

Or I could have said ‘Wordiness’ or ‘Students are too wordy’.

This is a challenge of effectiveness – ‘how can I explain something properly in the least amount of words?’

For example, you could turn:

‘I have always tried to make sure that when I write my sentences they only contain the words absolutely necessary for it to make sense’


‘I try to keep my sentences short’

Tip: Encourage students to write and rewrite their work, aiming to say the same thing but with fewer words.


The eternal boulder pushed up the highest hill, incorrect spelling haunts the best writers and goes unnoticed by the worst.

But therein lies the question: how do you get students to notice incorrect spelling?

The answer is simple – encourage them to read and write, expose them to the wider world of words, and get them into a habit of re-reading, re-writing and editing!

Tip: Creating good spelling habits takes time and repetition, so you’ll want to avoid doing the same spelling tasks over and over. Using gamified learning can build their spelling repertoire, using fresh and exciting activities that keep kids engaged with their learning.

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