Educators have been debating the usefulness ( or lack thereof) of diagramming sentences since its inception in the 1870s. Personally, I am for diagramming, and tend to lean toward grammar programs that stress it. However, that doesn’t mean I won’t use Easy Grammar for a year to give my children a well earned break. Though, I do circle a sentence or two for them to diagram periodically on a separate sheet of paper so they don’t get rusty.
While it is true that your children can understand grammar and sentence structure without diagramming, there are some great benefits to having them go through the exercise. Before we go into those, I want to give you a couple of pointers to make it more pleasant for your children.
1. You need to have a positive attitude about diagramming. For some of you, that might be like me saying “Enjoy it when someone grates their fingernails on a chalkboard”. I understand not everyone is really going to enjoy diagramming sentences, but you can’t approach it with a rotten attitude. If you deride it or dread it, why should your children look forward to it? I’m not saying lie to them. I am firmly opposed to lying. Just don’t be negative. If it is one of those subjects you just “never got”, be honest. There is a world of difference between approaching diagramming like Brussel Sprouts and going about it with a conqueror’s heart. You can say, “Diagramming is dreadful, but you have to learn it because it is good for you.” or “I have always found diagramming a little hard, but I really think it is worth us learning, so let’s see if you can help mommy conquer it.” Which teacher would you enjoy more?
2. Approach it like a puzzle. Kids enjoy solving puzzles. My eight year old daughter, who freaks out if she thinks something is going to be hard, will sit and do twenty Mind Benders’ puzzles in a row, even though they are worlds harder than most of her school work. Why? Because in her mind a puzzle is like playing. Sentence diagrams are word puzzles. In fact, you could stop calling it diagramming all together. Let’s tell the kids it’s time to do some word puzzles.
what is the point?
Diagramming will not make them better writers, no matter what your English teacher told you. What it will do is help them understand sentence structure better, and that will aid in their written communication.
It will also help them see how the words work together. If they can’t figure out whether something is a predicate nominative or a predicate adjective, a diagram can help see how they fit with one another.
Sometimes, just for fun, you can write out a diagram and have them write the sentence from it. Working backwards is equally useful in understanding sentence structure.
Declined Language Aid
Another huge benefit to diagramming is to aid in the study of declined languages. In English, word order is paramount. But, in studying declined languages, such as Latin or Koine Greek, word order can be a distant, longed for memory. The noun endings determine their function in the sentence, not which one came first. A comfortable understanding of sentence diagramming makes that so much easier! I really believe if you plan on your children studying a declined language, then diagramming is a must.
Sharpening your mind
I mentioned earlier thinking of diagramming as a puzzle. There have been numerous recent studies that have touted the benefits of doing puzzles as a means of warding off Alzheimer's. I don’t know if any of them are valid. However, it never hurts to sharpen your intellect. Your brain needs to be challenged and exercised just as your body does. With diagramming, you can knock out two birds with one stone: a deeper understanding of grammar and an anti-dementia tool all in one.
what if you can’t diagram?
If you’ve never diagrammed a sentence, don’t panic. I always tell new homeschool parents, who are worried about the sheer amount of knowledge they have to impart, to remember they only have to stay one lesson ahead of their children. If you’re just beginning diagramming with your children, don’t spend your time worrying about what you’d do with a gerund phrase as an object of the preposition. You just have to start with the simple subject and simple predicate. See, that’s not too hard!
There are a myriad of tools to help you with diagramming. First, you can just go through your children’s textbooks. I love the Rod & Staff books for grammar. They are very thorough and morally friendly. The teacher’s manual has all the diagrams completed for you, so you’ll have the answers to help you teach and grade. (But it is to your benefit to try doing them yourself).
Many websites are also available to aid with diagramming. For instance this website (http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/diagrams2/diagrams_frames.htm) demonstrates a diagram for almost any type of sentence you will encounter. However, you will already need to know the various parts of speech to follow it.
The following website doesn’t give as many types of sentences, but does give explanations about how to recognize the different parts of speech. (http://homeworktips.about.com/od/englishhomework/ss/diagram.htm). A simple Google search can help you find many other useful sites for diagramming.
Whether you decide to teach diagramming will not be the measure of what kind of teacher you are, so don’t spend days fretting over this. Your children will do fine either way. I simply wanted to share what I feel are real benefits to adding this simple exercise to your language arts program.
Annmarie is a single mom who loves homeschooling her children. You can learn more about Annmarie, including her spiritual thoughts and conversion to Mormonism on her blog www.annmarieathome.blogspot.com