Do Children Need to Learn How to Diagram Sentences?

Diagram Sentences or Skip It?

Diagramming, also called parsing, is a tool for understanding grammar. So if your child can understand grammar without diagramming, no, it is not necessary. You don't have to teach diagramming in your homeschool language arts curriculum. But there are several advantages for using diagramming, especially for certain types of learners.

Advantages to Diagramming Sentences

Although diagramming is not an absolute necessity, there are some real advantages to learning how to do it.

»»Thorough Analysis of Grammar

With diagramming, each and every word in a sentence is placed somewhere onto the diagram. This means that when you diagram a sentence, you analyze that sentence from top to bottom and every bit in between. You can't skip over the "tough parts." You have to work every word onto that diagram.

»»Visual Representation of Sentence Structures

Grammatically there are only three types of sentences -- simple, compound, and complex. But of course, it's not nearly as simple as it sounds. There are a myriad of different grammatical structures that each of those sentences can have -- direct objects, complements, verbal phrases, adjective clauses, etc.

»»Mental Workout

Diagramming sentences has been likened to a brain teaser. A sentence serves as a puzzle that is solved through the diagram. The mental challenge makes for a good workout for the mind, forcing a child to think analytically and methodically.

How to Teach Diagramming

Start with just a couple of grammatical structures -- the subject and verb, for example. Then slowly add on additional components: adjectives, articles, direct objects, indirect objects, prepositional phrases, clauses, compound sentences, etc.

Make sure the child knows how to master that one grammatical form before moving on to another. If you introduce too much at once, it may be overwhelming.

Besides diagramming existing sentences, there are other diagramming activities.

1. Offer two or three blank diagrams along with a sentence and ask your child which diagram layout would fit the sentence.

2. Give your child blank diagrams to fill in with his own sentences. (Use spelling or vocabulary words for an even greater challenge.)

Commercial workbooks make teaching diagramming easier on the homeschool mom. Try some of those linked to the right.

A Complex Sentence Diagrammed

an image taken from a book in the public domain at Google books
an image taken from a book in the public domain at Google books | Source

The diagrammed sentence above is as follows:

The patriot, whom the corrupt tremble to see arise, may well feel a grateful satisfaction in the mighty power which heaven has delegated to him, when he thinks that he has used it for those purposes only which heaven approves.

What Kinds of Students Benefit from Diagramming Sentences

Students who are highly visual and visual-spatial will benefit from the practice of diagramming sentences. They are naturally prone to see patterns, so analyzing a sentence graphically makes perfect sense to them. The very act of diagramming a sentence often causes a child to realize that what he originally thought about the sentence was wrong.

Sentence diagramming is something of a new language by which the grammatical structures of a sentence are laid out with the relationships among words clearly shown. This kind of visual language is helpful for a visual-spatial child who sees in 3D rather than in words. He doesn't have to mentally reach for the word "direct object;" instead, he can draw the word in the right space in the diagram and still understand its function in the sentence.

A Few Sample Sentence Parts a Child Can Diagram or Label

sentence parts
abbreviation
marking
subject
S
underline once
predicate
P
underline twice
verb
v
-
prepositional phrase
PP
suround with parentheses
direct object
do
circle
indirect object
io
draw a box around
predicate adjective
PA
draw an arrow back to the subject
predicate nominative (noun)
PN
draw an arrow back to the subject
adjective clause
Adj Cl
bracket
adverb clause
Adv Cl
bracket
These are only suggestions. Devise your own system of abbreviations or symbols for marking sentences if you choose not to diagram.

Diagramming a Chore? An Alternative

If diagramming is a total disaster for your child, you can use other methods to teach grammar in your homeschool language arts. One alternative to diagramming is to simply label each word in the sentence with its function. You can use abbreviations such as those in the chart below. You can also use special marks or color coding to annotate the sentence.

The point of diagramming is to analyze grammar, so if the layout of the diagram is distracting instead of helpful, switch to another method. Remember, diagramming is not essential to a language arts curriculum.

Did You Benefit from Diagramming?

Think about your own experience in school. Did diagramming suit you?

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Comments 10 comments

StephanieBCrosby profile image

StephanieBCrosby 4 years ago from New Jersey

I was so happy to see this hub! Now it's my turn to be embarrassed...I did not learn diagramming sentences until undergrad when I was taking a linguistics course. I loved it because it married together my science interest with my writing/literature interest. I still have my diagramming book from that class. But some of the exercises became so difficult.

I think everyone should learn the basics of diagramming. When I take a poll of courses I teach for who has learned it, only one, maybe two, hand goes up. But it helps explain why they form so many incomplete sentences.

Great topic for a hub.


JimmieWriter profile image

JimmieWriter 4 years ago from Memphis, TN USA Author

I learned to diagram in middle school, I think. I'm a visual learner, so it really fit my learning style. I do think it is very useful but not a necessity. You prove my point. You didn't learn until college and still earned a degree in English.


whoisbid profile image

whoisbid 4 years ago

I speak more than one language and live in an environment where most people are bilingual, trilingual and some even speak more than 3 languages. Every day people are switching from one language to the other and we even mix them. The structure in one language is different from others so if you are speaking to someone with grammatically correct english over here, it could be seen as incorrect english. I guess people who can teach diagramming to adults who struggle with structures (since they are used to other structures) might benefit greatly from this. Then again it looks like they will have to put in a great effort if they want to be perfect at it.


JimmieWriter profile image

JimmieWriter 4 years ago from Memphis, TN USA Author

Whoisbid, how interesting! I've lived in a bilingual culture but not in a truly tri-lingual one. I understand what you mean about mixing up languages. We spoke lots of Chinglish (Chinese + English). I think that learning a 2nd language helped my daughter's grasp of grammar. I remember her correcting her dad with things like, "that word is not a verb, Dad."

Glad you agree with the benefits of diagramming sentences. I'm a grammar nerd, so I actually enjoy it!


Debby Bruck profile image

Debby Bruck 4 years ago

Jimmie ~ You are a super whiz at tutorials for kids and others who could use help with etiquette or language skills. I haven't read all your other hubs, yet. Great for bookmarking, or just bookmarking YOU! Blessings, Debby


JimmieWriter profile image

JimmieWriter 4 years ago from Memphis, TN USA Author

Thank you, Debby, for such encouraging words.


Jenn A 4 years ago

I never learned diagramming sentences, until as a homeschool mom it showed up in every grammar book we looked through. I have found it a complete waste of time. I can see a bit of a game in it, but not one single added benefit to being a better writer. When writing you don't think, hmmmm how can I add an object of a preposition? It's a complete time filler and tree waster. :)


JimmieWriter profile image

JimmieWriter 4 years ago from Memphis, TN USA Author

Jenn, I can see your point totally!


celeste inscribed profile image

celeste inscribed 3 years ago

Oh my goodness, I am so very, very happy to hear that diagramming is not essential. It has driven my son and I around the bend. We attend a virtual academy and I had never heard of sentence diagramming before. I think we will try some of your alternative methods and see if it helps. Thank you for a really good hub. Voted up!


Monica 10 months ago

I am with Jenn A. I never learned it in school. I had never seen it until I started homeschooling. It really frustrated my older two, so I would have them skip it or attempt it for extra points. No points were deducted if it was wrong. My youngest is learning it now and I still treat it the same - let's do our best to learn it, but we won't waste precious time on it. I found that one of the better curriculums for it is Rod & Staff or Christian Light.

I am noticing though that online articles from news sights are often filled with spelling errors and/or grammar errors. I wonder how the article got through and if their superiors caught the mistakes. That alone makes me really push grammar and on the kids.

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