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Do Children Need to Learn How to Diagram Sentences?

Updated on December 21, 2011

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
underline once
underline twice
prepositional phrase
suround with parentheses
direct object
indirect object
draw a box around
predicate adjective
draw an arrow back to the subject
predicate nominative (noun)
draw an arrow back to the subject
adjective clause
Adj Cl
adverb clause
Adv Cl

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?

See results

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