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Diagramming Sentences in Learning Grammar

Diagramming Sentences is one method of the classical education in learning grammar. This method sounds very old for me actually. I thought it is only taught for students in the college levels. Well, that is what happen here in Indonesia actually. Many modern methods replacing the memorization of parts of speech since people consider it too oldfashioned and too theoritical. There are a lot of contras and debate regarding the disgramming sentences. The debate between diagramming sentences and learning grammar through free writing is the same with debates between Whole Language vs Phonic Systems.

Diagramming Sentences in Learning Grammar

When we started our homeschooling, we were confused to choose what kind of English lessons and curriculum we are going to use. The options were too broad. After reading The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (Third Edition), I decided to follow the language art programs that use diagramming sentence methods.

How Does The Diagramming Sentences Look Like?

  • The sentences are classified into parts of speech
  • The parts of speech are put on the lines according to their position and functions
Examples of Reed-Kellogg diagrams
Examples of Reed-Kellogg diagrams By Tjo3ya (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Why Do I Choose Diagramming Sentences for Kids?

My college background is in English literature and I did sentence diagrams during the linguistics. I left diagramming sentence since then as I didn’t find it worked well on the real life. However, when I started thinking about the grammar lessons for kids, I just return to this method for some reasons.

Getting Used to The TOEFL Practice System

TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is a must in our country as the standard measurement tool for people to get employed in a job related with English, apply for any immigration things, and continue to the master education that needs English. There are also several works that require the TOEFL score.

I found that most of the TOEFL practice use the diagramming sentence method. I experienced it by myself. I think the method will be much easier to understand when children are taught earlier. They will have deeper understanding from the very basic. It will be much in contrast with my own experience. I felt getting to know the diagramming method was too late for me.

Giving Structural and Visual Mind of English

I know that my English has not been perfect yet, but I think this is a result of the diagramming sentence I learnt in the college. I hadn’t done the diagramming sentences anymore since I got my last grammar study in the college, but the structure of the English grammar has been stuck on my mind. I can visualize the sentence diagrams in my mind automatically and put them in the real sentences. This is quite hard for us doing the diagramming sentences with the foreign language, but it also give us more linguistic knowledge to our native language. I have never done any sentence diagramming in Indonesian, my native language.

Practicing The Rich Sentence Buiding

From my experience, there are many times that language users create short sentences without any idea how to make them sound more sophisticated on length and beauty. This problem might come from the lack of vocabulary and the less knowledge of the structure of the sentences. The lack of vocabulary can be solved by reading, but it is not the main problem, I think. With limited knowledge of vocabulary, we still can build better sentences by alternating and adding the parts of speech.

Diagramming sentences will help us to have some alternatives to add or change the position of the parts of speech so we can produce more creative sentence structure.

Getting The Systematic Language Learning

There are a lot of curriculum available for grammar with a lot of visual interactive features. For me, they can still be great supplements since we only can learn the systematic and complete grammar by looking up each of the part of speech and learning the position and function.

For example, many grammar curriculums in Indonesia teach tenses, articles, comparative, and superlative. Those topics are taught without featuring any main function of the parts of speech. Children in the public schools here can do those grammatical topics very well without mentioning their relationship with verbs and adjectives. Therefore, the teaching topics are taught from specific to general. It is different from when we learn how to diagram sentences:

  1. We learn about the parts of speech definition. Even children memorize the definition very well. The parts of speech are the general items in grammar.
  2. From the definition we know the features of the parts of speech.
  3. Children are introduced to the more detail variety of the parts of speech. For example: from verbs, children learn tenses, active and passive voices, linking, and helping verbs. From the basic knowledge of adjective functions, we learn about the adjective phrases, clauses, superlative, and comparative.

Those smaller topics are preceded with the emphasizes on the parts of speeches features, not only telling them.

Giving More Logical Basics to Writing Process including Editing

Just getting children to write without thinking about the grammar will give them more freedom to write in content. I like this idea. Therefore, I always separate the grammar lessons from the writing lessons. I don’t want to give them burden of grammatical knowledge in the writing process. I keep all of the grammar knowledge until the editing time.

Editing is the grammar review time for children. I always check their writing with them so they know their mistakes and revise as well. Most of the time children check the work under my supervision. I cannot imagine how long the editing time would be when children do self-editing without the proper grammatical.

Resources To Learn Diagramming Sentences

Our Basics to Learn Diagramming Sentences

We use both First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 3 Instructor Guide (First Language Lessons) and First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 3 Student Workbook (First Language Lessons)
for our children since they were in grade 3 level. We love these books as they teaches them the definitions of parts of speech and the sentence diagramming from the very basic that consists of the subjects and verbs.

After we finish the series, we continue with Building with Diligence, Grade 4 English, Pupil Textbook. It has also the teacher instruction and test books. Unlike the First Language Lessons series, we use a notebook to do the written practices.

The Next Levels of Diagramming Sentences

In the middle school levels, we use Building Christian English Following the Plan Grade 5  and Progressing with Courage (Building Christian English Series, English 6) for more complex diagramming sentences. They contain very solid curriculum. We open the practice with the oral questions and answers before the written practice. When kids are too exhausted in writing, we make some of the written practice into oral practice.

At this moment my eldest son is doing Building Securely English 7. It focuses on the 8 parts of speech. Verbals, progressive and emphatic forms of verbs, intransitive verbs, restrictive clauses, and conjunctive adverbs, are introduced. A lot of sentence diagramming practice is included.

Additional Diagramming Sentence Practice

For additional diagramming sentence which is outside the curriculum, you might use

How do you learn grammar? What do you like and what do you struggle? Share here with me.

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