Objective: The purpose of this book is to help students gain a deeper understanding of sentence structure by learning to diagram simple sentences. Through this process students will learn to clarify their thinking and sharpen their writing skills.
A great debate in education is whether or not it is worth it to teach sentence diagramming. I tend to fall on the side that there is value in teaching it, if for no other reason, to give students a chance to tell people when they’re older, “Yes, I was taught sentence diagramming.” It seems to be a right of passage that people like to talk about in the same way we reminisce about having the chicken pox.
I like to teach diagramming for other reasons as well. Author Kitty Burns Florey wrote an article in the New York Times (June 18, 2012) titled “Taming Sentences” that explains why she finds value in sentence diagramming. This article lists several good reasons for teaching sentence diagramming:
1. It helps us focus on the “structures and patterns” of language: Sentences are like puzzles. Deconstructing and reconstructing them helps students understand how each piece fits in the bigger picture. However, unlike a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces can be manipulated and moved. Expanding on Ms. Florey’s concept, I like to show students how there is a rhythm to writing. A well-written paragraph should have a beat, almost like music. For example, there is a page in the book Hatchet that, each year we read it, the students seem to trip over many of the words. I couldn’t figure out why until I realized how choppy the sentences were; they had no rhythm.
2. Diagramming helps focus our thoughts on the “clarity of meaning”. Florey points out how “muddy thinking” leads to “muddy writing” which leads to confusion for the reader. By breaking down sentences, students can see connections between words, phrases, and clauses. Poor sentences can often lead to confusion, which may be bad in a story or essay, but can have more serious consequences for lawyers and doctors. A misplaced modifier or vague clause can cost money and lives.
3. Diagramming is great for visual and special learners. Florey describes artistic type people who often struggle to understand ideas until sentences are put in pictorial form. They find that diagramming sentences is much like reading a graph. It is a way to find the useful information quickly.
I will add one more benefit to diagramming. Even in 6th grade, many students don’t seem to recognize when they are writing run-on or fragment sentences. I will often put samples of student writing under the document camera and ask students to analyze the sentences. After I’ve taught basic diagramming, we can look for the subject, verb, direct objects, and modifiers. Often, with run-on sentences, we will discover a lot of “left-overs” after we diagram the sentence. For fragment sentences, there will be missing spaces where subjects should be. This is a great way to visually show students the errors in their sentences.
About this book:
As the title suggests, this book is “basic diagramming”. The first few years I taught sentence diagramming to my sixth graders, I found that a month of practice, at fifteen minutes a day, was all my students and I could handle. This allowed for subjects, verbs, direct/indirect objects, and several kinds of modifiers. It’s enough to give them a good understanding of sentence structure. I also found that if I began the year with sentence diagramming, many other grammar lessons were much easier for the students to learn.
This book will baby step the students through diagramming simple sentences. Students will begin by learning to diagram two and three word sentences. Each lesson after that will add a new element until they are breaking apart much longer sentences. Through this process they will understand the English language on a much deeper level.
Many of these worksheets give the students the opportunity to practice diagramming sentences that they have written themselves. With these extensions, students get more practice diagramming using sentences that are familiar to them. This will help reinforce the lessons taught throughout the book.
Sorry, No Answer Key
Other than the test at the end, there is no answer key. Most of the lessons in this book follow a very basic pattern. The lessons are pretty straightforward and show clear examples. Looking at the samples for each lesson should be enough for the students and teacher to see the correct answers.