kitchen table math, the sequel: The Lost Art of Sentence Diagramming

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Lost Art of Sentence Diagramming

I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences. --Gertrude Stein

After reading this amusing article in the American Educator, I think sentence diagramming has a bad rap. It sounds like fun.

(Cross Posted at Perfect Score Project)


MagisterGreen said...

Not only is it fun in and of itself, but it appeals to a wide variety of students too. The logical and literal ones appreciate the systematic nature of the process; the artful ones take delight in expanding the form of it all (color-coding according to nouns, adjectives, verbs, modifiers, etc...); the linguistically slower ones can be more easily led to improve their own reading and writing skills; the clever ones adore the complex sentences and the crazy diagrams they produce. Talk about appealing to learning styles.

We do it in Latin and, if I had my druthers, it'd be part and parcel of our English instruction again at the late-elementary, early-middle school level. It's a fantastic thing.

Debbie said...

It actually seems creative. I'm committed to trying to learn this summer.

My son learned in 9th grade Latin, by the way. Maybe I will see if he can teach me.

Crimson Wife said...

I find sentence diagramming dull but valuable (sort of like all the scales & other technique drills when learning a musical instrument). The grammar program I use in our homeschool (Michael Clay Thompson's) doesn't teach traditional diagramming so I supplement with the Mark Twain Media workbook . It's inexpensive and to-the-point.

Redkudu said...

I started some sentence diagramming in my 9th grade classes this year because students didn't recognize prepositions and prepositional phrases. They loved it. They really liked seeing the Preamble to the Constitution:

I'm going to do more of it this year.

Read Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog for an entertaining and in-depth look at the history and usage. I'm using Sentence Diagramming (Hefty, Ortiz, and Nelson) as my textbook. Got it from Amazon.

Debbie said...

Just ordered the the Twain Media Sentence Diagramming book. CAN'T WAIT.

Katharine Beals said...

I prefer the linguist's syntax tree. It captures more:

Independent George said...

Incidentally, that might be my favorite opening line in all of literature.

Catherine Johnson said...

I love Jennifer's painting!


Catherine Johnson said...

I am absolutely convinced that everyone would have 800s on the writing section if students learned to diagram sentences.

Catherine Johnson said...

Katharine, if you're around, have you ever analyzed King James Bible English?

I'll have to find examples, but I often find that when I figure out the grammatical structure of a sentence, the meaning doesn't follow. (That is, the grammar contradicts what I take to be the meaning...)

I realize that's completely unclear.

Katharine Beals said...

Catherine, I haven't analyzed the KJB linguistically myself. But just this week, coincidentally, I've been investigating the phenomenon of parataxis vs. hypotaxis in different languages, and came across a discussion of how the King James translators converted many of the paratactic constructions (simple sentences, sometimes conjoined with "and") of the original Hebrew into hypotactic constructions (lots of embedding and subordination) that characterizes formal English (especially of that time period).

Perhaps in some cases the translators failed to let form follow function, and that is what you're seeing?

I'd be very curious to see an example when you have one handy.

Hainish said...

I absolutely LOVED sentence diagramming when I learned it in grade 7. It was about the only part of English classes that I liked in any grade, any year, ever. I also credit it with allowing me to become a decent writer and editor.

As sad as I was to see it go, I am equally excited to see it coming back.

Bonnie said...

We diagrammed in 7th grade. It was boring and pointless, given the fact that half the class couldn't read well enough to even understand the technique. For me, it was mildly entertaining because it seemed so "Laura & Mary", very quaint and old-fashioned. I thought we should wear pinafores or something while we did it.

Keep in mind, I also hated phonics and found it pointless. To this day, I cannot determine the stressed syllabus in a word.

Anonymous said...

Bonnie's point is well-taken. Students have to be able to read with good comprehension before sentence diagramming makes sense. And it can be overdone. But it should never be left out of a grade 7-8 curriculum.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it's easy to start teaching it in grade school as the child learns the 8 parts of speech. Plus, grade schoolers aren't so cynical and think it's fun. My son wanted me to hand him diagrammed sentences after a while so he could write the sentence out from the diagram.

I knew my school wasn't going to teach grammar in any coherent way, so I started putting together my own curriculum.

The only drawback is the "beating a dead horse" problem. It's useful and even fun to a degree, but can be overdone depending on the student.

My go-to text at the time was Steps to Good Grammar. I just adapted it to grade school by simplifying the sentences to match what they were learning. There's very concise instructions along with diagrammed sentences (and the answers). I know there's a lot more out there since I was doing it, but I thought I'd mention it.