A new way to think of Sentence Diagrams

Until the 1960s, teachers asked their students to diagram sentences. From that time forward, the activity fell into disfavor, and creative expression replaced rote learning. However, it is time to bring back the exercise of diagramming sentences. With the advent of the Internet, social media and email it is the rare young person who gives a modicum of thought to exactly what a sentence is, and is not. Since a sentence is the expression of a complete thought, and for that thought to be clearly understood, the construction of complete sentences is tantamount.

Indeed, understanding sentence construction is the beginning of creative expression. To replace grammar rules with grammar usage is a foolish exercise. It is wiser to begin with the rules of grammar, placed in the context of sentence structure, then move forward from there. However, it is possible to teach sentence structure without the rigidity of old-fashioned sentence diagrams. And so, this is a lesson on teaching how to diagram sentences with a twist. If you would like to understand how to diagram sentences in a more traditional way, wikiHow has step-by-step instructions.

A new method of learning how to diagram sentences.

Okay, a sentence is a complete thought. What must it contain to complete that thought? It must contain a subject and a verb. Subjects are always nouns or pronouns. What are nouns? A person, place or thing is a noun. A pronoun serves the function of replacing a noun. What is a verb? A verb is an action or state of being.

I run. Tom sleeps.

Are these sentences? Why are they sentences? Yes, they are sentences because each expresses a complete thought, and each has a subject and verb. These sentences are simple sentences, and express very little. If all of our writing consisted of simple sentences it would be very chopping and boring.

When I run, Tom is asleep.

A little more interesting don’t you think? Why the comma? This introduces the idea of independent and dependent clauses. A clause has a subject and a verb. An impendent clause can stand alone. It can be a sentence. A dependent clause cannot stand on its own because, although it contains a subject and a verb, it does not express a complete thought. A comma separates a dependent from the independent clause. A great teaching resource to help you understand grammar rules and usage can be found at Purdue University Writing Lab.

When I run at 6 a.m., Tom is asleep.

This sentence gives us a little more information. Now you can discuss prepositional phrases. Why is, “at 6 a.m”., a phrase and not a clause? Because it does not have a subject or verb, but is a word chunk introduced by a preposition.

When I run at 6 a.m., Tom is fast asleep.

What kind of word is fast? The word “fast” is an adverb. What is an adverb? An adverb modifies, or changes the verb.

When I run at 6 a.m., Susan is taking a shower, and Tom is fast asleep.

Wow! Now things are getting complicated. We have two independent clauses, separated by a comma and conjunction. We have a state of being verb, “is” an action verb, “run” and what do we kind of verb is “is taking.” This sentence introduces the idea of verb tenses, the simple present and the present progressive. Furthermore, for the first time we have an object. What is Susan taking? She is taking a shower. Shower is the object.

Do you get the idea? This is not the old way of diagramming sentences, but rather a way of building sentences through a gradual process of understanding its components. If you teach grammar rules and creativity at the same time, your children will write clearly and succinctly. Furthermore, they will have the tools they need to analyze their writing.

Start by assigning very simple sentences. Discuss the sentences. Let your students build their own sentences. This is the creative part. Then have them analyze the sentence structure of what they have written. This is a new type of sentence diagram. Combining the skills of creative expression and the components of a sentence is an excellent way to ensure your children learn to write well.