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The Old Schoolhouse Magazine


October 26, 2011

Let's Talk about Diagramming Sentences


Deborah's  Picture  

To diagram or not to diagram-that is the question!


Now, that is a sentence that even I would have a hard time diagramming. Is the sentence really a question or a statement? Does it have a verb or a noun or an adjective, and if so, what are they? Does the verb also serve as the subject of the sentence? What is the predicate, and does it have a prepositional phrase? Except for a few of us English geeks, our corporate brain probably hurts right about now.


In my high school, there were a handful of students who were expert enough to diagram any sentence you threw at them. But most of the class struggled through as best they could. And their consistent question is the same question many ask today: Why? What is the purpose of diagramming a sentence? One website explains it this way: "Understanding the functions of parts of the speech in a sentence and their relationship to one another can be very helpful in learning to construct good sentences."


Some people say that constructing good sentences comes from reading good books and building good vocabulary. Some people say diagramming helps with learning a foreign language because you already understand parts of speech in English. Some say it is useless and never helped them get a job or excel in college or learn a language.


Ruth Beechick says that "after children write well, sometime in their teen years, they can learn some grammar so they will be educated about it. They will not have been burned out on it, and they may actually enjoy it at that time."


With my two older boys, we did a lot of age-appropriate grammar from the time they could write until the time they graduated, but it never included diagramming. None of the college English classes they have taken required sentence diagramming. They did need to know how to express their ideas clearly, research topics, and use proper punctuation and format.


My daughter who will graduate next year has skipped diagramming as well because she is preparing for a future with horses, which could care less whether she diagrams a sentence or not. The five younger ones will get enough grammar to write well, and if any of them particularly takes to English, we will go down the grammar route as far as it leads, even to diagramming sentences if they are so inclined.


A lot of what we decide to add to our children's schooling is based on what their goals are. Whether it is college life or married life or immediate employment, we can help our children prepare for life after homeschool. Will it include diagramming sentences? Only God and you will know that answer.


As you prayerfully consider what your children need to know after their homeschool years are over, ask God to reveal His purposes to you. Don't be anxious; prayer is powerful and necessary in preparing our children for life after homeschool.


"Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6, 7



TOS Senior Editor     





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Our guest writer this week:


Diagramming Sentences:  

Important is it very?         

By Retina Terrell  


When I was growing up, we moved . . . a lot. A few times we moved every summer, in fact. It was an exciting adventure as well as being terribly scary. One of the unforeseen consequences to my spongelike little mind was the knowledge I was missing by switching schools so often. You see, each school in each state was on a schedule, and they didn't find it necessary to check with me to see if they were covering things I had already learned or going back to cover something I had missed. I wonder why not? I mean, aren't I worth it? I always thought so!


So what were some of the things I missed by moving around? Well, let's see. The biggies were fractions and decimals and diagramming sentences. "Wow, you didn't learn fractions. That is really a problem, isn't it? But diagramming sentences . . . big deal, so you didn't learn that. You just lucked out by not having to do all that boring stuff." That's what you're thinking, isn't it? Come on, admit it. We all think that diagramming sentences is really just code for sanctioned torture called busywork. Right?   


I would have agreed with you until my children had to start diagramming sentences. I looked at their books and saw all the funny lines going this way and that and actually laughed out loud. I could not imagine why in the world they would have to put words into that chicken scratch in any certain order. It made no sense to me. I mean really, do they need to know any more than noun, verb, and adjective? The rest just fit into the sentence naturally, so why worry about what they are called or where they go on a diagram? I had so much to learn!


Let me tell you why it's important. People judge you by the way you speak and write. We don't like to believe that, but it is true. Writing that is done well is more effective than writing that looks like you didn't learn certain things in school! In today's society, most people don't even realize when you end a sentence with a preposition, right? But take the sentence, "Are you going with?" I hear that one all the time and actually say it that way to torture my husband! So what's wrong with that sentence? Well, who or what are you going with and where are you going? It is an incomplete sentence, and besides that it sounds like you just forgot to finish your sentence. If you say this phrase in this way, you may notice a look of confusion flash across someone's face while they are waiting for the rest of what you were supposed to say.


So, how would diagramming sentences help in this situation? Diagramming sentences helps you learn our language better so that you can be well-spoken and have your ideas taken seriously. Let's face it, would you rather have a boss who says, "Do you wanna come with?" or "Would you like to go with the office staff to lunch?" Seems simple, but having an understanding of words and the order in which they belong can actually help you sound more intelligent. Imagine that! Even in today's society, a well-worded email or letter is preferable to one that is riddled with grammatical errors. Your children may not understand that now, but they will thank you later for making them do the busywork of diagramming sentences. How do I know that? My husband, who learned to diagram sentences very well, is asked to proofread things at work all the time. Why? Because he knows the English language and the way it is supposed to fit together. He can construct sentences that get the idea across in an intelligent manner that is readable to everyone. Isn't that a skill we would all love our children to have? I know I do. So my children will learn to diagram sentences, and I will learn right along with them. Who knows, maybe someday I will learn not to dangle my participles!




Renita Terrell is the mother of a houseful of girls and married to a man who checks everything she writes! They have homeschooled from the beginning, and you can read all about their crazy lives at In her spare time, she is a deck hand for the TOS Crew.





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The FamilymanTodd Wilson
Todd Wilson, Familyman Ministries

Let me tell you a little secret: The reason sentence diagramming is taught is so that sentence diagramming teachers can have something to teach. Because if folks decided that sentence diagramming didn't really matter, they couldn't test you on it and diagramming teachers wouldn't have a job. Ooo . . . that makes me sad.


You don't believe me? Then you tell me some other logical explanation of why students need to know how to diagram sentences. I make my living writing stuff, and I couldn't diagram a sentence worth diddly.


In fact, the best sentence diagrammer I ever met was a guy in seminary who could diagram everything. It didn't matter how complex the sentence was, he could do it. Since then, the diagramming expert has been underemployed and struggling. Not that it's because he could diagram a sentence-I'm just saying it didn't help him much.


So, for what it's worth, I'd say scrap the whole subject of sentence diagramming and teach something way more important-like how to repair manual crank telephones.

Be real,




Need help with math facts? First, teach the child strategies and concepts in the tables. Don't jump to random drill too soon! Learn strategies for addition facts, and how to drill multiplication tables effectively -- essentially teaching division facts at the same time. This is NOT your usual random drill! 
It's Just Common Sense

Ruth Beechick, Curriculum Specialist 


Debbie Strayer, Homeschool Consultant  


I have seen an occasional engineering student who enjoyed diagramming. Everyone else thinks it is a dumb assignment. I do too. Research has not shown that knowing how to diagram makes better writing.


~ Ruth


I took years of grammar instruction in middle school, including the diagramming of sentences. I completed the exercises, took the quizzes, stored all the information in my short-term memory long enough to get an A on the tests, and then happily allowed the information I had learned to drift away once the test was over. I did not see a connection to writing. When I wrote, my thoughts didn't conform to the patterns of diagramming. What I needed was to keep my writing connected to my thinking and understanding. 


When it came to teaching my children, I chose to follow the wisdom shared in Dr. Beechick's books so that the focus would be on thinking and understanding, not meaningless repetition. Observing grammar in literature, correcting mistakes in copywork and dictation, and doing short units focusing on particular concepts in grammar provided more than enough useable instruction, without adopting a schoolish approach that didn't prove effective for me as a student. How could I ask my children to do what didn't work for me?


In the homeschooling world, we tend to overdo the things we aren't good at. In the subject areas we didn't feel successful in, we take a more-is-better approach. Our fears drive us to use methods that probably don't work but make us feel better because they are labor-intensive. Surely that work must count for something.


It's hard to walk in the liberty the homeschooling movement affords us, because we have to walk in faith. You may not have the pages of worksheets to make you feel productive. Taking the road less traveled may be scary, but it also may be just the act of faith you need to show your children that you truly believe in the natural approach to homeschooling.


When the Israelites were set free from their slavery in Egypt, they left with great joy. Once out in the desert and faced with the challenges of walking in faith, the security of shackles started to look appealing. We have been set free from the shackles of a traditional approach to language arts. Don't choose the familiarity of methods with questionable effectiveness over the challenge of taking a different path. Walk fully in the freedom God has provided and start looking for the results that come from natural learning.


~ Debbie



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For the month of October, 2011   


Famous Figures of the American Revolution: Movable Paper Figures to Cut, Color, and Assemble


Famous Figures of the American Revolution: Movable Paper Figures to Cut, Color, and Assemble is a book of Revolution-era figures drawn on cardstock. The American patriots that are included are Benjamin Franklin, Betsy Ross, Daniel Boone, George Washington, John Adams, Molly Pitcher, Patrick Henry, Paul Revere, Thomas Jefferson, and a soldier of the Continental Army. Each figure contains a short biography. There is also a companion reading list containing read-alouds and independent readers. For this review, the Punch and Fastener Pack was included, so I had all that I needed. If you don't have a small hole punch and fasteners, you will need to purchase those.


First the parent or the child will need to cut out the figures. The perforated pages make it easy to tear the page out of the book. The figures come in color and black and white, so the children can color the figures. Then the children punch holes at the appropriate places and place brads to attach arms to bodies so that the figures can move. The figures are designed for students ages 6 to 12. (...)


Ms. Diez-Luckie's moveable figures are beautiful. They will liven up any history lesson. She has more historical figures in production.


Read the rest of the review here.


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