|Where are you going?||What were you reading this morning?|
|Whose bike were you using?||May I postpone this assignment?|
The club elected Tashonda [as its] president.
Mary was awarded the Smith Case.
A Visual Approach to Sentence Diagramming
Do you remember when you were in 6th grade and learned all about sentence diagramming? Most kids are taught to draw a horizontal line and split it into two parts, with the sentence subject on the left and the predicate on the right. Then come the modifiers, hanging diagonally off of the original line, and… well, it only gets more complicated from there.
I was one of the few students in my class who thoroughly enjoyed diagramming sentences, especially when they were complex. I would stay in the classroom during recess with my friend Maria and my teacher, Ms. Bergen, to practice diagramming “challenge sentences” on the whiteboard.
My classmates would return, confused, to find a board covered in a seemingly nonsensical mess of colorful lines and scribbled words. Now I wonder if there was a better way to help me retain what I learned and get students who weren’t connecting with the material more involved.
Diagramming sentences: is it helpful?
For decades, educators have been debating whether sentence diagramming helps students learn to read and write.
After it was invented in the late nineteenth century, sentence diagramming flourished in the American classroom for about fifty years, alongside other structured grammar-teaching tactics.
But then the voice of the skeptics emerged, arguing that sentence diagramming is a useless practice that hinders rather than aids students in their process of learning the English language and claiming that students best learn through imitation and immersion.
While immersion and imitation of a language can produce strong speakers and writers, a basic understanding of grammatical structures can be a powerful writing tool. It can also be a helpful foundation for students to understand new languages. But all of this is only possible if teachers can successfully engage students in the learning process.
Motivating students with visual grammar
So why aren’t students motivated to learn the rules? I think it’s partially because we’re not presenting grammar in a more flexible, creative way at an early age.
One of the easiest ways to get students engaged and provide them with a creative outlet when they’re learning about grammar is to use Lucidchart, a diagramming platform that’s free for students and teachers to use.
Lucidchart is a perfect tool for teachers to make grammar visual and provide students with opportunities to express their creativity as they learn the rules.
Read on for a fun, engaging lesson plan that grade-school teachers and parents can use to diagram sentences with their students in conjunction with reading and writing lessons.
Here’s a free sentence diagramming template to get you started:
Use this free template to diagram sentences (Click on image to modify online)
To see this in the context of an elementary school lesson plan, keep reading! To modify this lesson plan for other grade levels, select age-appropriate texts, and modify the template as needed.
Elementary School Lesson Plan Example: How to Teach Grammar Visually with Dr. Seuss
Because of its repetitive structure, Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham is a great book to use to introduce students to grammar basics.
Consisting of just 50 unique words, this book follows a simple question-and-answer exchange between two characters—the famous Sam-I-Am and a bitter fellow named Joey whom Sam is trying to convince to eat green eggs and ham.
The simple and repetitive sentence structures in this story provide students with a solid framework for understanding and experimentation when it comes to diagramming sentences.
Lesson Objective: Students will be able to categorize parts of speech and build sentence diagrams while exploring grammatical structures.
Part 1: Get to know the text
Before delving into the grammar lesson, help your students become familiar with Green Eggs and Ham by having them read it out loud in pairs. It can be helpful to have one student read the part of Sam and the other the part of Joey. Ask them to pay attention to patterns in the text by presenting the following questions:
- What words, or strings of words, are repeated in the text?
- What words, or strings of words, are used by Sam and not Joey?
- What words, or strings of words, are used by Joey and not Sam?
Part 2: Deconstruct sentences
Now that students are familiar with the text and have started to identify patterns through repetition, they’re ready to start categorizing the words by parts of speech.
After a brief refresher on parts of speech, students can drag the words from the sentences into the boxes that correspond with their parts of speech.
This exercise helps students practice to recognize parts of speech and serves as helpful preparation for sentence construction.
Use this free template to categorize parts of speech (Click on image to modify online)
Part 3: Build sentences with sentence diagrams
In the next part of the lesson, students will be able to diagram their own Dr. Seuss-style sentences to see how the parts of speech fit together. They’ll also be able to learn that English generally follows a consistent sentence structure—noun, auxiliary verb, verb, preposition, article, object.
To do this, students can refer to the third tab of the template where they will find three question-and-answer pairs with certain parts of the sentence that are missing. Encourage students to drag-and-drop various words into the empty spaces to create sentences.
Use this free template to diagram sentences (Click on image to modify online)
Encourage your students to be creative with this part of the lesson, and read the sentences out loud after they compose them to see if they make sense.
If they create nonsensical question-and-answer pairs, make sure they pay attention to why the questions and answers do not make sense.
Is it because they have created an unrealistic scenario, such as eating eggs on top of a goat? Or is it because the words do not fit together at all, such as in the question, “would you eat them in a dark?” As students experiment, they will start to see the value of grammar and putting the correct parts of speech in order when it comes to constructing meaning.
Another good way to help students understand how closely grammar is related to meaning, is by asking them to draw a picture of the scenario they have created. While a picture could easily be drawn of someone riding a goat while eating eggs, it would be difficult to depict someone eating eggs in a dark.
When students become comfortable creating sentences by dragging existing words into the template sentences, you can invite them to fill in the blanks with their own words, and create their own make-believe scenarios to fit with Dr. Seuss’ playful plot. They can then read through their creations in pairs, just as they did when they were reading the book at the beginning of the lesson.
With the help of the interactive Lucidchart platform, the students will excitedly discover that by playing with the formal elements of the English language, they can become storytellers as creative and meaningful as Dr. Seuss!
The Lost Art of Sentence Diagramming
Every now and then, my Facebook friends will have a nostalgia moment and post a cultural artifact from our cohort’s past. One television staple from the 1970s that we remember with affection was the educational videos that were shown as commercial breaks during Saturday morning cartoons.
“Schoolhouse Rock” debuted in January 1973 on ABC. The first season was devoted to teaching children the basics of mathematics. The second season, which started in September of that year, took on the challenges of grammar, focusing much of its attention to the parsing of sentences.
I admit that when I encounter certain words for parts of speech, I still hear the lyrics. And when I am copy editing, those song lyrics have actually helped me do my job.
For example, “Interjections show excitement or emotion and are generally set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point, or by a comma when the feeling’s not as strong,” and “Conjunction junction: what’s your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses,” both set to memorable tunes, have saved me from bone-head errors.
(Though not all, as my editors can affirm.) When “Constitution Rock” debuted two years later, it helped me to succeed in seventh-grade social studies. I still remember that the test asked us to write the words to the Preamble; I heard nearly everyone in class singing the song as we wrote the words.
I mention how valuable these learning tools were because another of my favorite ways of approaching language has been turned into a creative work of art.
Call Me Ishmael is a collection of postcards that illustrate the opening lines from great works of literature through sentence diagrams. I loved those days in class that we spent diagramming sentences.
They impressed on your memory how the different parts of speech operated in sentence construction.
Sentence diagramming is a means by which a sentence is parsed and represented by a structure of lines that establish the relationship among the words in the sentence. Perhaps the best way to envision it is as a “map” of a sentence.
In 1847, Stephen Watkins Clark published a book in which he showed a sentence map as a series of bubbles. His rendering looked inelegant, and in 1877, Reid and Kellogg changed the bubbles to a series of lines.
The Reid-Kellogg system was adopted by school districts across the country and for decades afterward, schoolchildren were drilled on parts of speech through the construction of diagrams.
To demonstrate how to diagram sentences, consider the following examples. (For further information on sentence diagramming, see these directions.)
The beginning of a diagram is the straight line.
The first objective is to establish the subject and the predicate, that is, who is doing the action and the action being performed. Draw a line between the noun and the verb, as I have done with this simple sentence comprising a noun and a verb.
Sergio Agüero scores.
On the left subject side is “Sergio Agüero.” On the right is “scores.”
The verb, to score, can act as an intransitive verb that needs no object to which to do the action, or it can function as a transitive verb, where the verb takes an object to which the action is done.
So, if we change the sentence to “Sergio Agüero scores goals,” it can be diagrammed with the straight line, with a second vertical line placed after the verb. The direct object is on the same line as the noun and the verb.
Diagrams become more complicated with the addition of words that modify other words in the sentence. Adjectives modify nouns, so in order to indicate an adjective that is modifying the subject, draw a diagonal line and write the adjective(s) on the diagonal line(s).
Sentences can be very complex, and can contain many different parts of speech which implicate many different grammatical rules.
Even the simplest of sentences must have a subject and a verb, and grammatical rules dictate how the subject and verb interact.
Diagramming sentences can help you to make sure each piece of your sentence is grammatically correct, and can give you a deeper understanding of the English Language
There are a number of different reasons diagramming sentences can be useful, all of which are related to developing a deeper understanding of English grammar. Diagramming sentences can help you to:
- Learn and identify the parts of speech
- Understand how the parts of speech function together to create compound sentences
- Explore methods of joining subjects, verbs and objects
- Understand complex grammatical tools used to make compound sentences, including prepositional phrases, verbal nouns, modifiers and compound subjects.
Sentences can contain a number of different components, which must work together. Diagramming sentences allows you to separate and identify these different components of sentences by arranging them pictorally.
Although there are several different methods of diagrammng a sentence, each involves separating the subject, the predicate (the verb), and the other components of a sentence.
Those components can include:
- Subject: Who or what the sentence is about. The person doing the action
- Predicate: Verb or action being done
- Direct Object: Something/someone the action is done to
- Indirect Object: The person/thing the action is done to or for
- Prepositions: Relationship words that provide information about how the other parts of the sentence fit together
- Modifiers: Words that provide additional detail about a subject, action or object in the sentence
- Articles: Words that modify nouns
- Dependent/subordinate clauses: Clauses that can't stand alone
When writing sentences, subjects and verbs must agree in number (for example, a singular subject must have a singular verb). Modifiers also must be placed as close as possible to the subject or object being modified. Sometimes, in complex sentences, it can be difficult to determine which subject and which verb are related, or what an adjective is describing.
By diagramming sentences, you learn to how to identify how the components of a sentence work together, and you develop a deeper understanding of the function that words play in sentences. This can help make your own writing clearer and free of grammatical errors.
How to Diagram a Sentence
Create your “Base Line”
Your base line is the top line of your diagram which explains what your sentence is about. It is the fundamental pieces of the sentence.
Begin with the verb and the subject. Write them on one line, with a straight line between them
Write the object on the same line, with a vertical line separating the object from the verb
Diagram the other parts of your sentence below the base line
Each of the other components of the sentence – modifers, prepositional phrases, subordinating clauses, interjections, and so on, are placed below the base line of the sentence, according to specific sentence diagramming rules.
- Modifiers (Words and phrases that provide additional detail about a subject, verb or object) are placed below the base line on slanted lines extending from the thing that they are modifying
- Prepositional phrases also go below the base line, on slanted lines extending from the subject, object or verb they are modifying. However, the object of the preposition goes on a horizontal line below the preposition.
Detail the components of compound sentences
- Each component of a compound sentences gets its own separate diagram, with its own separate base lines.
- The two clauses are joined by dotted lines, with the conjunction written on a horizontal line next to the dotted line.
Examples of Diagramming Sentences
The easiest way to understand sentence diagramming is to study sentences that have been diagrammed and to practice diagramming your own. A quick Internet search will locate websites, such as Guide to Diagramming Sentences which have examples and pictures of diagrammed sentences and explanations.
Guide Showing Diagramming Sentences
How to Diagram Sentences
Draw a horizontal line with a small vertical line through the middle. To the left of the vertical line, write your subject. To the right of the vertical line, write your verb. This is the most basic complete sentence.
Draw another vertical line stopping at the horizontal line if there is a direct object. To the right of this line, write the direct object.
- In the above sentence, Vegetables disgust Felipe, vegetables is the subject, disgust is the verb, and Felipe is the direct object.
Place indirect objects beneath the verb. In general, indirect objects could take a preposition and so are drawn with a diagonal line coming off of the word they modify. See step 6 for prepositions.
- In the above sentence, The farmers gave their kids fresh vegetables, farmers is the subject, gave is the verb, vegetables is the direct object, kids is the indirect object, the is an article, their is a possessive pronoun, and fresh is an adjective modifying vegetables.
Draw a slash if there is a predicate nominative or predicate adjective. A predicate nominative is a noun, pronoun, or adjective that refers to the subject. The verb preceding the predicate nominative or adjective is usually a linking verb, such as the forms of to be (is, are, was, etc.) or sense words (looks, smells, tastes, etc.). To the right of the slash, write the predicate nominative or adjective.
- In the above sentence, Vegetables are disgusting, vegetables is the subject, are is a linking verb, and disgusting is the predicate adjective.
- Note that pronouns following linking verbs should be in the nominative case: This is she or It is I and not This is her or It is me.
Place adjectives, adverbs, articles, and possessives on diagonal lines below the words they modify.
- In the above sentence, The green vegetables are always disgusting, vegetables is the subject, are is the linking verb, disgusting is the predicate adjective, green is an adjective modifying vegetables, the is an article, and always is an adverb modifying disgusting.
- Participles are diagrammed similarly to adjectives. Draw the participle as a curved word on a bent, slanted line beneath the word it modifies. In the above sentence, Working farmers enjoy vegetables, working is a participle modifying farmers, which is the subject; enjoy is the verb; and vegetables is the object.
How to Diagram a Sentence
You can learn how a sentence works, and understand its structure, by diagramming it or breaking it down to its component parts.
The most basic sentence contains a subject and a verb. To begin diagramming a sentence, draw a baseline beneath the subject and the verb and then separate the two with a vertical line that extends through the baseline.
The subject of a sentence tells you what it's about. The verb is an action word: It tells you what the subject is doing. At its most basic, a sentence can be composed of just a subject and a verb, as in “Birds Fly.
The predicate of a sentence is the part that states something about the subject. The verb is the main part of the predicate, but it may be followed by modifiers, which can be in the form of single words or groups of words called clauses.
For example, take the sentence: Students read books. In this sentence, the predicate contains the noun “books,” which is the direct object of the verb “read.” The verb “read” is a transitive verb or a verb that requires a receiver of the action. To diagram, a direct object, draw a vertical line that stands on the base.
Now consider the sentence: Teachers are happy. This sentence contains a predicate adjective (happy). A predicate adjective always follows a linking verb.
A linking verb can also precede a predicate nominative, which describes or renames the subject, as in the following sentence: My teacher is Ms. Thompson. “Ms. Thompson” renames the subject “teacher.” To diagram a predicate adjective or nominative, draw a diagonal line that rests on the base.