Why do we teach how to diagram sentences?

Seriously. It’s not like diagramming sentences is a life skill or anything. No boss is ever going to ask you to diagram sentences. Unless of course you become a teacher (and especially a homeschooler). Is there really a reason to keep doing this to ourselves and our children?

why do we diagram sentences

Now, if you are a homeschooler, I am going to give you a small piece of wisdom. It’s your home. You can do what you want. Even if that beautiful new curriculum you just purchased at your state’s convention has whole chapters on diagramming sentences, you have the power to flip right past it. That is your right, because really, only you know whether or not it is worth the time and effort.

But diagramming sentences is good for your kids. It’s probably good for you, too.

Education is not just about what is useful.

Webster’s 1828 definition of education has four parts:

  1. enlighten the understanding
  2. correct the temper
  3. form the manners and habits of youth
  4. fit them for usefulness in their future stations.

Most of the complaints I read about teaching sentence diagramming relates to #4. The ability to diagram a sentence is not likely to ever come up again after graduating high school. Honestly, I didn’t diagram a single sentence between 6th grade and when my daughter turned 10. It is almost completely useless knowledge.

But it does enlighten the understanding.

Diagramming sentences shows how language works.

It is a visual map to our language. In fact, diagramming sentences is to English what algebra is to mathematics. It displays the rules of grammar and demonstrates how each part works together to form sentences.

diagramming sentences

We don’t spend that much time later in life discussing parts of speech, either, but I do not see nearly as many complaints about teaching nouns and verbs and adjectives. Maybe it’s because we still remember that much from school? Perhaps it isn’t as frustrating as relearning how to diagram a sentence in order to teach our children? Maybe it is just because Mad Libs are still out there. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who uses Mad Libs to teach grammar!)

Diagramming sentences teaches analytical reasoning.

Diagramming sentences requires abstract reasoning. When you give your children sentences to diagram, you are teaching them how to take something apart, look at each of its component parts and reason out how it fits back together.

This is elementary level analysis, but it is a skill woefully lacking in high school gradutes. In a data saturated world, it is also a highly sought after skill. I have frequently heard parents say the most important skill to teach our children is how to access data because what they actually need to know changes so fast. But as a title of a Harvard Business Review article says: Data is Useless Without the Skills to Analyze it.

“Managers need to understand what data is available, and to use data visualization techniques to process and interpret it.” ~HBR

Find data, visualize it, then process it and interpret it. Does that not sound like what your children do with every sentence they diagram?

We do not know what skills our children will be need to be successful in careers that are years away. It is possible that the technology they will be working with does not even exist yet. But the ability to reason is necessary in every field. And here, by simply diagramming sentences, we are preparing them for that level of data analysis.

So yes, there is a reason it was taught by those before us and there is a reason to continue teaching it in our homeschools. It is one more small opportunity to teach our children how to think.

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2 thoughts on “Why do we teach how to diagram sentences?

  1. What resources and/or curriculum have you used to teach diagramming sentences? I was never taught until university and then my teacher gave up on me and I did not pass this section of the course. My brain just did not get it. However, I understand the importance of it and want to learn it so that I can teach it myself.

    1. This is the grammar book I use. It’s actually a college text, but the explanations are clear and concise and the exercises are simple enough. https://amzn.to/2GZYw2o I believe it has sentence diagramming in it, but it is possible that I just looked online. The key is to start simple with sentences that only have a subject and a verb, then add on the direct object and build from there. There is no reason to diagram complex sentences unless your child is going into a language field or just really enjoys it, but I think getting as far as implied subjects, adjectives, adverbs, prepositional phrases, direct objects and indirect objects is good. I use the above book more like a resource and our daily grammar comes from this series: https://amzn.to/2JeZih6 Or at least is inspired by it. 🙂 If the kids don’t understand one of the exercises, I get out the other book and explain it to them. 🙂 (Both those links are affiliate links.) Let me know if you have any other questions!

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