Call me a nerd, but I derive great joy from sitting before a lengthy, complicated sentence and breaking it down into its most basic form: individual words scattered across my writing surface on a jumble of straight lines, curved lines, and angles.
Diagramming is stereotypically an exercise that is enjoyed by only the most extreme grammar nerds and teacher's pets. But I want to show you how diagramming can appeal to a myriad of students with differing strengths and interests.
Diagramming is a science that can be appreciated not only by grammar nerds but also by STEM brains, as it is the single most logical exercise performed by students of language. It helps us to make logical connections, understand the meaning of text, and easily spot errors in writing. Would a math whiz enjoy bringing geometry into grammar? The act of assembling words into a physical structure can help a student to logically comprehend how everything fits together.
As a child my brother Jason loved taking things apart. My mom would find her calculators and small kitchen appliances stowed under furniture, disassembled into dozens of pieces. She began purchasing old gadgets at yard sales to inexpensively quench his appetite for taking things apart and fiddling with the individual components, attempting to either put them back together or, better yet, form something entirely new and superior to the original structure.
The student who loves to examine small parts of a whole can appreciate the science of diagramming and fitting words together in an orderly, logical fashion. When you give your student a sentence to diagram, you are teaching him analytical reasoning: how to disassemble something, observe each of its component parts, and fit it all back together.
The art of diagramming appeals to artists as much as mathematicians. The jumble of straight lines, curved lines, angles, and words form a structure that is as beautiful as it is logical.
Students who are visual learners benefit from seeing an idea spread out before them. As charts and graphs help a student to organize information spatially, diagrams assist him with visualizing the possibilities that a jumble of words presents.
A sentence is a multi-dimensional puzzle that can not only be taken apart and put back together again, but can also be manipulated in such a way to increase pleasure for its author as well as its reader. When one fully understands this tool called diagramming, he has full power to thrill readers as a master wordsmith. When he understands how words relate to other words, he has more control over the process and can eloquently and masterfully communicate with the written word after finding the perfect combination of nouns, verbs, and modifiers.
If you assume that your student will find diagramming too boring, difficult, or useless, I encourage you to present this dialectic exercise to him with enthusiasm. The skill of diagramming is an implement that will prove to be an asset in any student's toolbox.
If you are in search of an engaging way for your students to practice diagramming sentences, check out our Brashcards!