Sunday, September 18, 2016

Can a Good Writer Be Bad at Diagramming Sentences?

I still remember standing at the chalkboard in Mrs. Kopald's fourth grade class diagramming a sentence. I had no idea what I was writing or why. I drew a straight line and all these branches and just wrote stuff on them. I didn't know what I was really doing and still don't know a past participle from a gerund or direct object. 

I felt similarly about iambic pentameter  in high school which looked like this:
 ×  / ×   /   ×  /      /  ×    ×   / (×)
To be or not to be, | that is the question
These were the types of activities that turned me off from writing for so many years. Can I really write if I don't know parts of speech or rules of grammar? Can I really rap (yeah, I did that in high school) if I don't know iambic pentameter.  

It's kinda like when that teacher tells you that you need to understand quadratic equations to be a good athlete in sports like baseball, or basketball, or for me, volleyball, but then you find out, really you don't.  
Quadratic Equation

After detoxing from school, I have discovered, I can write even though I can't diagram a sentence. I can rap even though I am unable to do iambic pentameter, and I can play volleyball even though I can't (and don't want to) do quadratic equations.  

Still, I found it pretty cool when I came across this sentence tree generator.
save image
Among other things, what is cool about it is that it changes as you change your sentence. Is that Oxford comma to be or not to be? Well stick it in this tool and watch what happens.  It's also pretty neat to watch all your words become labeled by parts of speech.  

I'm not sure what or how this is useful, but I am sure there are language arts teachers out there (like this one) who can tell me.  


  1. My daughter and I were discussing this a week or two ago. She started a school in 7th grade where sentence diagramming had been drilled into her classmates. At 30, she says they'll still do it when they get together!
    As one that always liked math, I can't understand your lack of avidity for the quadratic equation. (Insert sexist putdown of choice here).
    Seriously I do like what I learned in math, but good arguments to focus on utility, I.e.numeracy, in schools are being made.
    I'll send your link to my daughter.

  2. Hi Lisa,

    I really enjoyed your blog post. In my experience as a student, I also came across several realities such as your inability to diagram sentences. I realize I might not be a writer, but I'm a great public speaker. I think the concept of still achieving something without following the strict path is inspirational for students and teachers. It shows individualism and that everything isn't meant for everyone.

    Thank you for sharing.

  3. I, myself, found this kind of learning, "how to diagram a sentence" so un-interesting. I can never get it, all I know is that I have to look at the pattern and match it with the teachers sample work. I would always limit my word choices so that it will fit the sample diagram the teacher show us. In my young mind, back then, I will never learn how to write properly, so might as well write sloppy. Although, inside my heart I like to write, I just have to stop trying because I can never get it. But, luckily, students are now being introduced to new technology. Just like what you shared. Labeling the words for them, and the ease of understanding whether that word is a preposition, verb, adverb or not, etc. Takes out the guessing part, and saves students or any writer a lot of words semantics memorization to do. Thank you for sharing. Keep on Blogging!