Understanding how words are categorized, how they fit together in a puzzle of syntax comes quite naturally to my brain. I seem, however, to be in the minority. I firmly believe that teaching grammar and diagramming ultimately produces clearer, more effective written expression. I have worked tirelessly to find new ways to teach what is an abstract and seemingly irrelevant topic to middle school students. My latest strategies have been golden. "Sentence City," a series of stories made possible by Powtoon turns diagramming rules into a story that students can follow and remember. Functions of a noun began with a #tlap lesson of the students clocking in for their jobs - just as words can have different jobs in a sentence.
When I recently read this article "The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar," I was dismayed. The mistrust of teaching old-fashioned grammar comes, as in all lessons, in how it is presented. Make it fun (yes, it IS possible if you think creatively) and the students will latch on just like those microscopic velcro hooks. I disagree that diagramming is a waste of time. Au contraire! It helps students understand where to place modifying phrases and clauses just as they are learning how to utilize these complex structures in their writing. My favorite example to give for why I teach diagramming (I ALWAYS share this with my students) is the following:
"I saw my shoes walking down the hall."
I ask my students to explain what picture they have in their heads when they hear this. Inevitably, I get multiple answers:
1) There are magical shoes walking down the hall without a body, and I am watching them.
2) My shoes were next to my locker, and I saw them as I walked towards them down the hall.
3) Several other students are wearing the same shoes I am, and I saw them as I walked down the hall.
The aha! moment comes when students hear other students explain in a way they had not pictured. The issue here is the phrase 'walking down the hall.' Its placement is paramount. If we diagram the sentence, we must place it under the word it is modifying. This example works wonders for buy-in from students. I stand by my belief that simply reading well-written pieces and writing frequently are not enough. Take the structure apart and put it back together in the strongest possible configuration. Add more detail. (I love Telescopic Text for this.) Have someone read your work aloud. Edit again. Then thank your teacher for teaching you about misplaced modifiers, subject-verb agreement, and pronoun-antecedent agreement. Language arts, specifically grammar, and math have more in common than we might believe.