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The one question you should be asking
September 27, 2016

September 27, 2016


We O'Briens are trying to make the most of the fall, and that means spending time at apple orchards! Nothing beats a sunny hay ride followed by fresh apple pie and cinnamon ice cream.

English Grammar Revolution

There is an important question that you should be asking during your grammar lessons. It's easy to remember, and it will only take a moment to ask. Find out what it is in today's Grammar Time article.

Happy Learning,

Elizabeth O'Brien

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Sentence Diagrams & 

The One Question You Should Be Asking

As you probably know, I LOVE sentence diagrams. But having students who can diagram is not my goal.

My goal is to help people develop a deep understanding and love of language.

That's why I love sentence diagramming. The diagramming method makes it fun to think deeply about language.

Diagrams are an excellent tool, but there is one question you should be asking in order to make sure that your students are gaining a knowledge of grammar and not just the ability to diagram.

Of course, the ability to diagram does indicate some level of understanding, but we want our students to have an understanding that they can put into words.

Make Them Explain

Some people are excellent at following patterns, and they can diagram sentences without knowing why they're doing what they're doing.

Do your students understand how sentences work? Do they understand the grammatical concepts that you're trying to teach them? Can they explain each word's function and the relationship among the words?

Or are they just following a pattern?

How can you find out? Ask them one simple question: Why?

If you are studying grammar yourself, make sure to ask yourself this question as you diagram your sentences.

Look at this diagram. The sentence is diagrammed perfectly, but can the student explain the grammar of the sentence?

The orange leaves slowly fell onto the ground.

Here is an example of what should be going on in the student's mind when he diagrams that sentence:

Since we can't read minds, the next best way to check for comprehension is to ask some WHY questions.

  • WHY did you put the prepositional phrase under the verb?

  • WHY is orange diagrammed under leaves?

  • WHY is slowly diagrammed under the verb?

It would be impractical to ask students WHY questions about every sentence that you diagram. However, it's helpful to sprinkle these questions here and there.

Having students fill in charts for each diagram is another way to check for comprehension. Here's one for the above sentence. Students would have to complete the chart after diagramming the sentence.

The orange leaves slowly
fell onto the ground.
verb (intransitive complete)
onto the ground

Here's what the completed chart should look like.

The orange leaves slowly
fell onto the ground.
leaves subject (noun)
the adjective
orange adjective
fell verb (intransitive complete)
slowly adverb
onto the ground prepositional phrase (adverbial)
onto preposition
the adjective
ground object of the preposition (noun)

* You'll find charts like this in the Get Smart program and the Stay Smart program.

Ask your students why they put words where they did. If they can't give you a reason, they don't really understand the grammar behind the sentence. Once you know what areas they are struggling with, you can reteach troubling concepts and help your students become grammar stars.

Would you like to learn more,? You'll find these pages helpful.

Are you an educator? Feel free to use this information with your students.

About Elizabeth

English Grammar Revolution

Elizabeth O'Brien is founder of, a company devoted to helping people learn and love grammar.

Through her website, books, and programs, Elizabeth shows people how to teach and learn grammar the easy way. She's on a mission to inspire and motivate people by making grammar fun and friendly.

If you liked today's issue, you'll love Elizabeth's grammar and sentence diagramming programs, which will help you learn or teach grammar through simple, step-by-step instructions and sentence diagrams.

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