Remember learning how to diagram sentences? That happened for me in 7th and 8th grade. During those years I figured out how to translate spoken or written language into exquisite charts that showed the relationships of words and clauses within the shape of an entire sentence. A speaker or writer could chart the size, complexity and inner-relationships of language. In this way, word structures could be both seen and heard.
Because of sentence diagramming, I treasured the simplicities and intricacies of any communication. When I added details to a diagram, creativity blossomed. In high school, diagramming helped me romp through the logic and visual challenge of plane geometry. Diagramming prepared me to learn mind-mapping, a technique I regularly use in my own writing.
Like memorizing parts of the Bible and Catechism, sentence diagramming turned out to be useful. It’s one of the skills that has continued to help me write and edit well. (This personal rule emerged: If a sentence can’t be diagrammed, it needs editing!)
I’ve come to realize how what may have seemed impractical became the basis for many of my current communication capabilities. Seeing individual words as a part of a structure helps me value grammar for its insistent clarity–its beauty, too. (I still doublecheck “what sounds right” speech with “what looks possible” word scaffolds.)
Reflecting on this formative practice, I now know the value of other childhood experiences like solfeggio—do-re-mi, etc.—dirt/water play, visits with homebound elders, Bible story flannelgraphs, piano practice or recess time. I am grateful for my parents’ and teachers’ patient foresight.
Your life probably includes foundational skills like sentence diagramming. I hope you can take a few moments today to thank God for those who offered you those gifts.
I also hope that you share them with others….
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