Discover Sentence Diagramming
With Elizabeth O'Brien

"...Finally, it all clicked. I began to enjoy grammar and sentence diagramming. I also felt much better about myself."
- Elizabeth O'Brien

Learning the art of sentence diagramming does not need to be difficult or boring with the help of Elizabeth O'Brien.  I discovered her website many years ago and getting to know her has been such a enjoyable experience.

Joyful, inspired and a pleasure to work with.  

Today we will learn more about Elizabeth O'Brien and her mission to help you learn English grammar through the simple art of sentence diagramming.

1) It is obvious that you are a grammar enthusiast.  Has your relationship with grammar always been so good?  Have you always loved it?

Elizabeth O'Brien: I actually used to be incredibly insecure about my grasp of grammar. When I was going through school, systematic grammar instruction was not a part of the curriculum, yet we were all expected to know the principles of grammar.

After doing very poorly on a high school grammar test (and crying in the bathroom about it), I concluded that I was somehow stupid and that I would never be able to “get it.”

Elizabeth knows how difficult, and frustrating learning Grammar can be and that is why I believe her website and courses are so helpful.  

Have you ever tried diagramming sentences?  It might be exactly what you need to succeed.

That experience negatively impacted my self-esteem. For the first time in my life, I thought that maybe I was just not cut out to understand something.

Then, I had a wonderful experience in college. I had to take a grammar class for my minor (TESOL), and my professor taught us grammar systematically and supplemented the lessons with sentence diagrams.

It was the right combination: the visual diagrams, the professor’s clear explanations, and my motivation to understand.

Finally, it all clicked. I began to enjoy grammar and sentence diagramming. I also felt much better about myself. 

2) What inspired you to create

Elizabeth O'Brien:  I taught at a fantastic private school for a few years, and one of the classes I taught was a grammar class.

The principal at this school insisted that the students have a separate class devoted to grammar and that we use sentence diagrams to teach the students.

My love of grammar blossomed, and I began to see how useful sentence diagramming was for students. They understood the information, and they enjoyed learning it.

If only my teachers had used that method with me! I wanted to bring this information to the world beyond my classroom, so I started the website to offer teachers and students a new (but old) approach to grammar.

Do you want to "meet" Elizabeth?  You can watch her on YouTube.  

3) Is sentence diagramming just for children and younger students or could it be used with adult students?  All of my students are adults in the workforce, and I'm not sure that sentence diagramming would be a good fit.

Elizabeth O'Brien:  Sentence diagramming is a GREAT tool for adults.

I actually think that it is better for older children and adults than it is for younger children.

I started learning grammar with diagrams when I was an adult, and I loved it. I've heard the same story over and over again from other adults, as well.

Creating sentence diagrams is like solving a word puzzle, and many adults enjoy completing puzzles.  Diagramming has this game-like quality that makes it kind of addictive.  It also gives adults a fresh perspective on the language they've always used and taken for granted.

When you are an adult, and you make these kinds of realizations about the language that you've been using all of your life, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by how awesome it is.

Sentence diagramming is definitely for children and adults!

Game-like quality...


solving word puzzles!  

Ok Elizabeth!  You've got me curious and excited!  

What about people who don't understand sentence diagramming though?

4) How do you get people to think outside the box?  How do you respond to people like me, who just don't understand it?  

Elizabeth O'Brien:  For some people, grammar and sentence diagramming can be a challenge, but everyone can “get it.”

The trick is to start at the beginning and take one step at a time. If you want to learn the basics of English grammar, you can.

I believe that knowing the basics is practically valuable, but I think some people get discouraged when prematurely tackling a grammatically complex sentence that amounts to advanced calculus.

Diagramming is a relatively simple tool that really can be grasped by everyone. Of course, that doesn't mean that everyone will love it and find it useful. 

5) If anyone is curious about sentence diagramming, (like me for example) how would you suggest starting?  What course would be a good introduction to it?

Elizabeth O'Brien:  A great way for people to start is by using the free information that is available on the English Grammar Revolution website.

You can even begin doing sentence diagramming exercises right on the website if you’d like to give it a shot.

If you want a more thorough program that will teach you everything in the right order, the Get Smart course is your ticket

6) What is your favorite quote to tell students when they are frustrated with learning grammar? 

Elizabeth O'Brien:  Oh, dear. That is a hard question. I do love quotes, but I don’t use them much in that situation. I really like motivational quotes, and I’ll have to refer to Walt Disney on this one. 

“If you can dream it, you can do it.”

That is so true. If there is anything that you want in life, from learning grammar to starting your own business, you can do it if you believe in yourself and start acting on your desires.

7) Surprisingly, I didn't know much (if any) grammar theory before I became an ESL teacher?  Why do you think that is?

Elizabeth O'Brien:  I wish I could say that I’m surprised to hear that, but I’m not.

Unfortunately, grammar education has been neglected for several decades. I had very few grammar lessons when I was in school.  As a result, I used to find the subject to be confusing and frustrating.

Most people don’t have a grasp of the principles of grammar for a simple reason: grammar isn’t really being taught.

My husband and I are currently learning about the history and present state of grammar instruction for a project we’re working on.

It’s a complicated subject, but one popular objection to grammar instruction amounted to asking, “Why stifle individual creativity and oppress minority groups by teaching something students will eventually learn organically?”

8) You mentioned a project that you are working on with your husband David.  Could you share with us what that project is?

Elizabeth O'Brien:  Yes! We are so excited to be creating a documentary film about grammar and grammar education.

My previous answer touched a little bit on the film’s main theme: What happened to grammar education and why?

We are interviewing authors, teachers, professors, writers, professionals, and people on the street. It’s great fun. We’ll tie together many grammar-related issues and tell an interesting story.

At the time of this interview Elizabeth was raising the necessary money to fund this project.  I am thrilled to announce that she reached her funding goal and they will be producing the film!

I did and am excitedly waiting for the DVD to be released in December 2013!

9) If you could tell my readers only one piece of advice for improving their grammar, what would it be?

Elizabeth O'Brien:  That’s a difficult question. Grammar is basically the concept that describes how words are put together to convey meaning.

Adults learning a second language need to hear the language, speak it, and write it, but they can also benefit from learning the grammatical principles of the language.

That would be my advice: don’t underestimate the power of learning the language’s grammatical principles.

Also, because learning those principles can be difficult, try diagramming sentences. I've heard from all sorts of ESL students who have found diagramming to be helpful and fun. 

Great advice Elizabeth!

Thank you so much for speaking with me today and I look forward to trying sentence diagramming myself.  

I'm going to try your "Get Smart program" and teach myself how to diagram sentences.  

I'll keep everyone posted on my personal project and let you know what I think about sentence diagramming.  :)  -Diana

If you would like to learn more about sentence diagramming or English grammar visit Elizabeth's incredible website.

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