Let’s Talk About Diagramming {Review}

Take note, faithful readers: The Critical Thinking Co.™ gave us a free copy of Sentence Diagramming: Beginning in exchange for this review.

Before we get to the nitty-gritty, you must know that I am a big fan of The Critical Thinking Co. My kids have used some of their books from little on and really enjoyed them, although we never used their full programs…or anybody’s for that matter. They offer far more than we have tapped into. Many of the Homeschool Review Crew members are reviewing their other products, namely various aspects of their Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic Before Kindergarten!™ preschool program, also available as a bundle “Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic Before Kindergarten!™ bundle.

Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}
We have so many computer problems, that I opted to review a book–the kind you can hold in your hand and sniff and if you fall asleep and drool on it, it will still work in the morning. The rest of the Homeschool Review Crew isn’t as pathetically Olde School as I am. Find out what they have to say about the Before Kindergarten! program and others by clicking on the banner below:

Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}
Did you know I’m a geek?

I love diagramming sentences. I think there are, like three people in the world who will say that out loud. I’m one of them, and my daughter Marissa is another. I think the third might be Jan Karon. Maybe not. I haven’t asked her.

I was surprised when I learned that my oldest daughter doesn’t like diagramming. What?! I looked into this further, and it appears most people think diagramming is a chore, confusing, and a waste of time. Most of them had to begin it around fourth grade or earlier and then wade through it every year over and over again. I don’t teach like that.

I wait until the children are old enough to understand it and teach it once. Done. That way it isn’t too torturous, and if they like it they can get more in-depth.

By the way, diagramming is not a waste of time. It helps clarify sentence structure and proper word arrangement–in other words, it makes you a better communicator. Have you noticed lately that everyone is a “writer?” The excruciating blog posts and ebooks I’ve tried to read since self-publishing and blogging became the rage are screaming, “I never diagrammed in my life!” So, learn to diagram…then publish.

(You can become a good writer without diagramming, but it does help with communicating in your native language and with studying the grammatical structure of foreign languages.)


Let’s look at the book.

Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}
Sentence Diagramming: Beginning is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a thin, 12-lesson workbook that teaches the basics of diagramming and, in the process, sentence structure. It carries the students from the basic simple sentence to diagramming sentences with compound predicate adjectives and nouns.

Say wha?!

Okay, the first sentence in the workbook section is “Cats purr.” The last sentence to be diagrammed is “The friendly waitress quickly delivered delicious chips, salsa, and guacamole.” Mmmm…salsa.

That’s how far this book will carry you…and the trip is very painless. The three working on it here are in 5th, 8th, and 10th grade, and they all enjoyed it. There was no pain. The older two finished or are almost finished, and the 5th grader is doing the prescribed lesson a week.

As an English major and a writer, do I feel this program takes full advantage of the benefits of diagramming? Yes and no.

It is, as the title says, a beginning diagramming book. Also available are levels 1 and 2. Being a grammar geek, I would love to check those two levels out as well, to assist young (and old) writers in better determining proper structure. For example, I can’t tell you how often I see something like this:

A box full of cute, wiggly kittens were under the Christmas tree!


Or this:

Running to the post office, my letter fell in the mud.

Oh, my aching head!

Or my personal favorite by the under-over-educated:

Talk to Jim or myself.

Excuse me while I gaze at this picture of a baby to calm my harried grammar senses.


I’m okay now…I think.

This beginning book will help you know that the BOX WAS under the tree, and that “full of cute, wiggly kittens” modifies “box.” This seemingly simple step becomes more complex the harder sentences get, but when you can see the logical breakdown of the sentence, as occurs in diagramming, you can easily define the subject and determine whether the verb should be singular or plural.

See? Diagramming matters! And this book will help you with that.

To know that the letter wasn’t running and that they should talk to Jim or me, not myself, you will need the next levels.

As a beginning diagramming book, I find it more than adequate! If you need to dig deeper (and please do), follow it up with the next book.

As much as I would like the English-speaking world to use proper grammar (and when I say proper, I’m not freaking out about little obscurities), what I hate is when parents or teachers (but especially parents) force-feed grammar down their kids’ throats. Use proper grammar to establish correct neuro-pathways in your children’s heads. Correct them on their pet grammar struggle (not when they’re telling you an exciting story or sharing a faith struggle) until it disappears and then move on to the next one. Use a gentle program like this one.

But please don’t force them to diagram sentences for hours every day if they just don’t get it! Wait a year or four. That’s why this beginning book is for grades 3-12+. Some of us were diagramming in the womb, but others struggle with it. Don’t force the issue if your child is not ready. A challenge is fine, a tear-riddled struggle that sucks the joy out of homeschooling…not in this “house.”

(In case you are feeling inferior because you weren’t born diagramming, I still forget my times tables and the only thing of worth I did in Calculus was write a poem about the uselessness of Calculus. Plus my husband doesn’t let me touch his electronics, because he wants them to live. And I burn things in the kitchen. And the extent of my fashion sense is choosing a collar that looks good on my cat. Yes, diagramming is my one skill.)


Diagramming is extremely valuable.

Get this book. Use it.

Two thumbs up. Eight, actually.

A note for my fellow roadschoolers:

I know I said I’m Olde School and I am not a fan of online learning because of our constant battle with computer problems and limited internet access. That said, books take up space–boo! Here’s how we solve that. When we finish a book, we eat it. Okay, that’s a lie, but if books were made of chocolate…

This beginning sentence diagramming book is significantly smaller than the big binder my two oldest students used back in their day. It’s thin, so no biggie as far as space is concerned.

While the book says it is reproducible, that means paper and printing, neither of which we’ve managed to handle gracefully in our lifestyle. Therefore, my kids wrote their work in a 25-cent spiral-bound notebook. Easy peasy. All my kids prefer writing in workbooks themselves, and, this being an affordable workbook, that’s a great way to go if your funds and space allow. The workbook doesn’t take up any more room than a spiral notebook, so space-wise, you’re nothing out if you give each child her own workbook instead of a notebook.

Also, because it’s for grades 3-12+, you can have one workbook that can be used for many students. We have three using it at once. One book, three kids…plus three notebooks. My son (10) diagrams in his math notebook, so that technically it’s one book, three kids, two notebooks.

Finally, use it quick, move it out. My girls took this twelve-week course and raced through it in 3-4 weeks, prioritizing it over other things. They learned the skills, finished it, and bumped the book down to take up space on someone else’s bunk.

By the way, Critical Thinking Co. also has an all-in-one language arts program for the early grades which I am highly tempted by. Others reviewed it, so click here to learn more about it.

Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}
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Crew Disclaimer

Typing Fingers — Learning Phonics, Writing, and Typing Together

In exchange for our honest review, we received a one-year subscription to Read, Write & Type by Talking Fingers Inc. In the biz, that is known as a disclosure statement. Moving on…

I’m going to be completely honest with you here, because I always am. I did not want to review this product. You know I’m old school. You know I’m not a fan of screens. You know I sniff books and licked paper once–maybe you didn’t know that. Pretend I didn’t say that last part.

But my kids…they’re young. They’re hip. They needed to learn how to type. So I hemmed and hawed and said okay fine we’ll review it. And my kids cheered and I was popular for, like, three minutes until I took advantage of my newfound popularity and said, “Hey, washing dishes is fun! Let’s do it!”

I went into this with a bad attitude–like stinky cheese. After several weeks of watching my seven-year-old type properly and enthusiastically, however, I am sold on the idea that perhaps this method of learning to type is ultimately better than the antique typewriter I wanted them to learn on. Click clack click clack ding…wheeee!

Talking Fingers -- Review of Read, Write & Type

I keep talking about typing, and that is how we are using Read, Write & Type, but this is not merely a typing program. It is a multi-sensory approach to learning to read and write. My seven- and ten-year-olds are quite advanced in those areas, so they didn’t need the help (so far anyway), and our four-year-old isn’t quite ready for this. The idea is, however, to work on those three skills together.

Who would benefit?

This is an ideal program for ESL (English as a Second Language) students to learn English literacy (as opposed to conversational English). The available voice-over assistance includes Arabic, Farsi, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Mandarin, Portuguese, Spanish and Tagalog.

It would also be great for struggling older learners. In my opinion, if somebody is strong in one of those areas, but not the other two, or struggles in all three areas, they would receive the most bang for your buck.

I don’t like to use screens to teach phonics to little ones, but in the past I’ve had a stalled early reader who took off as soon as I switched to a screen. In that case, perhaps this would be good for a child just learning to read, although then you can’t sniff the book and lick the paper. I didn’t test it with my four-year-old, because her hands are tiny, and…well…I’m old school. She, however, is begging for a turn.

What does it entail?

The program teaches sounds and basic writing as the student learns the location on the keyboard with the assistance of talking hands…or talking fingers. Get it? Because the program is Talking Fingers Inc. You’re a smart one!

 Talking Fingers Inc. Review
It involves games of sorts, too, but nothing highly visually stimulating, and no unrelated games. It all fits together without overstimulating the child.
There is no violence, no motorcycle chases, no pop-culture, no aliens…so far…although there is a virus. Achoo.

Talking Fingers Inc. Review

I think Elijah’s favorite part is the emailing. He informed me that he writes an email letter and it is sent to another child in the program. I didn’t get to witness this and am not sure if he understood it properly; I think at the time I was being attacked by the sweet little bipolar cat we so lovingly adopted…or maybe I was feeding people, because they keep eating! Anyway, don’t quote me on this aspect, because, while I do have eyes in the back of my head, they were napping.

(UPDATE: the email thing is true! He sends a letter and receives a pre-screened (and sometimes edited) letter from another child in the program. Are you aware how fun it is for a boy to type emails about pizza and ice cream and send them to other kids? Very motivating!
Talking Fingers Inc. Review

Kids can earn certificates of merit as they move along. This is pretty motivating for some kids, especially since you can print them out. We live in a travel trailer, though, where extra paper lying around is the enemy, so no printing for us! Still, my littles enjoy the blue ribbons.
Talking Fingers Inc. Review

A talking virus…talking hands…certificates of merit…voice overs…whatever. The kids enjoy it while they are learning to type. That’s what matters to me–that and the lack of anything questionable. I don’t think a talking booger-ish virus is questionable, is it? Nah!

Look! She’s typing! She’s seven!

Despite my initial trepidation, this is one of the curricula items we’ve reviewed lately that we will continue using. My children are definitely improving their typing skills and enjoying it in the process. Thanks Typing Fingers!


Additional information for my fellow roadschoolers:

This program is all online. It is not a terrible data hog, but it does have some moving images and such. Basically, you won’t be streaming video, so it’ll definitely use less data than the big game. If your children need help with phonics and typing, this is a good multi-purpose tool that won’t get scratched up or eat all your data.

Click on the banner to read what other homeschoolers have to say:

Talking Fingers Inc. Review

Crew Disclaimer