LESLIE CRISS: Trio joins forces to aid 10th-grader with grammar

Leslie Criss“I really am not very fond of grammar.”
Bailey Elizabeth Cook

“The greater part of the world’s troubles are due to questions of grammar.”
Michel de Montaigne

“Diagramming made language seem friendly, like a dog who doesn’t bark, but, instead, trots over to greet you, wagging its tail.”
Kitty Burns Florey

My niece Bailey left a voice mail at my desk last Tuesday fraught with frustration. She was doing her English homework and she was not happy.

“I thought you might be able to help me,” her message ended.

Upon calling her back, I was excited to learn that which baffled her was one of my favorite things to learn, and later to teach – types of sentence structure.

You remember – simple, compound, complex, compound complex.

So, on my way home from work, I called my niece, a 10th-grader at Grissom High School in Huntsville, Ala. First, I spoke to my sister, a grammar devotee like me. She was frustrated because in trying to help Bailey, she realized it had been quite a while since she learned about sentence structure.

So, I got on the phone with Bailey, who began reading me a sentence. A long, meandering sentence containing some impressive vocabulary words.

I was stumped. The very first sentence and I too was questioning what I learned oh-so-long-ago.

“Let me call you back in just a few minutes,” I told Bailey and her mama.

Then I called my friend Charlene Leverette in Grenada. She taught English to my sister and me multiple years in high school. A fabulous educator and human being, she’s now retired after 40 years.

I shared with her the plight of Bailey, her mama and her Aunt Lee Lee. Mrs. Lev laughed. A lot.

Then she did what she always was able to do. She cleared up my confusion and dissolved my doubts so I could confidently help my sister, so we could confidently help my niece.

Bailey does not like grammar, and that’s OK. She has academic strengths and interests I never had. She’s a voracious reader who has probably read more books in her almost-16 years than I have in my lifetime.

I’ll admit, I wish I could help her develop an appreciation of grammar, the way words and phrases and clauses are strung together to fill the pages of the books she so loves.

Diagramming sentences did it for me – made me fall in love with grammar.

I don’t know if anyone teaches it anymore, but I did. And I have former students, now in their 40s, who’ve told me how much diagramming helped them have a greater understanding of how language works.

Bailey made it through the sentence structure types. Now Aunt Lee Lee’s tutoring service will await her next call. And Mrs. Leverette can await mine.

Infinitives, gerunds and participles.

Oh, my.

leslie.criss@journalinc.com