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Get Smart: Grammar Through Sentence Diagramming Review by Laura Delgado

Teacher and Student Books
Elizabeth O’Brien
Grammar Revolution

In my experience talking with other homeschooling moms, people either love sentence diagramming or they hate it. Most people don’t really have neutral feelings about it. I come from the “love it” camp. I’m not typical of my generation, but I was taught sentence diagramming in school, and I knew that I was going to pass that on to my own children. Imagine my shock when not all of them loved it from the get-go! Fortunately, Elizabeth O’Brien, the author of Get Smart: Grammar Through Sentence Diagramming doesn’t give students a choice when it comes to liking diagramming: her enthusiasm and delight are contagious. The Get Smart program comes in multiple configurations. The one that I reviewed, the Home-Based Digital Program, comes with an Instructor Edition, a Student Edition, and access to online instructional videos by Elizabeth herself. The necessary student worksheets are embedded into the videos as printable pdfs, so it’s really like an all-in-one digital program. The Home-Based Digital Program costs $99.00. Additional Instructor books can be purchased for $18, and additional student books can be purchased for $12.

Designed for fourth grade through adult, the Get Smart program will teach you grammar in around fifteen to twenty minutes per day. It assumes no prior knowledge and teaches all of the following concepts (through the use of sentence diagramming): the eight parts of speech, sentences, the four verb types, independent and dependent clauses (adjective/relative clauses, adverb clauses, noun clauses), phrases (verb, prepositional, gerund, infinitive, participial), gerunds, participles, infinitives, and (obviously) basic and advanced sentence diagramming.

Each day’s work precedes in the same order. First, students watch an instructional video that is between five and fifteen minutes long. In that video, Elizabeth explains a grammar concept and teaches it alongside its proper diagramming. After the video, students diagram five sentences. When they have diagrammed the sentences, it’s on to the next lesson! It really is that easy! In order to draw students in to this method of learning, Elizabeth starts with very easy concepts (as in, subjects, verbs, and sentences) and very short lessons (but, really, all of the lessons are pretty short). Tests are also sprinkled in throughout (every fourth or fifth lesson) so you can check your understanding.

Don’t think that because your student a.) already knows how to diagram or b.) already knows things like parts of speech, dependent and independent clauses, and some of the other concepts in this program that this program is not for them. It is difficult to convey how concisely and enthusiastically Elizabeth teaches. My sixth-grade twins, my test subjects, never had a problem doing grammar with Elizabeth at the helm, even though they already knew at least half of the material covered in the book (sans diagramming). They appreciated that Elizabeth taught the material with nothing extraneous included, and then tested their knowledge without the dreaded “drill and kill.” In five exercises, they were able to demonstrate their mastery of the skill. And master the skills, they have. They have solidified grammar concepts they already knew, but with the added benefit of diagramming, and they have learned new skills without it taking the usual weeks of work that other programs often require. I have found myself wishing that Elizabeth also taught math!

You may find yourself wondering if it really is necessary to purchase the online component of this program. After all, a student book and an instructor book together only cost $30, a substantial savings over the full digital program.* Please allow me to assure you that Elizabeth O’Brien herself is the magic of this program. Yes, you could just buy the hard copy books: they are good books. I really like the way they are laid out, and Elizabeth summarizes her lectures for each lesson and, obviously, includes the diagramming exercises. I would strongly encourage you not to do that, though. Kids will respond to Elizabeth teaching them grammar. Her personality is infectious. If you don’t already love grammar, you might find yourself coming on board after (or during!) this program. Further, even if you (or, more relevantly, your students) do love grammar, why wouldn’t you want Elizabeth herself to deliver the information in a lesson, rather than having yet another course for which you have to slog through material reading the lesson before doing the written work? Elizabeth makes it painless – more than that, she makes it enjoyable.

Get Smart: Grammar Through Sentence Diagramming should appeal to a wide cross-section of homeschoolers. After all, everyone has to learn grammar! Whether you’re passionate about grammar, like I am, or barely tolerate it, I am guessing that Elizabeth O’Brien will appeal to you. The only homeschoolers who should definitely avoid this program are those whose minds are 100% closed to diagramming (although, if given the chance, my guess is that Elizabeth can open even those minds!). Everyone else will likely enjoy this curriculum. Fortunately, for those intrepid souls who work their way through this program and still crave more, Elizabeth has Stay Smart: 188 Advanced Sentence Diagramming Exercises! So don’t be afraid to fall in love with Get Smart; you’ll be able to Stay Smart when it’s all over.

* Please note that the softcover Get Smart books are actually only available to people who have also purchased the digital course.

-Product review by Laura Delgado, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May, 2017