Teaching Effective Communication

Teaching sentence structure to increase reading comprehension

By Dr. Rod Berger

When we think about sentence diagramming, or merely the ability for a young person to understand how they can manipulate language in a sentence to create a reaction or emotion response, it's almost like playing chess. By following the pieces of the chess board, students are better able to understand the way in which to communicate.

Dr. Jyu-fang Yu believes in sentence diagramming passionately and sees it as essential for students to learn how to communicate effectively. The course she taught in Taiwan was immensely popular and the lessons she taught changed the writing of her students forever.

After all, educators from different countries like Turkey and Mexico that have spoken and lectured about how they employed sentence diagramming, have seen significant benefits in their respective classrooms.

But here in America, Dr. Yu notes, our educational system has chosen for some reason not to emphasize pure sentence structure as strictly as it did in the past. “I think it's a great pity that you don't see the beauty or usefulness of that anymore,” she says. “I find it necessary because when we start to read more and more complicated sentences, we need something so that we can get back to the basics and understand the core of the things.”

Young people are growing up with Facebook, texting, and Snapchat — essentially communicating in shorthand with their peers. Dr. Yu notes that we know as adults and professionals that part of our ability to be successful is to be able to communicate, and that includes writing in a professional manner. “It is important especially nowadays for students to know how to deal with complicated sentences,” Dr. Yu says.  “I think it's about time to bring back sentence diagramming for them to know how to analyze long sentences like sentences with over thirty words.”

It becomes a challenge with standardized testing as well because test questions are structured in such a way that you have to know grammar to understand the questions. As Dr. Yu notes, that may explain why so many students have failed on standardized tests. Sentence structure makes up the composition of these assessments, and they can be unknowingly biased, simply by the nature of their sentence structure.

There is a barrier created for today’s average student who doesn’t understand sentence structure and the task becomes especially tough for the English language learner in the classroom. In the U.S. in areas of great cultural diversity, the difficulties are considerable.

In the end, Dr. Yu believes it’s our ability to understand and teach the nuances of complicated sentence structure that makes language accessible to everyone. It is a skill that becomes an essential component to the future success of all students.

About Dr. Jyu-fang (Annie) Yu:

Dr. Jyu-fang (Annie) Yu is the CEO of Sentence Analytics, a sentence structure and reading comprehension software startup based out of the University of Texas at Austin, where she received both her Masters degree and a Ph.D. in Philosophy.

A teacher at the college level her entire adult life, she was the chief editor of a successful English-teaching magazine in Taiwan. She has given over 500 hours of presentations on language education alone and has helped companies train their sales reps in effective communication. Dr. Yu owns two patents, including an innovative way of combining statistical metrics with psychology to organize vocabulary lists to improve learner efficacy.

Dr. Yu’s company Sentence Analytics is developing software that increases the students' passing rates on standardized tests and ultimately helps lay a solid foundation (sentence structure) for reading comprehension.

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