English grammar is something that can take a lifetime to master. It’s so diverse and there are so many exceptions to the rules that learners often find it confusing and challenging to learn. The reason that it can be so confusing is that people often see grammar as a group of separate, unrelated rules. By (looking at how grammar rules and patterns are related [link to grammar detective post]) you can develop a deeper and more complete understanding of English grammar. Seeing connections between different grammar rules can be difficult, though, so that’s when it is useful to use diagrams to help understand the links.
People often use spider diagrams (sometimes called mind maps) to visualise sets of vocabulary that are related to each other and they can work well for grammar, too. For example, you could look at continuous tense forms by drawing a circle in the middle and writing the title (continuous tense forms) in it then using lines coming from the circle to show the general uses (things that are happening at that point in time), the structure (‘to be’ + verb=ing), and the different times that the tense form can be used.
Another way to start seeing connections between different tense forms is to colour-code your notes about them. For each form you are looking at, write the name in one colour, the structure in another, the most common uses in a different colour and an example sentence in one more colour. Then when you look at the different forms, it is easier to compare information of the same type. Because the structures are all one colour, you can easily compare them and see where there are similarities and differences. Likewise, it’s easy to see which tense forms are generally used in certain situations because all the common uses are the same colour.
Timelines are another useful tool for visualising English grammar. Use an example sentence for each form you are studying and draw a line underneath it pointing from left to right. On the line, mark the point in time the speaker is speaking, the point in time he or she is speaking about and when the thing he or she is speaking about will start and stop. Do this for several tense forms and compare them to see what the connections or differences between the form are.
All these diagrams are easy to draw with a pen and paper but there are some useful online tools out there to help you, too. There are lots of spider diagram tools you can use for free online and free presentation tools such as Prezi can work really well as a large canvas to write all your notes about tense forms on. For timelines, any drawing tool on your computer or smartphone will give you all the features you need to make great-looking diagrams. So, give each of these methods a try today and see which works best for you.