Wordsmiths – Quality grammar, vocabulary, and writing materials in the field of English
Welcome to the home of Jensen’s Grammar, Journey Through Grammar Land, Jensen’s Format Writing, and other fine language books.
Our mission is to provide teachers and students with quality grammar, vocabulary, and writing materials in the field of English. Home schools, Christian schools, and private schools currently use and recommend our materials.
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Cathy Duffy has picked Jensen’s Format Writing as one of her 100 TOP PICKS for Homeschool Curriculum. It’s an honor we are proud of.
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Notes from the Smithy… #91
Hello from Southern Oregon! Spring is springing, and things have greened up with the warmth and rain. It is countdown time to get those last things taught before summer.
NEWS what’s happening
JUST FOR FUN flexibility puzzle
PUDDING PROOF the books work
THE BASIC SKILL reading
RECENT READS a few from me
MISCELLANY as it says
Please note that the major tests for the vocabulary books are still available from me. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get them. I am the only source for these tests. They are free, but you will have to print them off. Each set includes the test and the answers.
NOTE: I have a number of copies of Jensen’s Grammar that are unused but have a name written in them. I will sell them for $25 each; you will have to pay shipping and handling.
Last time I mentioned my teaching and bakery work. It continues as does this business of printing and selling books. One of these days we are going to take a vacation, maybe.
Helping to home educate three young folks through Jensen’s Grammar has prompted me to think about writing a major test that will cover everything in the book. I am going to do it for my three students. If it works out well, I will make it available via email to any who wants it. I’ve written most of it, but the students have yet to take it. They should take it in the next few weeks. Stay tuned.
I recently dropped a middleman distributor, so some smaller outlets may no longer carry my materials. I still sell online and have my books and DVD’s in larger catalogs.
JUST FOR FUN
In my book English Fun Stuff, I had a number of flexibility puzzles. You have to think in a bit of an offbeat manner to get the matches right, but they are fun. Here are a couple of examples. Enjoy!
Budget Pick a rose early
Ground hog Sausage
- Results in fall
- No tours
- General assembly
- To count up
- Wildcat driller
- Bump into dog
- At ease
- Breakfast products
- Cover charge
a. Doesn’t belong to us
b. Act of a careless starter
c. Skit angle
d. Southeastern bird
e. When you can’t score running
f. Buying on impulse
g. Poorly made goods
h. Pentagon staff meeting
j. One who kids around
k. Hunt soil
m. Going loves
n.Insulate a wire
If you need answers to these, ask me via email.
In 1969 I came to Oregon having taken a job at Lincoln Savage Junior High School. I had previously taught for three years in California but wanted to move north for a variety of reasons. It was a good move for the family, and I have no regrets. The pay was less, but the pace of life was slower, and I got to live in the country instead of a city, which was and still is my preference.
After a few years the county school district determined to build some high schools to service their area, and I moved up to one of them. The junior highs became middle schools at that point. In the fall of 2013 someone at Lincoln Savage Middle School contacted me and requested 40 copies of my vocabulary book, Jensen’s Vocabulary. Of course I was delighted to supply them with the books.
Last month the school needed some replacement copies. When delivering the books, I had the opportunity to meet the principal of the school. He asked me if I had heard how the school had done on the standardized testing for the state. I had not heard, so he informed me that LSMS had scored better than any other middle school in the state in reading and language arts. Then he said, “We will be ordering more of your books.” Those were sweet words to hear.
About a week later, I received a call from a private Christian school in the Portland area; they needed some more books. This school has used my writing and vocabulary books for years. When I mentioned my recent experience at LSMS, the lady on the phone replied that their students return from college and give high praises for the fact that they know how to write for their college professors.
Homeschoolers also benefit from the books. Here is what one young lady said. “In my Writing 101 class, one of the first things the professor commented on was how well-organized and thought out my writings were. He encouraged me to look into my school’s professional writing program. I was amazed. The skills that I had learned in high school were coming in handy in college.” Her full testimonial is on the website as are many more.
While I was teaching at the high school level, there was pressure from some in the administration to have me teach an advanced placement course in English. It was primarily literature based and in my mind didn’t have much of substance to it when I reviewed the course material. Instead I taught a course which I labeled College Prep Writing. We read plenty, but the emphasis was on writing. It was the class where I codified much of what is in Jensen’s Format Writing.
Most of the students graduating from that class went on to college somewhere. During their Christmas break, many would return to my classes and tell those present how awesome it was to be able to do their writing assignments with ease and confidence. Some even shared how they made money writing papers for others. The arrangement was simple; the other person would do the work and gather the information and maybe give some idea of what needed to be said. Then my former student would write it up and charge a fee. “Easy money,” a couple of them said.
At one point after leaving the public school system, I offered a writing course based on my book to some local homeschoolers. We met once a week, and I would give assignments, collect papers, and review what they had turned in the previous week. It was not the best of situations due to the time between meetings, but it worked. One girl won the freshman writer of the year award at the college she attended the next year.
As I mentioned earlier, I am taking three students through my grammar and vocabulary books. I see them once or twice a week depending on their needs. They are almost finished with the grammar book, and the improvements in their sentences are dramatic. They are using relative clauses and appositives quite nicely and are now getting the hang of infinitives, gerunds, and participles. It is a learning process, but changes do come about. I am pleased with their progress thus far. Next year, Lord willing, I will take them through the punctuation and writing books.
The books work. The recent middle school scores, the reports from former students and their teachers and parents, and my own experience all validate the fact that the books do their job. Writing is not rocket science; it can be learned by most anyone. However, just having students write without good instruction profits them very little. I have long contended that students can learn most anything if they are properly taught, and I employed what I consider to be proper methods in all my books.
Below is a final testimony.
“My son is currently in the 8th grade, and I was a little afraid it was almost too late to really get the basics in, but he did it. You can also add that first couple of weeks it was really terrible. We fought like cats and dogs over doing this work. By the time we finished the text, he was breezing through without a single complaint. He was the one anxious to get his SAT scores back because he wanted to see his results. In the 7th grade he scored a 5th grade level, and I had tried several curriculums to get him up to speed. When I heard about yours, I thought it couldn’t hurt to give it a try; the proof would be in the pudding. After his 8th grade test, he scored a 12th grade level.”
Now you see the reason for the title of this article in the above note from another satisfied consumer.
THE BASIC SKILL
Just what skills are necessary for a student to master prior to higher level education or going out into the workforce? I submit there are only a few, and unfortunately they seem to be lacking in many high school graduates these days. President Obama has recently stated he wants grades 13 and 14 to be free, more or less an extension of high school. Why? Doubtless there are multiple reasons, but one is likely the recognition that many high school graduates are sorely lacking in the basics.
A friend of mine is a dean at a local community college. He says the college he works at has to offer basic classes in English and math for far too many students. It’s the three R’s they are lacking.
I am only going to talk about the first R, reading. If a student can read well and has the desire, he or she can learn pretty much anything. Reading is a skill that can be mastered, and it pays big dividends throughout life. My dear wife has just taught a little fellow how to read, and he is taking off. What a joy for a mom or dad to teach their child how to read. Reading is essentially recognizing words we say when we see them in print. I believe a phonics based program is best, but the Victory Drills are excellent as well. I had two signs in my classroom.
He who reads has many teachers.
The man who will not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read!
Over the years, I pointed many a student to one or both of those signs. Prior to the internet, the public library was the place to go to get information. It still is for some things. Many of our prominent people of the past couple of centuries got much of their education from public libraries. Andrew Carnegie thought so much of public libraries that he established a great number of them at his own expense. Why? Because he had gained his education in one and thought it was a valuable resource that should be available for anyone for free.
Being able to read is a powerful tool. Ignorance is bondage. Once we were a highly literate society; that is going away. It is not because those in school are dumber than before; it is because they are not being taught. One on one attention when starting out is tremendously beneficial. Parents, read aloud to your children. Let them get a taste of what is available. Be creative; be encouraging. Be all you can be, read! Abraham Lincoln said it well, “A capacity and taste for reading gives access to whatever has been discovered by others.”
This past quarter was busy, so my reading has been somewhat limited, but as always I did get some books read. Below you will find brief reviews of those I read since the last newsletter.
The Death of Money: The Coming Collapse of the International Monetary System is by James Rickards. This was a good book. I found it to be enlightening and depressing but also hopeful; that’s my take. It is a shame that we, the little people, the fly-over folks, are manipulated and lied to by the social-political elite. Rickards has connections and therefore information that most of us do not. To see the behind the scenes workings of the monetary system is revealing but not pretty. I recommend the book if you want to know what is coming in the way of financial stresses and opportunities on a macro scale, which of course will influence your own microcosm. There is a bit of history in the book to give context to some of the things he mentions.
I read a novel about the Jensen family. How could I resist? It is called Massacre Canyon and is number five in the series. I’ve not read the others and probably won’t. William W. Johnstone and I presume his son, J.A. Johnstone are the authors. The Johnstones are sort of formula writers, which is not a bad thing, but all their western books pretty much have the same flavor. There are a couple of sub stories that don’t really move the plot. The ending is predictable, but the means to get there are not, so that compels to reader to keep reading. The girl, Darcy, will likely show up again as it seems she and Matt may have something going. Some circumstances are a bit of a stretch, but they work and move the story along. If you accept the premise that Smoke and his family have lots of luck, strong constitutions, and some uncanny reflexes and accuracy in their shooting, then most of the details are acceptable.
The Wealthy Barber: Everyone’s Commonsense Guide to Becoming Financially Independent is by David H. Chilton. The book was published some years back, and this is my second time through the book. I reread it since I am recommending it to a couple of younger fellows; thus, I needed to be up to speed on it for our future discussions. It is readable, enjoyable, and has a number of profitable ideas. The case he makes for mutual funds is ok for many, but some will prefer to own EFT’s or particular stocks. He advocates not using credit cards, but I believe their convenience combined with self discipline makes them a useful tool. Of course, they are like fire, a useful tool but a fearful master. Some places are actually funny when it comes to the banter between the three seeking information, the barber, and the three fellows who hang out in the shop. I recommend it to all, but for folks in their 20’s and 30’s, it is prime reading material.
Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote The Mad King one hundred years ago. Oh, fun! This is a boy’s book. Barney, the hero, is in one scrape after another, always managing to get out of it somehow. Yes, at times his delivery is a bit incredulous, but the story moves well. There is mistaken identity, a love story, and a variety of villains from suave diplomats to petty personalities and ambitious royalty who will even use murder to further their ends. And of course there is action, lots of it with war, kidnappings, auto wrecks, personal fights, and so much more. I remember reading this years ago but had forgotten most of the story although I did remember it was one of my favorites by Burroughs. It was a great read the second time. Be adventuresome and have some fun reading The Mad King, and then pass it on to a young boy who will see a red-blooded American hero rise to the top and hopefully be inspired to do so in his own life. It is a great book.
Rex Regis is by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., one of my favorite authors, and I really liked this book. While it is the ninth book in the series, it is the sixth book and last book about Quaeryt. Having read all the previous books in the series, the characters were quite familiar, and the story of Quaeryt ends well. It was bittersweet in the sense that his story is over even though it ended well. The husband-wife relationship between Quaeryt and Vaelora is both sweet and humorous. It would be a better world if all married folks handled their difficulties in like manner. There is a good mix of action, philosophy of governance, and challenges in handling different personalities from a position of power. The author makes good use of minor details, such as what is served for dinner, to impart some hominess to the story. The little details of weather and meals and so forth make the characters more real. Quaeryt makes mistakes but owns up to them, which endears him to those men who are close to him. No doubt he is a dangerous man because of his power, but he guards himself against abuse of that power. The fulfillment of his dream is assured as the protection and instruction of imagers at the Collegium is already becoming a reality at the end.
Laura Hillenbrand writes the story of Louis Zamperini in Unbroken. The subtitle is accurate, “A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.” I liked this book very much even though it was disturbing in part, mostly due to the barbarous treatment our POW’s received at the hands of the Japanese. Louis was a bit of a hellion in his younger days, but the author opines that his street smarts developed then gave him the skills and abilities to survive later. The story of survival on the raft and later in the prison camps is engaging with high and low points. His life after returning home was tumultuous and nothing to brag about until Jesus saved him. Hillenbrand has lots of facts in the book which were of interest. Here’s just one: US POW’s in German and Italian prison camps had a death rate of 1% while in Japanese camps it was more than 37%. That is a staggering difference. I recommend this book for teens, particularly boys. It is good history and is a personal record of a real American hero.
1. This newsletter is posted quarterly on the website, and it is emailed free to those who wish to subscribe. I plan to continue to write and publish for the near future, but age and infirmity will eventually have their day. However, I am at this point soldiering on by God’s grace.
2. Remember, if you have questions, I am only an email away, email@example.com. I am your support, so use me when the need arises. I try to email a response within a day or two. The more specific the question, the better my answer will be.
3. Thanks to all of you who use my materials and recommend them to others. Thanks also to those who send little notes via email or handwritten along with your orders. Those little notes are encouraging, and I appreciate them.
4. The next issue of Smithy Notes is scheduled for distribution in the summer sometime, Lord willing.
In His strength,