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Each Amazon Item of the Week is something that has either made my life easier and more enjoyable in the classroom or in my personal life. Everything that I have reviewed here is something that I either own or have used.

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“Fluency Through TPR Storytelling” (Seventh Edition) has a prominent spot on my personal and professional PD bookshelf.

Fluency Through TPR Storytelling (Seventh Edition)

This book will benefit TCI veterans and novices alike. Skilled authors like Blaine and Contee can explain the fundamentals while also giving more advanced practitioners what they need to take their teaching to the next level in the same book.

I’ve always struggled to think on my feet when storyasking, although I’m more comfortable  doing it now than I was in the first couple years of teaching with comprehensible input. I’ve realized that there were two reasons why I didn’t feel comfortable asking the same stories that others made look so easy. First, my own target language proficiency had languished between the time I studied abroad and when I started teaching. I was expending considerable mental bandwidth consciously thinking about the language I was going to use. Second, I wasn’t following the steps that those who developed this method had developed.

The FAQ section is one of the more valuable parts of this book. This section is in  chapter 19 (I have the seventh edition), however I suggest you start with this section if you have been teaching traditionally up to this point or if you haven’t been to a Blaine Ray workshop yet. The authors address common misconceptions about TPRS and expand on other things that you have probably heard about the method.

Get Thee to a Blaine Ray Workshop

Between this book and the hundreds of hours of video that teachers around the community have uploaded of themselves asking TPRS stories over the years, you can probably figure out how to do this and get satisfactory results. However, I can’t overstate the value of seeing Blaine or one of his trainers demonstrate the process in person during a two or three-day workshop. I don’t know how you could leave his training unconvinced as to the efficacy of TPRS versus traditional methods (administrators attend his workshops for free for this reason). You’ll also make lasting connections with other teachers from your area who are making the switch to TCI.

I bought my copy of the book on the last day of a three-day Blaine Ray workshop in Dallas with Blaine himself running the training. This workshop was the first big step I took on my TCI journey, so I wasn’t too knowledgeable about second language acquisition research at this point. I wish I would have read this book first and then taken it to the workshop to take notes in and journal during my free time.

Blaine is a genuine servant-leadership kind of guy. I got a chance to chat with Blaine over lunch while I was in Dallas and he signed my book and wrote a nice message inside the cover for me. My “green Bible” now prominently resides in my bookcase in my study. I was willing to fly from Columbus, OH to Dallas even though there were workshops much closer (taught by his trainers) because of Blaine’s reputation for connecting with his workshop attendees. He even brought in his friend, Randy Brooks, who wrote Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer (check out the cartoon on DVD, which is dubbed in Spanish). Randy told us about he got started as a songwriter and a storyteller. Of course he played some songs on his guitar during a break on the last day as well.

Fluency Through TPR Storytelling is required reading for any teacher who is interested in doing traditional TPRS and a great reference for anyone who is teaching with comprehensible input-based methods.

 

This 16 oz. can takes up minimal space on your kitchen’s spice shelf.

Old Bay Seasoning

I grew up 30 minutes from the Chesapeake Bay in Finksburg, Maryland. My fondest culinary memory is going to all-you-can-eat blue crab feasts. Old Bay seasoning is the secret weapon for bold seafood. I’ve tried imitations like GFS’s Chesapeake Bay Seasoning, but it’s not quite as good. Amazon has always offered Old Bay significantly cheaper than our local supermarkets. This one-pound container will last you awhile.

While I haven’t found a shrimp dish that I didn’t enjoy, my favorite way to prepare them is “peel-and-eat” style with a lemon wedge and some very, very spicy St. Elmo’s cocktail sauce that I buy from Costco.

Here’s how I do it:

  1. Start with thawed shrimp. I like to use 16-20 count when I’m doing peel-and-eat like this. I thaw them under a water bath in the sink. If you thaw them in the microwave using the defrost setting, you will most likely end up overcooking your shrimp, which is the most common mistake people make.
  2. If you’re making a pound of shrimp or so, put 1/2 cup of cold water and a 1/4 cup of white vinegar in a rice cooker. The vinegar enhances the flavor and texture of the shrimp without adding the acidic taste of vinegar. I use and recommend this Cuisinart rice cooker . My wife and I received this appliance as a wedding gift more than 11 years ago and it is still going strong even using it every couple of weeks.
  3. Add your shrimp and sprinkle them with Old Bay. Don’t add all the seasoning that you plan on using just yet.
  4. Steam the shrimp in the rice cooker until the shrimp form a “C” shape. If your shrimp look like the letter “O”, you’ve overcooked them.
  5. Remove the shrimp from the rice cooker with a slotted spoon to keep from transferring the liquid. Place the shrimp on a large plate. Try not to let the cooking liquid pool on the bottom of the plate, as the Old Bay that you’re about to dust on will turn into a paste if you have too much water. Sprinkle both sides of the shrimp lightly with Old Bay. Don’t overdo it with the seasoning, as you don’t want them to end up too salty.
  6. Put the plate in the refrigerator for about an hour and serve chilled with cocktail sauce and lemon wedges.

 

Contigo 20 oz. Snap Seal Stainless Steel Coffee Mug

Contigo SnapSeal Stainless Steel Coffee Mug

The Contigo SnapSeal stainless steel mug is available in six contemporary colors that just have the best names: grayed jade, gunmetal, matte black, monaco (a steel blue), stormy weather, and vivacious (sort of a magenta red). There are three sizes available: 16 oz., 20 oz., and 24 oz, however not all of the colors are available in all three sizes. I have two of the 20 oz. mugs in the gunmetal color. The 20 oz. mug still holds plenty of coffee without being unwieldy to hold with one hand.

I bought my first Contigo mug four years ago and a second a couple of years later so that I didn’t have to wash my lone mug every night. They’re both still in great shape and I use on or the other every day.

While Amazon’s prices change periodically, at the time of this writing these mugs are about a $1.50 cheaper than they are at Target. Amazon’s color selection for this style was also better.

I was hesitant at first to put a travel mug full of coffee inside my briefcase bag that I use to keep my laptop, phone, and planner. Neither one of my mugs has ever leaked inside my bag. The only thing you need to be careful of is accidentally flipping up the pop-up tab on the lid by tossing the mug into your bag or pushing it down at just the right angle against something hard like the corner of your laptop. The seal on both the lid and the pop-up tab are both otherwise very secure. The “SnapSeal” feature leaves no doubt that you’ve closed the lid before you put it into your bag or purse.

One of my favorite features is the rubber grip. It’s perfectly oriented to provide a secure one-handed  even when it’s wet. The grip hasn’t discolored or deteriorated in the least bit since I’ve had these.

You’ll want to hand wash the main part of the mug. I flip up the tab on the lid (in order to keep the seal clean) and send just the lid through the dishwasher once in awhile.

Bearing in mind that I use this mug almost every day of the year and that it spends considerable time in my briefcase bag, some of the protective coating on the stainless steel has started to wear off on the exterior of the mug, specifically on the bottom. Fortunately it just chips off rather than peeling so it’s not too unsightly. The actual metal underneath is just fine.

 

Logitech MK550 Wireless Keyboard and Mouse Combo

Logitech MK550 Wireless Keyboard and Mouse Combo

Adding a wireless keyboard and mouse to my classroom was a game changer this year. I went deskless a couple of years ago, so I sit in a circle with my students. I have  a regular desk at the front of the room but the VGA cable doesn’t reach to where I sit in our circle and the wireless connection from my laptop to my projector is a bit too laggy for some higher resolution streaming. I keep this keyboard on a stool right in front of me and the mouse on a table to my right where I keep my laser pointer and planner.

We all know what happens when the teacher turns his or her back to write something on the board; phones come out and kids start chatting. I keep a blank Word document open on “web” view (this gives you a nice wide screen) with 28-point font at all times. Everyone can see it in real time as I type. This works particularly well during Persona Especial (Special Person) interviews, as I don’t lose that connection that I have with the group as we ask our questions by having to go up to the board to write something down. It’s also easy to save my notes at the end of each interview so that I can keep the interviews straight.

This keyboard has more features than I will ever use in the classroom. There are all the features you would find on an integrated laptop keyboard and then some. I can launch Windows Media Player, various Microsoft Office apps, and a calculator all right from my keyboard. I specially like the separate volume and media control buttons that are conveniently located at the very top. No more pressing “F2” and “F3” to control the volume.

Logitech advertises “whisper-quiet” typing with this unit. While it’s not quite silent, it is the quietest keyboard I have ever used. I like it because you can still hear the keys but it’s not distracting to anyone in the room unlike the cheap cabled keyboards that come with desktops. The keys on the Logitech MK550 Wireless Wave Keyboard respond well to varying levels of pressure and make very little noise. There is a large, cushioned wrist wrest that takes a little getting used to, but I’m glad it’s there. I wasn’t sure if I would like the “wave” shape at first, but I now find my home desktop’s traditional rectangular keyboard awkward and unnatural and will be replacing it with this unit in the near future. The keyboard has three height adjustment levels which stay in place as you type. The oversized space bar is perfect for a CI classroom. Logitech must have known that we need to pause our Movie Talks and telenovelas frequently to check for comprehension!

One of my favorite features of this keyboard is the unifying USB receiver. This simply means that the same USB receiver handles both the mouse and the keyboard. The receiver is so compact (about half an inch long when plugged in) that I can just put my laptop into my bag without removing the USB receiver. It has never gotten in the way or been dislodged. I keep the USB receiver on the side of my laptop that is facing our class circle and haven’t had a single issue with connectivity after more than two months of extensive daily usage. This is one of the most common issues with cheaper units. Logitech’s specs tout a 10-meter range. I keep mine at around six meters away with a few students sitting in between the keyboard/mouse and the USB receiver without any issues.

The ambidextrous full-size mouse is just the right size. The scroll button is conveniently located and operates very smoothly. I keep my mouse directly on the table (no mousepad). It tracks smoothly in all applications. You should be OK using it on any clean, semi-smooth surface except for glass.

The battery life has been outstanding so far. Each device uses two “AA” batteries. Logitech says that the keyboard has a three-year battery life while the mouse’s will last for two. My experience with my  Logitech mouse at home supports their claim.

The only complaint that I have with this unit is that the “caps lock” key is not illuminated.

In summary, this keyboard has improved my classroom management and engagement by keeping me in the circle. This sleek combo is a great value considering that you can spend this much on a quality wireless mouse by itself.

 

                                                                               Logitech R800 Professional Presenter with Green Laser

Logitech R800 green laser pointer

Logitech R800 Professional Presenter with Green Laser

This was one of my first purchases when I began my teaching career. While I often take the time to walk over and physically touch a word on a wall with my hand (this forces me to slow down my delivery), there are times when you need to be able to point from a distance. I sit in the class circle (my classroom is deskless), so being able to help them quickly establish the meaning of words without getting up every time helps preserve the sense that we are having an authentic group conversation that I’m not going to interrupt.

My favorite feature of this presenter is the green laser. Green is far more visible in the dark than red. Military and law enforcement use green lasers in their optics for this reason. The laser is a vibrant green even with all of my lights on, whereas a standard red laser looks a little muted. I also like the fact that this presenter has a timer to keep you on track.

The USB receiver stores neatly in the base of the presenter. My slides always advance on the first click even without a clear line of sight to the receiver. I like how this presenter feels in my hand. Other cheaper units feel too small to me and are awkward to hold while gesturing during class or a presentation. The neoprene mesh zippered protective pouch keeps the unit from being damaged when you toss it into your laptop bag.

This unit takes two “AAA” batteries which last for about three to four weeks on average with moderate usage. I did notice that it was going through batteries far quicker when I kept the laser on while doing choral translations. A set of batteries will keep for months if you’re mostly using it as a presenter to advance slides in a presentation.

The company claims a 100-foot wireless range. I have used this presenter in a large lecture hall and verified this.

My laser pointer has been in heavy service (teaching, presenting outside of school, and entertaining cats) for more than four years and is still going strong. My only complaint with this presenter  is that the battery compartment lid doesn’t fit as tightly as it did when it was new, however I have dropped it quite a few times over the years.

I knew that I could trust this product because it has the Logitech name on it. Just like the Logitech MK550 Wireless Keyboard and Mouse Combo that I also use in my classroom every day, this presenter is a “must have” tech tool in my opinion.

 

under-the-same-moon-dvd

“Under the Same Moon” (La misma luna) (2008)

“Under the Same Moon” (La misma luna) (2008) DVD

I first saw this movie on a flight to Dallas for a Blaine Ray workshop and fell in love with it. I still recommend that you watch it even if you don’t teach or speak Spanish! Its PG-13 rating (due to some mild language and mature thematic elements) makes it a suitable option for a high school class. Its 106-minute run time allows us to finish it in two 90-minute blocks with plenty of time to pause and discuss what is happening. I prefer to own the DVD rather than stream it for three reasons: a.) it’s more reliable, b.) it’s easier to start and stop to discuss scenes, and c.) movies come and go on Netflix and Amazon Prime all the time.

I wasn’t familiar with any of the main cast (Adrian Alonso, Kate del Castillo, or Eugenio Derbez) prior to watching this, but that’s often what makes heavy movies like this better. None of the actors or actresses in “Under the Same Moon” are typecast to certain roles, which is something that afflicts many otherwise solid movies.

I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I can say that the movie has a happy but bittersweet ending. There are multiple moral dilemmas that confront the characters that can fuel a passionate class discussion as to who was the most selfless and whether or not they made the right decisions.

We teach a unit on immigration in the beginning of Spanish 3. We do “Esperanza” by Carol Gaab as the first of two class novels for the semester. While it’s technically a level-one book, we have found that the discussion of such a heavy theme goes much better in level-three.

The audio is in Spanish although some of the dialogue is in English. Unfortunately there are only English subtitles. I found myself doing more of a Movie Talk (no circling or targeting of specific vocabulary or grammatical structures) throughout the key scenes. You’ll find plenty of opportunities to pause it and talk about topics that you covered either in “Esperanza” or in a general lesson on immigration.

“Under the Same Moon” is an ideal capstone that the students can work toward as part of a larger unit or theme. My level-three students consistently mention it as one of their favorite class activities on their end-of-semester surveys.

We all put scuffs and scratches on our cars at some point. Keep a container of No7 polishing compound on hand for when the inevitable happens.

Nieto No7 Polishing Compound

A good lazy summer’s day for me is some good music on my Bluetooth speaker, a cold beverage, and my favorite detailing products all lined up and ready to make one of our cars look like new again. I like giving our vehicles a quick hand wash and dry, but the real satisfaction comes when I have the time to buff out every last little scratch and swirl mark and then run a clay bar over all the painted surfaces before applying a couple coats of my favorite wax.

I consider No7 White Polishing Compound to be a “Goldilocks” formula. Every other polishing compound on the market that I have tried either has grit that is too aggressive (and should probably be labeled as rubbing compound; a different product entirely) or is too smooth and isn’t capable of taking out more than the very lightest of scratches and swirl marks. The No7 compound is gentle enough to use to brighten up headlight assemblies that are starting to yellow and aggressive enough to level out scratches that are pretty deep down in the clear coat.

I keep a container of this in my pole barn and also one on my classroom. Somebody sprayed some sort of chemical or cleaner on my main whiteboard last year that caused what I thought was a permanent stain where it dripped down and dried. Two of our custodians tried everything they could to remove the stain without any luck. I spot tested this on an inconspicuous part of my whiteboard to make sure that the compound wouldn’t damage the coating and sheen. I then applied some polishing compound with a detailing cloth to the stain and used just a little bit of pressure in a circular motion just like I would to remove a light scratch in an automotive clear coat. Whatever it was that had stained my whiteboard came off with no damage to the coating.

After dancing a little jig to celebrate (fortunately it was July and nobody else was at school!), I then used this to clean up a few of my individual student whiteboards. The surface on the individual boards was much more porous than my main whiteboard. I inherited these individual boards from another teacher, who I believe had them cut from a 4′ x 8′ piece of shower board from Lowe’s. The No7 worked pretty well on removing older dry erase marker haze, but did not restore it to a bright white like it did my main board.

I don’t know how long this product has been around, but I know it’s been awhile because I remember my father seeing this on a shelf in my barn on a recent visit and telling me that he recalled using it in the 70s on his Corvette.

No. 7 White Polishing Compound is one of those products that I’ll use for the rest of my life as long as it’s available, not only because it delivers consistent satisfactory results, but because of the memories it brings back. Just like the smell of Murphy’s Oil Soap reminds me of cleaning the house with my brother and sisters when I was young, this stuff takes me back to my first “real” teenage job detailing cars and RVs at a dealership in my hometown of North East, PA.

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Marc is an educator, blogger, veteran, and small business owner. Feel free to send him a message here or read his story here .

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