Delicious Writing Activities: Using Food in the Classroom

The modern world provides ESL writing teachers with a great quantity of excellent materials and resources that help them create lesson plans with a variety of motivating activities. Without manuals, workbooks, and Internet resources, the current generation of writing teachers would most likely feel poorly equipped and even helpless. However, along with these valuable “classic” resources, there are other “nonstandard” materials that can enhance students’ learning and make classes more interesting and fun.

Food is a great tool in teaching writing! Many teachers use food in teaching cooking vocabulary or practicing describing a process. Nevertheless, there are other excellent ways to enhance English classes with food and thus make them more enjoyable for learners.

Skillfully integrated into a lesson plan, little snacks can be an effective tool for practicing writing skills and provide opportunities for illustrating a cultural aspect of American life. Additionally, most of us would probably agree that food has the ability to create a more pleasant setting in the classroom.

In my blog entry today, I will share several ideas of how to implement snacks and treats into a writing classroom.

Activity 1: Trip to a Grocery Store (Teaching About Paraphrasing)
The concept of paraphrasing might be challenging for second language writers. This simple activity can help them get a better grasp of the notion of paraphrasing. It can be used both in beginning writing classes and as an introductory paraphrasing activity.

Procedure:

  1. Bring a variety of snacks to class (e.g., chips, raisins, crackers, nuts, popcorn). Design an imitation of a “grocery store” by displaying these items (in small cups, plates, or bags) on the table.
  2. Divide your class in teams and give each team their grocery list (prepare in advance). Each grocery list contains several snacks (from the ones you brought to class), whose original names are paraphrased (don’t include the original name of the items):
    • Crispy salty buddy, the life of every party and is always up for a dip (chips)
    • Grapes with a sunburn (raisins)
    • Honey roasted, salted, or plain… you’ll go nuts for these babies (peanuts)
    • Small and chewy fruit flavored animals (gummy bears)
    • Yummy emergency stress reliever for most women (chocolates)
  3. Tell the students to find their items in “the store” by trying to understand the paraphrased definitions of each item on their grocery list. After the students have identified the items on their grocery list, you can all enjoy the snacks.

I have to admit that the preparation for this activity – creating paraphrased definitions – is one of my favorite parts! And I am sure you can come up with a whole bunch of other fun paraphrases.

Activity 2: Tasting Lab (Practicing Compare and Contrast Phrases)
This is personally my favorite activity. I tried it several times with different students, and every time the effect was just as I expected.

Procedure:

  1. Prepare a variety of snacks. The snacks that I have used include popcorn, chips, peanuts, Skittles, banana chips, cheddar cheese crackers, pretzels, gummy bears, cheesecake bites, and small cookies. You can certainly use healthier snacks (such as small fruit or vegetable pieces); however, be prepared for some mess.
  2. For each round, give a piece of two different snacks to students and ask them to taste them and create two sentences: one describing a similarity and the other one describing a difference between the snacks. Alternatively, you can only ask them for one sentence describing either a similar or a different feature. The characteristics that my students compared in the past included shape, color, flavor, personal like/dislike, and even nutritional value. Leave it up to them.
  3. The next pair of sentences is done for another combination of snacks, and so on. In fact, you can use a great variety of combinations even with a small number of snacks. You can also try making “tricky” combinations to make it more challenging for the students to come up with either a similarity or a difference.
  4. It’s important to remember that for each of their sentences, the students have to use compare and contrast words (similarly, likewise, neither… nor, both… and, however, in contrast, on the other hand, whereas, etc.). Example: “Both banana chips and cheddar cheese crackers are crunchy. Whereas banana chips are sweet, cheddar cheese crackers are salty.”

The rest of the snacks can be eaten after the tasting lab time is over.

Activity 3: Judging Candy (Developing Editing Skills)
You can use the next activity to help students develop their editing skills.

Procedure:

  1. Prepare several kinds of candies (e.g., chocolates of different flavors or taffy of different colors). Alternatively, you can use different types of cookies.
  2. Assign a category to each candy. For example:
    • A problem with word choice
    • A problem with punctuation
    • A problem with citation
  3. Each student will take one candy. Do not disclose the categories to which each type of the candies is assigned until after the students receive their candies.
  4. Display a sample essay on the projector for the review or hand out printed copies.
  5. Each student has to provide an evaluative comment according to the category he/she received. For example, if a student picked the candy with “A problem with word choice,” he/she needs to find a place in the sample essay with a wrong word usage.

A word of caution:
I realize that the use of food may not be possible in some teaching contexts. You may also have students that may have allergies to certain types of snacks (such as nuts). So it’s a good idea to make sure that the activities you are going to implement in your class will not cause any harm.

Hope you and your students will enjoy these activities and realize how truly delicious writing is! Please share any food-related activities that you’ve had success with in your classroom!

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is originally from Russia and has been in the United States for 7 years pursuing her education, most recently her doctorate in second language studies at Purdue University. Elena received her master's in TESOL from Brigham Young University and has taught various ESL classes both in academic and community settings. Currently, she is an instructor of first-year composition courses in the English department at Purdue University.
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One Response to Delicious Writing Activities: Using Food in the Classroom

  1. Michele Brown says:

    While I think these ideas are good and certainly have educational value, I question them for several reasons. First, with the number of food allergies students (people in general) have, you would need to be very careful what you choose for your items. Second, if you have any Muslim students (or any group with food prohibitions), you must take that into consideration when you are planning. Many candies have pork gelatin an ingredient; they cannot be served to those students. Nor can they even touch them. Lastly, given the emphasis on healthy eating choices, why would you create so many activities using junk food?

    Like I said, these are nice ideas with educational value, but ….

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