Most ESL teachers at one point or another have covered a vocabulary unit on food.
Sometimes, beginning students cover food in early units. Other times, intermediate or advanced students have an opportunity to review and expand their food vocabulary as it ties into other material they are covering. You can help your students solidify this vocabulary and give them an opportunity to use it in context with these food related activities that span the ESL curriculum. If you are teaching beginning students, you may want to simplify these activities, but intermediate and advanced students will benefit not only from the vocabulary review but also from the challenge of using it in real contexts.
How to Teach a Cross-Curricular ESL Unit on Food
You may choose to begin your unit on food with some independent reading time in class. If you have internet access, direct your students to search for information about the food pyramid. For more advanced students, you may let them work independently while intermediate and beginning students work in groups. Direct them to this article on the history of the food pyramid or encourage them to find their own information about the pyramid; much is available online. As they research, your students should be looking for information on when and why the food pyramid was developed as well as the appropriate way to use it. Once students have finished their research, ask each person to talk about how well or poorly he follows the guidelines set forth in the food pyramid.
Once your students have become familiar with the food pyramid, they will be able to make more informed decisions about their own food choices. They will be able to weigh the advantages and disadvantages any food has in comparison with another. This is the perfect time to introduce or review comparative adjectives in your grammar class. Start with a class brainstorming session in which your students list as many adjectives that describe taste as they can. You can also add new, unfamiliar words to their list. Be sure your final list includes words about flavors such as salty and bitter, words about quality such as healthy and rich, and words about opinion such as tasty and delicious. Then review with your class how to form comparative adjectives, by adding the –er suffix to the end of adjectives of one or two syllables or by using “more” before an adjective of three or more syllables. Note that there are exceptions to this rule and list some for your students. In pairs, your students can then compare different food items with a partner using comparative adjectives. For example, one student might say, “Coffee is healthier than soda.” The second student might answer with, “Apples are sweeter than lemons.” This partner work will serve double duty as vocabulary and grammar review.
You students have learned about the food pyramid, they have learned how to use comparative adjectives, and it is time for them to put all of these pieces together. In your writing class, challenge your students to write about what they think is important when it comes to food. Is it better to eat healthy or to choose food according to flavor and enjoyment? Whatever their opinion, your students should write their ideas in one to two paragraphs. Ask each person to include specific examples of good choices that he or she would make and to use comparative adjectives when doing so.
Even the food pyramid says that people should enjoy small and infrequent portions of their favorite, unhealthy foods, and ice cream may be one of the most popular of those items. Ask each person to share her favorite ice cream flavor with the class, and once your students’ mouths are watering, show them this YouTube video on Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream. In the segment, a reporter travels to Ben and Jerry’s Vermont production facility to learn about how the ice cream is made. In the video, the reporter and his guests mention several ingredients Ben and Jerry’s either uses in its ice cream or is considering for future flavors. Show the video to your students to see how much they can understand after one time through. Ask comprehension questions and elicit a summary of the video from the class. Once their stomachs stop rumbling, ask your students how many different ingredients the video mentions, and play it for them again. You may then choose to play the video a third time and let them check their answers.
Ben and Jerry’s is known for their creativity in new and unusual ice cream flavors and combinations. You can give your students a chance to think out of the carton with this activity. In groups have your students come up with original ice cream flavors. Each group should discuss as many possibilities as they can think of and then decide on their own original combination. You might encourage each group to choose one basic ice cream flavor, one sauce like mix in (such as fudge sauce or caramel) and two or more solid mix ins (like cookies or candy pieces) which will give them concoctions similar to Ben and Jerry’s. Then, each group should come up with a commercial to advertise their original ice cream dream concoction. Either have your students perform their commercials live or record them and show them all to the class.
When the unit is finished, what better time is there to have a food festivity in class?
Bring in a few cartons of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to share or ask students to bring in snacks or native dishes. Of course, keep in mind any allergies your students may have and enjoy the close of the unit.
Have Ben and Jerry won you over with an ice cream flavor? Which one is your favorite?
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