Food is a recurring topic in the ESL classroom. Perhaps that is true because food can be used in connection with many topics – personal preference, giving choices, culture, and memories to name just a few.
Whether your students are studying food in relation to native cultures or because you will be taking a fieldtrip to a local restaurant, you can work across the entire ESL curriculum with activities related to food. Here are some ideas that you can use in a typical ESL curriculum when food is what’s on the menu.
How to Teach a Cross-Curricular ESL Unit on Food: More Ideas
You can combine a vocabulary lesson with a field trip with a short jaunt to the local grocery store. After a classroom review of general food vocabulary with your class, send groups of three into the grocery store for a photo scavenger hunt. Challenge each group to find at least one food that starts with each of the letters from A to Z and then take a picture of that food. Set an appropriate time limit and then regather before heading back to the classroom. After the scavenger hunt, have students compile a list of the foods they found in the grocery store and match them to the pictures. If you have the resources, set up a page on your website where your students can post their pictures and the names of the foods. Your entire class can then use this site as a resource for learning new vocabulary!
If you were going to die tomorrow, what would you want for your last meal? You may never have considered the question, and perhaps your students have not considered it either. Pair your students for a discussion on what they might like for their last meal. Ask each person to share why they chose that particular food and what memories are associated with it. Encourage your students to share any other food memories they might have including family meals, holiday celebrations or interesting restaurants on travels.
Though not a traditional composition, having your students write a menu will challenge them to be creative and concise. To start the activity, bring in some menus from local restaurants or print some that are available online. You may even want to have your students bring in some menus the two weeks previous to the activity, or let fellow teachers or parents know that you are collecting menus and ask for their help. On the day of the activity, have groups of three or four students work together to plan a restaurant menu. They will need to include several drinks, four appetizers, four main dishes and two desserts. Encourage them to use the example menus as models from which to organize their menus. For each item on the menu (except the drinks), they should write an appealing description of the dish. It should clearly state what items are in the dish but should also appeal to the sense of taste by using specific adjectives and details, just as a typical menu might provide. If you like, have your students price their items as well and then post the menus on a bulletin board. Allow each student in your class to view the menus and choose which restaurant they think they would prefer.
No matter where you are, if you go to a restaurant you will have to speak. For this reason, a restaurant role play is a perfect fit for a unit on food. Start by brainstorming a list of expressions you and your students have heard at restaurants. You should include phrases like I’ll have the…, What can I get for you? How do you prepare…? Is everything all right over here? Do you need anything else? As you brainstorm, divide the phrases into two lists – one that the wait staff would use and another that the diners would use. When it is time to enter the restaurant if possible, have your students rearrange their desks into smaller “tables” at which they will sit. One person in each group should then play the wait staff, handing out the menus and taking orders from the diners. You can use one or more of the menus your class created in the writing activity for your fictitious restaurant. Then switch roles until each person has had a chance to play the part of the wait staff. Encourage everyone to use the phrases you listed in the brainstorming activity during the role play.
Whether your students enjoy cooking or not, recipes have something to offer them and their language learning. These instructions, which describe the delectable to the dull, are all written in the imperative mood. The imperative, in English, is used to give instructions, advice or commands. Since recipes are instructions on how to create a particular food, they are written in the imperative. Show your students some examples, from magazines, the internet or cook books, and have them note the verb conjugation in the recipe instructions. Remind your class that the imperative is used for giving instructions, and then ask each person to think of a food they know how to make. It might be something simple, like microwaving macaroni and cheese, or it might be something complex from their native country. Much will depend on the age of your students. Ask your students to write the instructions for their recipe using the examples they have been looking at as models. If your students do not have food allergies and you have the resources, you may decide to have a hands on approach to using the imperative. Have groups of students follow your directions for making a dish in class. No cook options include salads, fruit salads and sandwiches, which may be easier for some classrooms. Put your students in groups of three or four and either read them the directions from a simple recipe or have them read the directions themselves. If everyone follows the directions closely, each group should have a similar dish at the end of the activity.
Though some may be hesitant to bring food into the classroom, and some for good reason like allergies, the topic of food lends itself to many different types of activities.
These are only some of the ways you can link food and English as a second language while you fulfill your students’ appetites for English.
How have you successfully brought food into your ESL classroom? What are your favorite food activities?