Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Top 10 ESL Activities for Teaching a Unit on Food

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Top 10 ESL Activities for Teaching a Unit on Food

ESL teachers sometimes face challenges unique in the world of education.

One such struggle is bringing together students from all corners of the world. A class that is composed of students from Africa, Asia, Europe and South America may at first sight have very little common ground. Helping these students relate to one another, though, is not impossible. In fact, one of the basic necessities of life – food – is also one of the best ways to bring ESL classes together. Even better, a unit on food is a part of almost every ESL program. Talking about food can provide your students with an opportunity to be creative, practice their language skills, and have fun while also bringing them together. Here are some activities you might want to try when you are teaching a unit on food.

Have Your Students Experience Fresh Activities While Studying Food

  1. 1

    Habits Survey

    How do your students eat on a regular basis? What do they do every day when it comes to food? Noting what foods they typically eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as when they eat them and where will give your students a chance to use the simple present tense. You’re your class some time to write down their daily eating habits. After each person has written down their top three habits for each meal, use the information to take a class poll. Divide your class into three groups, and give each group the class notes for either breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Then have each group tally the habits of their classmates and create visual aid (a bar graph or something similar) to use in a class presentation. Then have each group share with the class what they learned about their classmates in regard to their assigned meal. Make sure that everyone gives a piece of the presentation to get their speaking practice in.

  2. 2

    Restaurant Role Play

    Role plays are a great way to get your students thinking quickly and using language creatively, and a restaurant role play is easy to put together and practical in its application. Have your students create original menus using the food vocabulary you presented in class, or use take out menus from some local restaurants. Have two students sit at a table and play the part of the restaurant patrons. Another student plays the role of server. For the role play, have the server welcome the patrons to the restaurant and then take their orders. The server should also answer any questions the diners have about the food. As they play these parts, your students will put their food language to practical use and will be ready for the next time they decide to eat out.

  3. 3

    Popup Restaurant

    The new trend in the world of fine dining is popup restaurants. These restaurants use an existing restaurant building to host their dining concept for a very short time. They open for only one or two days when the regular restaurant loans out their building. Creating a popup restaurant is a lot of work for everyone in its leadership. Restaurateurs must plan every aspect of the restaurant: the name, the type of food, and the menu. In the professional world, the purpose of these restaurants is often sharing a vision and gaining support from investors. Though your students probably don’t need these things, they do need to practice their language skills. Working with a partner or in a group of three, challenge your students to make plans for a popup restaurant of their own. They will need to use any food and restaurant vocabulary you have taught them as well as the future tenses and conditional tenses to make plans for their very own popup. You can turn the process into a full verb tense review, too, by having students evaluate how successful their popup was. If you like, role play the opening of the popup with your class as the restaurant patrons.

  4. 4

    Cooking Demonstration

    One of my favorite food activities in my ESL classes has been live food demonstrations. I like to give my students opportunities to share about their home cultures, and food is a very practical and eye-opening look into any culture. When I want my students to give a class presentation, and particularly if I want them to practice imperative statements or review food vocabulary, I invite them to do a cooking demonstration in class. I start by giving a demonstration of my own and challenging my students to listen for key vocabulary and information. I sometimes follow my demonstration with a sequencing challenge, and I always follow it by sharing the food that I have made. When I give them the chance, my students do great at their own food demos. I supply a hot plate for them to use in class (if they need it) and they bring in everything else they will need to demonstrate. I also allow students to create their own props for the demonstration if they do not want to use real food or can’t spare the expense. I ask each student to do a 5 minute presentation on how to make a dish from their culture, and the whole class enjoys sampling it afterward. It’s a good speaking activity for my students and a great way to increase cultural sensitivity in the entire class.

  5. 5

    Cooking Show

    If a live demonstration is too much for your students or you don’t have the resources in your classroom to make it happen, having students record their own cooking show will meet many of the same goals. Working in pairs, have students record a cooking demonstration that they do at home, and then play the recording for the class. With video cameras on phones and music devices, it’s not difficult for anyone to make a video and email it so I can play it during class. If you decide to have your students record their demonstrations and then view them in class, make a fun day by having popcorn for the premiers. Give your class a chance to ask questions of the demonstrators and require the demonstrators to answer after each video.

  6. 6

    Restaurant Tour

    For an even more challenging listening activity and a chance to get out of the classroom, plan a tour of a local restaurant for your class. Many restaurant owners are willing to give a tour of their kitchens to school groups, and it’s always good for your students to listen to someone other than their teacher. Talk to the management at one or more restaurants within walking distance of your school (or schedule a bus field trip) and see if one of them would welcome your class for a tour. Have your students prepare by reading the menu and composing some questions about how the food is prepared. After the tour, pull up some chairs and have a casual lunch with your students. Have students share what they learned at the restaurant during a class discussion or for writing homework, and then send one or more thank you cards to the manager after your tour.

  7. 7

    Create a Plate

    If your primary goal is teaching food vocabulary, having your students create a plate of their favorite foods is a good way to bring vocabulary into your classroom that they will also use in real life. Collect a bunch of old cooking magazines (parents or fellow teachers can be great resources for these) and have your students create their ideal plates. Each person should glue pictures of the foods that they love to a paper plate. Then, either review the vocabulary as a whole class or have your students look up the English words for the foods on their plate. This activity is also easy for reviewing holiday or special occasion food. You can give your students copies of food clipart or have them search for pictures of specific foods if you want to limit the potential foods they choose for their plates.

  8. 8

    The Perfect Sandwich

    Have your students create their own card game whose goal is creating the perfect sandwich. Have students work in groups of four to make a deck of cards for the game. (Index cards or cut up card stock will make find playing cards.) Have each group brainstorm as many items as possible for each of the following categories: types of bread, sandwich meats, cheeses, vegetables, condiments used on sandwiches, and things you would never put on a sandwich. Each group should choose five items from each category and ten from the last category and create playing cards for each that include a picture of the (non)food and the vocabulary word. The groups should then put all the cards together, shuffle them, and get ready to play. The game starts by dealing each person five cards and placing the remaining cards in a draw pile. Flip over the first card from the draw pile and play can begin. For their turn, each person picks up one card – either from the draw pile or the discard pile – and then discards another card. The goal is to have one card for each category of the sandwich (bread, meat, cheese, vegetable, and condiment). Play continues around the table until one person has one of each type of card in his hand.

  9. 9

    Healthy Eating

    What does it mean to eat healthy? Put your students in groups of three to discuss what is important for healthy eating habits. Then bring a real life reading activity into the classroom by teaching your students how to read nutrition labels from some common foods. Also, give your students a copy of the food pyramid and have them share their thoughts on following it. After they have read the pyramid and some familiar food labels, have groups discuss whether it is easy or difficult to eat healthy both at home and in the U.S. Close the activity by having each group write their top ten rules for eating healthy.

  10. q

    It’s in the Bag

    Have your students make predictions about how well different foods are packaged in this hands on experiment. Bring a collection of differently packaged foods into your classroom (try an assortment including an individual box of cereal, a granola bar, a small bag of chips, a juice box, a slice of processed cheese, etc.) and ask your students to predict how each package will hold up when submerged in a bucket of water. Using the simple future, students can predict what will happen to each package and the food inside it. Once everyone has written their predictions, put each package to the test by holding it under water for sixty seconds. Remove it from the water and have students observe the packages and the food inside them. Then, have students use the simple past to write what happened to each package and whether their predictions were correct.

Do you have any favorite and/or unusual activities that you do when teaching a unit on food?

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