Hi there! I’m Rachel Haltiwanger from The Cozy Learning Cottage, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to post on Minds in Bloom! I’ve spent my whole teaching career teaching elementary English learners either here in the US or abroad, and one of my favorite ways to integrate content, language skills, and collaborative learning is through cooking activities in the classroom. While these activities are great for vocabulary and syntax for my ESL students, they’re actually a fantastic hands-on approach to learning for all kids!
Now, before you assume that cooking would be too difficult in your school building or too messy for your students, let me explain my situation: I teach non-English speakers in a portable classroom outside the school building without running water. I have half a classroom out there with two tables and no desks, and we cook all the time! It’s not as complicated as you’d think, and if I can do it, then you can do it.
When I tell my coworkers that we’re going to be cooking out in the cozy learning cottage again today, this is the question I get most asked. “Why are you cooking? Is that really rigorous learning?” I started cooking in my classroom because I needed to teach my students essential food vocabulary, and talking about actual food is the best way for them to retain that. We made fruit salad after reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, mixed trail mix to learn snack food words like pretzels and popcorn, and by then, we were all hooked. My students love cooking and ask regularly when our next cooking project will be.
One of the unexpected bonuses of cooking in my classroom is how much it gets my students talking to each other. We usually make cooking groups or partnerships, and they have to read the recipe together, discuss how much of each ingredient they need, and even simply ask that their partner “pass the sugar, please.” It’s fantastic and realistic language practice, and it requires students to apply what they’ve been learning in my class.
As my students have grown in their English proficiency, we have added more and more academic standards, including science and math concepts. I’ve found that they retain what we’ve learned through these collaborative learning experiences far better than any other lesson I could have designed.
So What Do You Do?
Cooking does require a lot of preparation. You need to make sure you have enough of each ingredient and tool for each group to use, and I try to have them separated into boxes or bags in advance for each group. I make word cards to pre-teach all of the words in the recipe that they might not know (you can download a free copy of my vocabulary cards and my recipe for pumpkin mug cake here), and I label all of the ingredients in their bag or box.
The first few times we cook, we keep everyone on the same step at the same time. We read the recipes together, and I watch each group’s progress throughout. By this point in the year, however, we quickly review our expectations for partner work, and students are ready to work together on their own. I have “Before You Begin” predictions and questions for them to work on, then they make their recipe, and finally, they answer reflection questions and write a journal entry and “review” of their cooking.
They are always in charge of the clean up, and we assign jobs for it: Trash Collector, Wiper Downer, Tidy Upper, etc.
How Do You Integrate Content?
Often we will do our cooking activity as a celebration of the end of a unit. For example, we make our pumpkin cake recipe at the end of a unit on pumpkins in the fall. Most of my students have never tasted pumpkin pie or pumpkin bread, so after a week of studying how pumpkins grow, they’re excited to finally get to taste some.
Other times I use cooking to explicitly address math and science standards about measurement. We compare amounts of each ingredient required, predicting which one is smallest first, then measuring them all out to check our guesses. Cooking has given my students an excellent understanding of the relative size of measurements of volume, which is a third grade standard in my state.
We’ve also created experiments with some of our simpler recipes, testing if our fruit salad tastes different if you toss all the fruit in orange juice, or if salted popcorn vs. unsalted popcorn makes a difference in the trail mix. My students now always want to experiment with our recipes and write up the differences, which gives them a basic understanding of the scientific method.
Cooking is a fun and engaging way for my students to apply what they’ve been learning, and it has fostered community and love of learning in ways I couldn’t have imagined in my classroom. If you’re looking to dip your toe into cooking in the classroom and try it out, I highly recommend the pumpkin mug cake recipe freebie above, or check out my blog or TpT store for other ideas.
Rachel Haltiwanger is the author of the blog The Cozy Learning Cottage where she shares ESL strategies and resources from outside the school building. To find more of her resources (including more freebies!), visit her TpT store or visit her on Facebook, Twitter, or follow her Pinterest boards!