Food for Thought: Engaging Student
Learning With Each Bite!
By Dana Briggs and Amy Stoops
When attending full day conferences or professional development days,everyone’s
first thoughts are , “when is lunch?” or “what’s for lunch?” Why? Because we LOVE food
and food is most often a social event. We think it would be really hard to find someone
that does not enjoy eating or look forward to the next meal of the day, especially
teenagers! So when we attended our last full-day conference at Wheaton North High
School, we had several options for breakouts to hear a variety of speakers talk about
everything under sun, and one session called “Food!” sounded like a good after lunch
session to attend. If you know anything about the two of us, we take our food very
seriously and have a serious addiction to Skinny Pop. We knew almost nothing about what
the speaker was going to discuss, but we thought we would take a chance and possibly
learn something new and maybe get some free food.
The speaker turned out to be not an educator at all, but a food critic for the Chicago
Tribune. Bill Daley writes for the newspaper as a food critic/writer and often writes
articles about trends in food. (We had no idea there were even trends in foods, but there
are. Currently, pre-Columbus (pre-1492) foods are hot…. Like wild game such as rabbit or
pheasant… cooking with only what was available in 1492…. And he said pig is out!...who
knew?!) Apparently Christopher Columbus completely changed food forever when he
arrived and confused us for India, or wherever he thought he was.
Bill Daley started the session out by giving us each two Oreo cookies. One of us
(but we’re not saying who) gobbled the oreos down before even receiving
directions...FREE FOOD! Then he asked us to write about them. This is where the oreo-
eating culprit panicked. It was that open ended. As the audience tasted, smelled, felt and
even played with the food you could see that everyone was highly engaged with the
activity. When it came time to share what we had wrote, the audience had a variety of
anecdotes to share. Some shared a happy memory, some described how to eat the cookie
properly, some evaluated the cookies, some discussed how Oreos are different and have
different formulas depending on what country you are from, and more. Some teachers
shared that they had not eaten an Oreo in years-- just crazy because they are delicious!
But the one thing we all had in common was that we all had something to say. No one was
left out. Something as simple as two little Oreos had completely brought a group of
teachers from various backgrounds together. Food was that common language.
This led to the main discussion topic- how can we use food, something everyone loves,
this universal language, in our everyday curriculum? The brainstorm started and the room
full of teachers of various contents all agreed that it would be quite easy to do. What a
great pre-writing assessment. Or how about a snapshot of your class in a “get to know
you” activity? How does food digest? Why is sugar bad for you and what does it do to
you? How are calories calculated and what does serving size mean? How do we treat food
in this country? What does food mean to us compared to places where food is scarce?
Why is processed food bad for us or is it? What are the steps to eating an Oreo? What are
memories you have from childhood revolving around food? What are the different ways
people eat and celebrate in different countries? What would the Capulets and Montagues
have eaten at the party celebration? Is 25 minutes too short of a time for high school
students to eat lunch? The list goes on and on.
These chances to experience your students’ writing through the use of food can provide a
non-threatening means to see what your students are capable of. For your most reluctant
writers who commonly say, “I don’t know what to write,” using food will unlock this
writer’s block, because every teenager has an experience with food. They can talk for days
about their memories related to food, what their favorite food is, or describe their
cultural heritage through the foods they grew up around. The beauty of this is that it can
be used in pretty much any content area. Teach Science? Adapt the writing to discuss
what is going on in the body after eating. Teach Social Studies? Make it work by asking the
students to write about what types of foods various cultures may have eaten in different
time periods. The options are endless and delicious. Think about the insight we can gain
about our students when they feel comfortable and confident to write using the universal
language of food.
After we attended, we felt that just about every teacher could use food to engage
students in learning. We have seen a variety of teachers using food for celebratory
purposes or on the first day to get to know students (think take m&ms for each color tell
the class something about you, etc), but how fun to use for content-related curriculum.
While demolishing the free oreos in this breakout session, we gained a wealth of delicious
Now go grab some food, hand it to your kids, ask them to write or discuss, and see what
the power of food in the classroom can do!