• Anita Demitroff

Now You’re Cookin’

Cooking activities can play a crucial role in language learning and CLIL. In this post, we look more closely at the benefits. Here are six reasons why cooking is worth it, despite the mess, expense and health and safety concerns.

1. Cooking is the best way to get our learners to try new foods.

If learners are part of the cooking process, they are more likely to eat something outside their normal diet. Also, as Jamie Oliver demonstrated in his TV shows, being involved in the growing and cooking of food creates a sense of ownership that makes youngsters more willing to have a taste.

We saw this when we made rainbow pizzas with a variety of veggies. Both the teenage on-line groups at You First and the little ones in Learning Space fell for this trick. It was amazing to see how one brave four-year-old munched a raw spinach leaf and the others then followed suit. More surprisingly, only one out of twelve children spat it out. Cooking helps us learn to get our hands dirty again and to see foods in their more basic and unpackaged form.

2. It gives learners a sense of achievement as they master basic skills.

In a soft CLIL class, the objective is to improve learners' grasp of the target language, but cooking in a foreign language is also a high value-added activity.

Something as simple as cracking an egg may not be part of our learners’ daily experience.

What's more, as observed by Daría Fernández, You First’s French teacher, it’s not just our Pre-primary and Primary students who are clueless in the kitchen.

If we focus on that one task, cracking an egg, we notice that it is first a question of having a go and showing we can all do it. Self-confidence is key. If we never try, we can’t learn a new skill. It is also important to remember that we need to practise doing something new over time. Our three-year-olds were messy with eggs, but they got so much better by the following year, which means they will be expert egg-crackers when they eventually make crepes with Daría in Secondary French.

By the way, quail eggs are a good starting point for little hands. We opened some to see what was inside and then peeled others after they had been hard-boiled. The glee in our learners’ eyes as they just popped them into their mouths was a pleasure to witness. The same can be said of making juice from tangerines and not oranges. The children could hardly wait for the liquid to collect in the juicer!

3. It’s not just a question of improving basic hand skills but also of deepening learners’ knowledge of Maths, Science and even Art.

For one thing, a process is a process. We have to get our equipment and materials ready, follow instructions, resolve problems and add our own touch. Those same steps are followed in an Art project or a Science experiment. Moreover, seeing a process unfold is the first step towards literacy. If we take part in a process first-hand, we are better prepared for describing it on paper afterwards.

And of course, we can try our hand at measuring, mixing and melting: just a few of the topics covered in the curriculum. Indeed, I can’t see how we can teach these concepts without a practical application and the kitchen is a world unto itself. Looking for simple machines? Open the kitchen utensil drawer and explore. For example, if there’s a nutcracker in there, show learners how it works as a lever and then do a simple experiment: try breaking open a walnut in your bare hands and then do the same with two walnuts in one or two hands. You will be surprised by the result! Or maybe you want to explore weight and volume? Take out a measuring cup with the volumes marked for certain ingredients and then contrast these measurements with the same quantities on a kitchen weighing scale.

4. Cooking and gastronomy promote learning about culture.

Once we have started to open our minds to new ingredients, we may be braver in trying food from other countries as a part of the Social Science curriculum.

We have a summer camp video of a child trying a chocolate-covered ant: insects are a source of dietary protein in many parts of the world. Of course, he wasn’t pleased when mum found out about his brave act because as he had tried eating a bug, she suggested he should give spinach another chance.

New experiences are within our reach in the multicultural communities we live in. Children might dismiss information about an unknown culture that they see in a video, but coming face-to-face with it might have a different effect on them.

5. Health and safety is not just for the teacher to think about; learners become aware, too.

Food intolerances and allergies can be part of the Science curriculum and also inform English lesson routines. And as agency is about making learners part of the process, how can we overcome an obstacle like not being able to use a certain ingredient? How can we involve learners in exploring the alternatives?

How can we get around the restrictions of not having a professional kitchen? Or how can we make our activities Covid-safer? Perhaps we could flip the classroom and do the cooking at home? Another idea is to simulate the process with mime; one student is the You Tube narrator and the other does the actions.

6. Foster creativity and inquisitive minds.

Utensils are useful. Chopsticks can serve as a musical instrument (a cheaper alternative to claves) or as a prop to re-enact a narrative with sound effects and actions. Pieces of common cookware or strange cooking equipment help learners make suppositions. What is it? What is it used for? Or, more simply, what can we do with it? Lastly, taste and smell tests are a wonderful way of working with limited resources and within restrictions.

Although many of us had been fans of cooking before the pandemic, we may have been too easily put off by the labour-intensive nature of bringing it into the classroom. Care must be taken and the cost of both ingredients and energy has gone up, but kitchen Science, Maths and Art open up a whole new world of opportunities and there are many arguments in favour of kitchen-inspired learning.

By Ana Demitroff

Ana has been in the classroom longer than she cares to admit, but she still gets a kick from the experience and continues to learn from her colleagues and students at the You First Language Centre.