• Anita Demitroff

Tempting Learners Back: A Project Based On Chocolate!


By the time our learners reach late Primary and early Secondary, they are bombarded with grammar and the sentence-level drilling that reinforces it. However, an occasional project on a high-interest topic helps tie in all these loose elements so that learners can produce cohesive texts and … re-discover the pleasure of language learning. What topic is almost universally popular? Chocolate, of course! Not only is chocolate interesting; activities around this theme can reinforce Mathematics and Science, as well as learning to learn and life skills.


As our learners go up the system, grammar plays a more crucial role. As they approach abstract thinking, young learners can start to understand grammatical rules and systems. Moreover, Primary English teachers often want to prepare their pupils for the next step, while their counterparts in early Secondary revise the foundations of grammar to ensure everyone is on board for the next phase. At the same time, families may be anxious for their children to take part in external exams. It is only natural for teachers to take their learners’ needs seriously.


However, we are all aware of the dangers of too much sentence-level drilling. As learners move abruptly from one structure to the next, they may have a weak hold on each and tend to blur the components of each phrase. Another danger is that we focus so much on how to make up the different structures that we tend to overlook the slow process of guiding our pupils on when to use them. And we place more emphasis on accuracy over fluency and communicative effectiveness. These are the reasons for counterbalancing this approach with a mini-project that has several communicative tasks.


Young learners are often avid consumers with very fixed ideas about which brands are their favourites. Moreover, in our experience, they prefer milk over dark chocolate. Indeed, we should start proceedings with a brainstorm on how much we already know about this topic: the kinds, the brands, its origins, the production process and its uses. As a warmer, they may do a “find the question” pair work exercise in which interesting facts are presented. Pupil A reads the answers and Pupil B finds the questions.By the way, now is an excellent moment to ensure everyone pronounces the key word using two syllables and not three!

Young learners are often avid consumers with very fixed ideas about which brands are their favourites. Moreover, in our experience, they prefer milk over dark chocolate. Indeed, we should start proceedings with a brainstorm on how much we already know about this topic: the kinds, the brands, its origins, the production process and its uses. As a warmer, they may do a “find the question” pair work exercise in which interesting facts are presented. Pupil A reads the answers and Pupil B finds the questions.By the way, now is an excellent moment to ensure everyone pronounces the key word using two syllables and not three!

Grammar isn’t absent from the proceedings, but content plays the leading role. For example, with a chocolate tasting, pupils reinforce comparatives and superlatives, along with modals. In order to determine which brand makes the best chocolate, the class has to define their criteria. This is a good thinking exercise for comparative testing in Science. Their guidelines could be organised around the five senses: how should chocolate look, smell, feel in the hand and mouth and taste? Remember to keep the receipt from the supermarket so that unit price helps determine the most expensive and cheapest varieties. Indeed, a Maths follow-up is to examine what unit price is and why it’s important.


Of course, this kind of hands-on activity ushers in the post-pandemic classroom and we will soon see how older learners are also hankering after a more dynamic and multisensory approach! This is also a perfect opportunity to look into the raw materials that produce the tastes we are so accustomed to. Many learners have not seen a vanilla pod, for instance; bringing one in is worth the small expense. Another aspect learners may not know is where these products come from and how they may be affected by social events, like a war (affecting Ukrainian wheat), or climate change, because of which specific crops like cocoa are in danger.

A further link between the sciences and this topic is processes. There are excellent videos, like this one that show how chocolate can be produced from the cocoa pod, or how truffles are made in a factory. Listen out for the small and endearing mistakes the French-speaking chocolatier makes in English.


However, be wary of our temptation to jump into the passive tense with exercises. In our experience, late Primary is a good moment to make learners aware of what a process text looks like and how it is introduced and sequenced. Rather than going into the details of the passive tense with follow-up exercises, it may be more opportune to approach this as a reading comprehension and text recognition exercise. We should also consider the following questions. How can we ensure that learners understand the steps? How can we infer the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary? How do we know it’s a process text and how does it compare with one from their first language(s) in terms of language?

We have gone from hands-on to text-based and now it’s time to go back again, with a cooking class. One advantage of doing this kind of project with older learners is that they are already autonomous in the kitchen. Many enjoy cooking at home and will have a go with a recipe. This teaches us how to prepare for practical tasks: in this case, getting out our utensils and ingredients. Measuring, perhaps an abstract concept up to now, comes into play. Which units are being used? How do we measure? By volume with a jug marked with quantities for different ingredients or with a scale? As they finish making brownies or biscuits, for instance, they also have to take that extra step to ensure that the kitchen has been tidied up afterwards.


Of course, how far we go with this topic will depend on the constraints we face in terms of time, external exam pressure and content load. One possible way to squeeze these activities in is to ask language assistants to work along these lines rather than just provide extra controlled practice with structures. Another is to set up a project with your colleagues in other subject areas. The end result is the same: we provide real contexts in which our learners activate the language we teach, we boost other skills and we remind everyone that learning can be sweet!


Which topics do your learners love? We’d love to hear about them!


By Ana Demitroff


Bio: 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.