Future Foodies Unite! Fostering 21st Century Skills in the Language Classroom

Using ACTFL’s 21st Century Skills Map as our guide, how can we strengthen the ways we teach recurring cultural themes such as food? Food seems to be a favorite topic of our students and many of us teach a unit on food or often incorporate it into our lessons. We’ve chosen to look at food here, but any theme can benefit from high and low tech activities that scaffold and spiral functional grammar while also fostering our students’ 21st Century Skills. The Skills Map helps us update our classrooms (“this is now, that was then”) and make worthwhile changes to curriculum.

In a thematic unit based on understanding cultural perspectives related to the culinary arts around the world, an appropriate culminating performance assessment (adaptable to different levels) could be centered around preparing recipes from other countries: identifying and describing foods, measurements, and cooking methods as well as the cultural contexts in which these recipes are prepared and eaten. Students can participate in many high tech/low tech activities to build mastery of the necessary vocabulary and structures. Below are suggestions of activities that can be adapted to different levels of proficiency by varying the tasks asked of students. They can also help develop our students’ Social and Cross-Cultural Skills as defined by ACTFL:

“Students as adept language learners understand diverse cultural perspectives and use appropriate socio-linguistic skills in order to function in diverse cultural and linguistic contexts.

These students are:

  • Working appropriately and productively with others.
  • Leveraging the collective intelligence of groups when appropriate.
  • Bridging cultural differences and using differing perspectives to increase innovation and the quality of work.”

In preparation for the performance assessment, students can begin with interpretive activities in which they are asked to identify, recognize, and categorize food vocabulary and cooking actions.

High tech:

  • Explore Pinterest and websites for cultural comparisons of recipes and foods.
  • Use photos from What the world eats on an interactive whiteboard so students and the teacher can interact with the picture by drawing on it, counting foods, naming foods, etc.
  • Show online photos of the contents of a refrigerator from the target culture and ask students to check off on a list the items they see or draw up their own list (a Google image search of “my fridge” in the target language, e.g. mein Kühlschrank, mi refrigerador, will bring up many examples). The items can then be grouped according to which food groups they belong to, which meals of the day they might be used (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, or dessert), which recipes they might be used in, which ones would or wouldn’t be found in the students’ homes (cultural comparisons), etc. Two or more refrigerators from the target culture could also be compared to draw inferences about their owners’ preferences and habits (cultural practices and perspectives).

Low tech:

Whenever introducing food vocabulary, it is very effective to supplement visuals with realia. Consider bringing into class at least one or two real ingredients from a recipe. For example, a video of a passion fruit offers more data than a photo – we can hear the sound of it being cut open and its juicy center being released – but handling a real one will add texture, smell, and taste. When our students’ five senses are activated, so is their memory (and hopefully their passion!).  Each food item will also suggest specific useful vocabulary that will be more easily retained when experienced firsthand, in this case: (wrinkled) skin, (inedible) shell, (edible) seeds, (serrated) knife, (scoop out with a) spoon, etc.

Students can participate in close reading activities of photos or texts of authentic recipes to discuss what items need to be purchased to properly prepare these recipes. They can also be asked to do inventories of ingredients in their home and/or at local ethnic grocery stores to identify available items. They can then develop modifications to simplify the preparation of these recipes if any items are not locally available.

IMG_0216The interpretive activities above can be followed by interpersonal-speaking activities in which students orally describe and discuss food and its preparation and consumption incorporating the new vocabulary and structures.

High tech:

Display photos of a wide variety of common food items from the target culture on an interactive whiteboard. Ask students to discuss the items they have tried, describing them in as much detail as possible and sharing their preferences, and then discuss the items they haven’t tried and sharing whether (and why) they would be willing to or not. Students can then “adopt” an item, find someone who doesn’t like it or is unsure of trying it, and try to convince them to try it. A follow-up discussion could explore in which ways and to what extent food preferences are personal and cultural in origin.

Low tech:

Use toy foods and grocery bags to create shopping role plays, possible meals from various ingredients, shopping lists of ingredients they don’t have in their “kitchen”, asking and answering likes and dislikes, etc.

Working in pairs, students can choose one dish from a list of dishes and find out the ingredients and steps for preparing it. They can then describe its preparation to another pair of students (or the whole class) who have to figure out which dish it is.

Once students have become more confident using the vocabulary and structures through the interpretive and interpersonal-speaking activities, they can tackle presentational-speaking tasks. Providing multiple options for presentation format offers students  freedom to design their performance their own way and therefore encourages risk-taking communicatively, collaboratively, and creatively.

High tech:

After viewing and analyzing various clips of authentic cooking shows from the around the world, students can design their own cooking show using tech tools of their choice to record and edit. A variation could be to prepare a public service announcement on healthy eating or a commercial.

As a follow-up to What the world eats or the refrigerator activity, students can use the photos to imagine and present a profile of the family and their daily activities.

Low tech:

Students can give a live performance of the cooking show in the classroom.

Heritage learners may prepare family recipes to share with their classmates. They can interview family members in order to present the cultural practices and perspectives that are associated with the recipes.

Students may prepare and share foods both at home and in the classroom that their families and friends have never tried. This “slow-food” assignment can be simple: with other students, friends and/or family, shop for and prepare a recipe from scratch and then share the meal together. Ask students to document the process and then DSCN0848present about their experience to the class (supplementing if desired with a high tech slideshow application or a low tech poster board).


Because of its central role in all cultures, food affords us an excellent opportunity to reflect on the practices and products of the target culture while integrating the diversity of perspectives within our own community and that of the target culture. We hope the above activities in all three modes will whet your appetite for creating juicy high and low tech activities and assessments for your hungry students!

Creative Commons License
The photos on this page are by Larry Kuiper and are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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