Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty. It’s about identity.
Let’s face it, as language teachers, at some point or another, we all teach about food. Maybe it’s because food is an easy, tangible topic, or because it’s easy to connect to our students’ lives. Or maybe we’re all just hungry. But I tend to agree with Louise Fresco—food is about identity.
We have strong memories of favorite family recipes and foods traditionally eaten at the holidays. So how do I evoke these strong emotions associated with food in my third grade students during a standard fruit unit? Is it possible to get across the importance of food in cultural identity with novice level learners? To answer these questions, I would have to go beyond asking students to memorize the list of fruits found in my curriculum.
After spending a few class sessions learning the names of fruits and how to describe them with basic adjectives (small, round, juicy, sweet…), I gathered my class to the reading rug to share one of my favorite third grade stories—La sorpresa de Nandi. In this story, a young girl in Africa decides to surprise her friend by bring her a basket full of local fruits. As she walks to her friends house, animals keep stealing the fruits from her basket one by one until it is empty. The story ends with a great surprise to both Nandi and her friend Tindi, but you wont find any spoilers here.
Prior to reading the story, we had a class discussion in Spanish about the cover of the book where I asked my students to describe what they saw:
- What do you see on the book cover?
- What colors did the illustrator use?
- Where do you think girl lives? Why?
- What fruits do you see?
It is when the students started naming the fruits that the conversation got interesting. They correctly identified the pineapple and orange, but couldn’t figure out the four other fruits. A green pear? A red apple? A plum, lemon, grape, tomato…? Even after they had exhausted their Spanish and began to excitedly shout out guesses in English, they still didn’t know what Nandi was carrying.
The suspense created by discussing the book cover gave my students great motivation to listen to the story. They loved discovering the new tropical fruits (passionfruit, guava, mango and avocado for the curious ones out there) and found humor in the story (not an easy task for novice speakers). And with such energy and enthusiasm generated from the cover of this book alone, I knew we couldn’t just say goodbye to Nandi when we closed the book.
By the end of the lesson, I began mentally planning out subsequent lessons and a possible interdisciplinary project about La Sorpresa de Nandi. But, just like my students, you’ll have to wait until next time to see what happens. Make sure to come back next week to hear more about how Nandi inspired my students to develop intercultural competence!