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How can instructors use cooking classes to infuse culture into the classroom?

by Colleen Ebacher

How can you use cooking to infuse culture and strengthen language skills in your classroom? Program activities typically include a unit on food, shopping, or daily/family life. Have you considered asking students to connect food related content to their lives and perspectives? They could compare and contrast their experiences and understandings to that of their classmates.

The Empanada Cooking Class

This empanada cooking class can raise a number of cultural topics that can be connected to any of these units:

  • American contributions to world cuisine: bean, tomato, corn, potato, cacao, avocado, squash, pumpkin, papaya, pineapple, pecans, vanilla and coffee (among others).
  • American contributions to agricultural production. For example, the Americas today produce two thirds of world coffee production. Ecuador is a major producer of cacao producing some 70% of the world’s highest quality cacao. Peru exports nearly 500 tons of native potato a year with 4,000 varieties of native potatoes grown in the Andean highlands of Peru.
  • The ways in which farmers in the Americas are innovating to care for the environment and each other. For example, Costa Rican coffee producers are pioneers in organic coffee production, the development of fair-trade cooperatives, and ecotourism.
  • The impacts of Caribbean, Central and South American as well as Spanish cuisine on United States diet: from the Argentine or Chilean empanada, to the Mexican taco, Spanish ceviche and Peruvian roast chicken.
  • Cultural practices of food and meals and how these are the same and different from the learner’s experiences including mealtimes, meal preparation, and family/friend practices of sharing meals.

Suggestion: Ask students to connect these food related contributions to their lives and perspectives and to compare and contrast to their experiences and understandings.

Strengthen language and grammar skills through food: Share the cooking class and/or recipe for empanadas and grow and reinforce vocabulary and lexical variety around food preparation, practices and consumption. Use the empanada recipe to teach grammatical structures.

  • At the beginning and intermediate levels, grow food vocabulary by adding less commonly taught words present in the recipe to essential vocabulary: vinagre, canela, porotos negros enlatados, cuchara de madera, batir…
  • At any level of language learning, use the empanada recipe to discuss lexical variety and its connection to local and regional practices. Corn: maíz also called elote (Central American and Mexico) and choclo (South America including Argentina). Bean: frijol (Latin America), judía (Spain), alubía (Spain), habichuela (Andres, Caribbean, Spain), poroto (South Cone including Argentina), and caraota (Venezuela). Sweet potato: camote (Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica and Central America) and batata (Argentina, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic)
  • At the intermediate and advanced level of language learning, use the recipe to teach or reinforce commands. Recipes provide an excellent opportunity to practice commands. While it is common to use the usted form, ask students to identify the commands and replace them with tú, ustedes, vosotros, and/or nosotros
  • In the Spanish translation class or an advanced grammar class, ask students to translate the recipe. Ask them to translate the recipe from English using the commands form, then the passive voice (also commonly used for recipes in Spanish). Use this exercise to reinforce each grammar concept and illustrate the differences between the command form and passive voice. Share the Spanish translation and ask students to note and explain any differences in translation with their own translation.

Suggestion: Ask students to share and compare their favorite recipes. Do their favorite foods and recipes include regional vocabulary and/or expressions? Use recipes to reinforce vocabulary for numbers (useful at any level of language learning).

Teach a mini-lesson

Sample lesson. Level: Intermediate I. Textbook: Enfoques.  The “Let’s Get Cooking!” empanada recipe experience provides a cultural context for the presentation and practice of commands (Enfoques 4.2 p. 140-141) and a lesson in preparation for the cultural reading in the next chapter on “La ruta del café” (p. 172-173)

Learning Content: Formal (Ud. and Uds.) commands, familiar () commands, nosotros/as commands.

Homework: Students read and practice the command forms as presented in Enfoques and through Supersite.

Class (in-person and/or remote):

  1. Share the empanada recipe in Spanish in written form and/or prepare live or share recorded recipe. Alternative: share the recorded empanada video (or portion) then introduce the written translated empanada recipe.
  2. Students identify command forms in the print version of the empanada recipe and identify the infinitives for each verb. Ask students to conjugate the infinitives to the other command forms studied in the lesson (tú, Uds., and/or nosotros/as).
  3. Connect the recipe to American contributions to world cuisine with a focus on the bean and corn. Share lexical variations of each word. Make note of Argentine vocabulary in the lesson: poroto, batata, patata, choclo, palo de amasar…
  4. Play the video recorded recipe preparation with no sound asking students to provide commands in the form for each step of preparation while viewing.

 Download the recipe

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