How to Teach English Food Cooking Vocabulary


Teaching food and cooking vocabulary words in an English class allows for creative activities that can use realia -- objects or activities that relate classroom teaching to the real life -- as well as student interests and background knowledge. Depending on the age and English proficiency level of the students, lessons can range from physically acting out cooking activities to creating cookbooks.

Total Physical Response

  • Total physical response facilitates language learning through listening to commands and physically responding. It is generally used with young students, because of the physical aspect, but it can benefit beginning language learners of all ages. To teach cooking vocabulary with TPR, first gather props, such as real or toy foods and cooking utensils or flashcards with pictures. Demonstrate actions for the class with the props while saying commands. For example, say, "Chop the potato," while cutting a potato with a knife. Then say, "Put the potato in the pot," while doing so. Next, mime pouring water into the pot with an empty pitcher and say, "Pour water in the pot." Finally, pick up a spoon and say, "Stir the soup," while acting it out. Eventually, give students props so that they can follow your actions and commands and repeat after you.

Reading and Retelling

  • According to a 1995 study in Second Language Research, reading a passage containing vocabulary words and then recalling the words and retelling the story to a classmate or teacher can increase vocabulary retention. To teach cooking vocabulary words by reading and retelling, identify a story, such as "Amelia Bedelia Bakes Off," or a passage in a book, such as "Granny Torrelli Makes Soup," that contains the target vocabulary you would like students to learn. Introduce the target vocabulary, and then read with the students or have them read alone. Have students put the stories away and, in pairs or small groups, take turns retelling the story. Variations include writing the words on the board, passing out pictures to remind students which words to use and having each student read a different story.

Fill in the Blank Exercises

  • A relatively quick exercise for teaching cooking vocabulary is to use fill-in-the-blank exercises. A 2006 study in "TESOL Quarterly" reported that fill-in-the-blank exercises were more effective than original-sentence writing exercises for vocabulary retention. The best results are obtained if students must use each vocabulary word multiple times. You can vary the difficulty of this exercise by placing native language translations or pictures in the target word key alongside the English words, and varying the complexity of the sentences to fill in. For cooking, you can use a recipe activity. Have ingredients or equipment listed at the top, and leave spaces for those words in the recipe instructions.

Task-Based Language Teaching Activities

  • A task-based activity requires students to use language to reach some goal or solve a problem. Using tasks that mirror real-world activities can interest and motivate students. Example tasks include having students follow a recipe to cook something -- or act out cooking something with props, having students relate family recipes to each other and take notes or having students create recipe cards for a class cookbook. Introduce the target vocabulary, give instructions for the goal of the task, give an example, and then circulate the room to assist students as needed.


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