How many times have you taught a ‘Food’ lesson? Too many times to remember, no? Lessons around topics like this, perhaps:
- Your favourite/worst meal
- Ingredients and cooking
- Traditional food in your country
- Recipes (good one this – maybe a student will come to the next lesson bearing culinary gifts!)
- Eating manners and customs
- Food idioms
- Weird and wonderful dishes around the world
Food is universal to the human condition, and makes for a popular topic, for teachers and students alike. But how often have you taught a lesson about one of the big issues surrounding food? Issues such as food scarcity, food waste, hunger, or obesity, for example?
This is a question posed by the IATEFL Global Issues Special Interest Group (GISIG), who are inviting teachers during the month of October to contribute and share ideas on how ‘we can teach “food” with a conscience’.
When I heard about this event, it immediately caught my attention. For me, as a Director of Studies, I could see the potential for it to work as a school project, a ‘theme’ to really stimulate student engagement on the one hand, and teacher development on the other, and so it ticks a lot of boxes.
For our students, being in central London is one of the key ingredients (sorry, no pun intended!) to their course with us, and we have a great social programme which helps them to make the most of their time in this amazing city. And we have an excellent team of teachers who are, I think, incredibly creative and engaging, and they regularly challenge their learners to reflect on big global issues – but in their own individual lessons. This Food Issues project gives us a cohesive ‘theme’ for a month, and with it the opportunity for teachers of different classes and courses to do things together – it would be interesting for example to get Business English students interviewing a group of General English students, and then putting together a business-style presentation of what they found out – and vice versa.
For our teachers, we offer a lot of different things to promote and stimulate ongoing professional development, such as our internal & external workshop sessions but I am particularly interested in collaborative learning: teachers trying out new ideas in their teaching, and sharing ideas with colleagues – and tapping into personal interests. The GISIG Food Issues month clearly lends itself to experimenting with new topics, creating new materials and trying out new activities, and I have a feeling that most teachers will be engaged by the many possible food issues which could be explored, and will want to share their ideas with each other. I am also really interested to see to what extent our teachers will interact with the online event, and share ideas with teachers around the world.
So, last Thursday, I attempted to launch this as a team project for our school.
As part of our staff meeting, I asked everyone to look at two images and discuss their reactions to them:
[Images credit: https://www.adbusters.org/spoofads/big-mac-attack ]
There was interest, much comment, and it was easy to elicit Food as the underlying theme, and what the potential related issues were.
I then introduced everyone to the GISIG project idea, and we discussed how we could get involved as a school. Some initial suggestions were made, and overall I was really happy with the response.
I followed up the meeting with an email giving everyone the GISIG links, a reminder of the suggested Food Issues, and some initial ideas for how to explore them in class, as follows:
- Is there a topic which catches your attention? Which might engage your students? How could you explore it with them?
- A reading followed by a debate
- Design some spoof ads of your own
- Create a survey to ask other students? To ask Londoners? To interview students elsewhere?
- Presentations of a solution to a problem
- Design a poster
- Create a digital poster? (www.glogster.com)
- Film a news report summarizing an article
- Put together a class magazine
- Create a radio programme
Of course I know that suggesting something in a meeting and an email will not necessarily get buy-in from everyone. And I will not oblige any teacher to teach Food Issues lessons – a ‘command and control’ approach never works effectively when it comes to collaborative learning. But the idea has been ‘launched’. The seed has been planted. I will try to facilitate now – nudge, prompt, suggest – and will try to keep the idea bubbling away and see if it takes off.
I am excited to see how much we can get involved as a team, and a school, and what we can all learn from the project.