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December 4, 2013 Yummy Family Traditions! A Class Cookbook and Feast By Alycia Zimmerman
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

    Studying recipes as a reading genre is a great way to focus my students’ waning “Decemberitis” attention spans. (They are actually legit procedural, or “how-to” texts, after all.) And applying this genre knowledge to writing our own class cookbook makes for a lovely holiday gift to my students’ families. We follow this with a multicultural holiday feast, a secular way to celebrate community and family traditions together.






    Some students proudly model traditional clothing and customs at our feast. 


    Part 1: Reading Recipes — A “How-To” Genre Study

    I spend too much time ogling the photos on cooking blogs and scrolling through recipe boards on Pinterest, especially when I’m supposed to be <ahem> lesson planning. Recipe reading makes up a sizable chunk of my reading life, especially in December when I’m on the hunt for the perfect holiday cookie recipes. (If it has butterscotch morsels, I’m sold.)

    To start this mini-unit, I share my interest in recipes with my students by showing them an enormous stack of cookbooks I own — and it turns out that this is a burgeoning interest for many of my students as well. Last year I was surprised at how many celebrity chefs my students knew and how excited they were to talk about recipes! I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised — what third grader doesn’t love to eat?!

    My students analyze recipes and other procedural texts and look for common features. (We call them “How-To Texts” with my students — formally, they are called procedural texts.) I make sure that they compare the differences between narrative texts, informational texts, and procedural texts; learn about the features of procedural texts; and I teach several mini-lessons on sequencing and procedural transitions words. (This is also a good time to sneak in a bit of test prep — there is often a procedural text on our state ELA exam.)

    I also make sure that my students have plenty of time to explore and try out various procedural texts, from origami directions to craft projects to no-bake recipes. Learning to follow complex written directions without adult help is a challenge for third graders!

    These are some of the charts my students made while learning about the How-To Text genre:



    Part 2: Judging the Top Chefs (or Cookbook Authors)

    Before we write the recipes for our class cookbook, I want to make sure that my students understand the difference between a great I-gotta-try-it recipe and a blah recipe. I could go over a recipe rubric with my students, but signing them on as acquisitions editors for the make-believe YumYum Publishing Company is way more fun!

    A recipe scored by a student editor receives a 6/10 rating and suggestions for improvements.

    We first discuss what a publishing company is, how publishers might choose books to publish, and I explain the role of the acquisitions editor. (The acquisitions editor or commissioning editor sorts through book proposals to decide or advise about which authors to offer publishing contracts.)

    Within this fictional context, the students evaluate a selection of cruddy to stellar recipe “proposals” using the “publishing company’s” evaluation criteria. My students took their editorial jobs very seriously while they debated the merits of various recipes. Best of all, by the end of this lesson, my students knew what was required for a cookbook worthy recipe.

    Download the YumYum Publishing Company Recipe Evaluation Project Guidelines.


    Part 3: Collect Recipes!

    This part works better with parent support. My students’ families were happy to help the children pick an important family recipe, type it up at home, and email it to me. (Digital recipes saved me a time consuming step — all I had to do was format the recipes for consistency.) Here is the letter I sent home to the families explaining the cookbook project: Download my cookbook and feast family letter.

    I had the students write the introductions for their recipes at school to make sure they had the students’ authentic voices, (i.e. without parent input). I asked the students to include their personal feelings about their recipe, family traditions or memories about the recipe, information about the cultural/geographic significance of their recipe, and tips for cooks trying out the recipe. These recipe introductions are my favorite part of the cookbook — the students’ personalities shine through.

    Here is the template I used to format the recipes. I’d just copy and paste the appropriate info into each section.

    This is the cover from our cookbook this year.

    You can download a Microsoft Word version of this cover and change the text for your class.


    Part 4: Feast Time!

    Our multicultural feast is a highlight for my students, their families, and the faculty. With students hailing from six continents and a range of cultures, they feel positively daring when sampling foreign delicacies from their friends. I ask each family to bring in one dish that represents their country of origin, religion, cultural traditions, or just a family favorite. I encourage the students to get involved helping with the food preparations. Then all of the families are invited to school to travel the world through our taste buds!

    I ask each student (or their families) to fill out a card with info about his or her dish for the feast. We place the cards next to each dish to share info about each food item, as well as to provide guidance about allergens and dietary restrictions.

    Download the feast information card. (I glue this onto cardstock to display at the feast.)

    Some students wear traditional clothes for the feast. Others bring flags or cultural artifacts. The students also make globes using paper lanterns as feast decorations.

    How do you celebrate the winter holidays with your students? Do you have tasty holiday traditions at your school? Share your suggestions and stories in the comments section below. Happy holidays and bon appetit!

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