Students typically don’t have exposure to recipes unless they take home economics in middle or high school. Shouldn’t all students be able to read and follow a recipe? Why are we waiting to introduce them to cooking and recipes until middle or high school? I believe that recipes can, and should, be introduced to students as soon as they begin school. Using recipes in the classroom can increase literacy, provide hands-on ways to use math in daily life, and can help students develop socially.
Reading Recipes Requires Reading
Anytime students are reading, they are improving their literacy. This is true, even if they are reading recipes out of a cookbook! Recipes are a form of non-fiction text and are a great way to meet any language arts standards that requires students to read expository or informational works. Teaching a mini-unit with recipes is a great way to reinforce grammar and writing skills. All recipes are written in the imperative (command) form and use the second person. Students are constantly taught about the first and third person point of view, but I can’t tell you how many times students have asked me if a second person point of view exists. Help them solve the mystery by introducing them to the way recipes are written.
For younger students, you can incorporate a story, such as "Stone Soup" by Marcia Brown or "Thunder Cake" by Patricia Polacco. These classic stories naturally lend themselves as a simple introduction to cooking for very young students. To enrich the lesson, an Internet search will result in multiple recipes for Stone Soup (as found on the Family Fun website) and Thunder Cake (like this one, found on the author’s website.)
I’ve seen older students create their own recipes for an abstract item such as love, friendship, or the world’s best mom. When assigning this project, be sure to provide numerous samples to demonstrate your expectations for the final product. Also, be sure that you require students to follow the correct recipe format, including the ingredients and step-by-step instructions.
You Can’t Bake Without Measuring
Using recipes in your classroom is a great, hands-on way to teach a math lesson. Students are much more invested in what they are learning if they get to “do it” instead of read about it. If you are cooking and following a recipe, it is inevitable that students measure. Students can learn about the different units of measure, whether they are US, metric, or non-standard units. For older or more advanced students, you may decide to challenge them by having them convert between two different units of measure. A lesson on ratios or fractions could naturally follow (or proceed) a cooking lesson.
Cooking to Create Community
By deciding to cook together as a class, or in small groups, you are fostering a sense of community in your classroom. In reading and carrying out the recipe, students are receiving practice in following directions. As a bonus, there is built in summative assessment; if they follow directions correctly, the end product will turn out as it should. While working together, students will need to practice taking turns and waiting patiently. As a reward, allow students to enjoy whatever it is they created!
To add a personal element, you can have students bring in a copy of their favorite family recipe. Students love when you allow them to bring samples to share with their classmates. Each student can share their recipe with the class before the teacher combines all the recipes into a class cookbook. I’ve included a few great lessons I’ve found that use recipes in the classroom.
Cooking Lessons and Activities:
Students use the correct format to write out a recipe for their favorite food. This lesson includes modifications for non-readers, as well as students with visual or hearing impairments.
This math unit focuses on measurement and converting units of measure. Throughout the five lessons, students measure, estimate, work with fractions and proportions.
Students find a recipe they would like to work with and use math to modify it to feed more or less people. As extra credit, you could always ask students to prepare the recipe at home.
In this language arts lesson, students find a Thanksgiving recipe and create a class book putting all the recipes in ABC order.
This is a more abstract lesson that requires students to analyze a literary character and create a recipe that provides insight to the character and their actions.