Let's Get Cooking on the Perfect Lesson

An article with a novel idea for English class.

by Nick Miller

The following is an Article which appeared in the April 1996 issue of the Language Teacher , a publication of the Japan Association of Language Teaching . Please note: This version is based on my pre-publication draft and includes references and handouts not in the published version.


edited by David Kluge

Let's Get Cooking on the Perfect Lesson

by Nicholas E. Miller

Tochigi YMCA English School

What is the 'perfect lesson?' Well, there are many criteria to use in answering that question. One criterion, for me, is what type of lesson can be used with any group (which will fit in the available kitchen space), at any level, in any language. If there are some (or many) non-readers in the class, you may forego the handout.

Salij (1994) showed how to use topical material in an applied EFL setting, while Dale (1994) suggested the appropriateness of food and cooking. However, whereas Dale's article was classroom based, without hands on cooking, my experiences involved actual trips to the kitchen.

Having conducted five cooking lessons for the Tochigi YMCA English School (including the ones described below), and several more for other school programs and community groups, I can say that they are truly a popular and fun way to teach both language and culture.

Planning Considerations

First, you must determine what group or groups you plan to use this method with. This has worked with adult language learners, non-language learners, mixed adult and children's groups and even a special children's only cooking class. If it is aimed at language students, be careful to determine the level, as well as structures and functions to be covered before considering the menu. I have conducted classes using a variety of languages (i.e. German cooking class involved English, Japanese and a smattering of German tossed in for flavoring). Plan well before you begin!

After you know the language ability of your students, plan a menu that is culturally interesting, appropriate for that level, and able to be prepared with available ingredients and equipment. When selecting recipes, consider the level and types of students. For children, select easy recipes, which can be explained simply and prepared by young hands. Take into consideration religious and health needs of your class. While many readers may live in Japan, others in, say, Moslem countries should not make pork pot roast, or beef hamburgers in India. Also, if you are aware that some of your students may be diabetic or have high blood pressure, select recipes which are more appropriate for them.

As for the equipment, you may be lucky in having a kitchen available at your school. In my case, each of the schools responsible rented a community center kitchen for the time needed, usually about three hours. In most of these, there were four large work spaces for the class and one in the front for the teacher. Equipment was stored in shelves around the room, and most of the work spaces had sinks, table space, burners and an oven.

Make sure you know how to prepare the dish(es) yourself. Practice at home, if need be. Prepare a time schedule for the class, from meeting time to departure. Note: However long it took you to prepare things at home, at least double the work time (cooking time should remain about the same). You will need to explain things to the class, as well as supervise them.

Know who will do the shopping. I have been disappointed in more than one occasion when the staff bought inappropriate ingredients. Communicate your needs well, do the shopping yourself, or learn t be creative in the kitchen.

Prepare a handout for each student. Include at least the schedule for the class, and the recipes. Be sure to list both the ingredients and method. Times are important. An artistic cover, pictures, extra recipes, a list of cooking terms or appropriate 'foreign' words, conversion charts1, etc. are all a nice touch.

The Lesson

Ideas from two sample lessons follow. The first is a more lengthy lesson designed for cultural adult classes. The handout was eight pages long, and only the index is shown to contrast with the other lesson. The second shows extracts from the handout which was used in a children's class.

Cooking Class on German Cooking

and Western Christmas Holiday Foods


  • Front Cover
  • Page 1 Schedule and Index
  • Page 2 Main course - Stuffed Chicken* and Stuffing*
  • Page 3 Gravy*, Deviled Eggs* and Sweet Potatoes*
  • Page 4 Mocha* recipes
  • Page 5 Pickled Tongue, Musik Kase, Pork Pot Roast
  • Page 6 Asparagus Frieburg, Sauerkraut
  • Page 7 Christmas and Holiday Ideas

    * marked items were prepared in class.

    unmarked items were studied while the food was cooking.

    Extracts from the handout:

    Cooking for KIDS

    A Tochigi YMCA Special Class

    by Nick Miller


    9:30 Meeting and Talking

    9:40 Get food and things ready

    10:00 Make salad*

    10:15 Make hamburgers*

    10:45 Eat salad and hamburgers

    11:10 Make banana splits

    11:20 Eat banana splits*

    11:30 Clean up

    *The recipes for salad and hamburger were in the original lesson plan, along with some graphics. The following recipe will give an idea on how to write one up (remember, this was for a childrenšs class):

    Banana Splits

    You need these things: You need these foods:
    a cutting board 4 bananas
    a knife some chocolate syrup
    an ice cream scoop or a large spoon 4 cherries
    4 banana boats or bowls 2 types of ice cream
    4 spoons candy sprinkles

    1. Peel and cut the bananas in half, the long way.
    2. Place the two parts of the banana in a banana boat or large bowl.
    3. Place 3 small scoops of ice cream between the bananas, the 2 outside scoops the same flavor, and 1 on the middle different.
    4. Cover with some chocolate syrup and candy sprinkles.
    5. Top with a cherry. Eat it all!

    Extracted from Page 2 of Kids Cooking by Nick Miller. A Tochigi YMCA special class The Cooking for Kids Handout is here.

    Even in adult classes, if you have more than two working tables it helps to have an assistant. Adults sometimes get carried away, and proceed in a unexpected fashion. With children, additional adult supervision is essential! In some cases, their parents may be there to help, and I have found a native speaking staff member and a fellow native speaking teacher familiar with the recipe to be quite handy.

    Again, in all cases and especially with children, proceed in a logical, planned order. First, make sure all work spaces are clean and safe. Next, have the students collect all the needed equipment from the storage areas. Then, distribute the correct portion of food ingredients to each work table. Donšt allow students to come up and take what they wish (others may end up short!) Tell the student to keep pace - not to get ahead of you. Especially supervise the cutting, preparing and frying stages - in a short time the whole project can be ruined.

    There are two basic systems. In one, the teacher models at a table at the front. In the other the teacher does not prepare food but circles to help and supervise students. With high level adults the first method can work well (as well as you make your own lunch!) But with low level students, undisciplined adults or any children, I prefer the second. Be sure that one table makes extra for you and your assistants!

    This type of lesson can be used in the most rigorous academic setting, or with a group of housewives. It may not be easy, but it is fun. Best of all; you get to eat the test!


    Dale, J. (1994). Your teacher is starving! A transition lesson for the Japanese classroom. The Language Teacher 18:8, 62-64.

    Salij, H. (1994). Art and communication: Learning to listen the artistic way. The Language Teacher 18:1, 9-10, 15.


    1 Americans especially; beware! America is one of the countries which does not commonly use the International Measurement System (Metric). Be sure you know how to convert Fahrenheit to Centigrade, ounces to c.c.s., American cup (250 ml) to International cup (200 ml), etc.

    Copyright © 1996 by Nicholas Miller

    See notes for information on navigating, links, copyright (my own as well as any possible inadvertent infringement on my part) and photo usage, etc.