Teaching ESL Students How to Talk About Cooking

Here in China, people love to talk about food. It absolutely dominates life here, and so when I want to teach my students a new language point, I will use food as the topic. Here’s a lesson on using better adjectives, for example. And another for going beyond the word “delicious.” Today I wanted to get my students talking and I figured that food was the best way, so I set up a lesson about cooking. This works with intermediate level students, but could be tailored up or down a level pretty easily.

Step One

Show your students this video and ask them a few questions by way of a lead in – ie “What is she making? What did she use?” etc.

Step Two

Tell them that they will learn to describe cooking by the end of the lesson, just like the woman in the video. Then teach the vocabulary in this PPT:

Step Three

Ask them the following questions:

  1. What is a vegetarian? What is a vegan?
  2. Why would someone want to become a vegetarian or vegan?
  3. Do you like to eat desserts?
  4. What is your favourite dessert?
  5. Describe how to make your favourite dessert.

Then show them this video of Nigella Lawson and discuss how she uses this recipe:

You should probably print out the recipe and hand to the students. Activities can include underlining vocabulary when she uses it or later summarizing what she did.

Step Four

Ask students to write down their own recipe for something they can cook. (If, like my students, they don’t know how to cook, get them to imagine that they can.) I like to show a slightly simpler recipe as an example for them to follow, like this:

They can then practice telling a partner how they cook or bake, using their recipe as notes.

Head Teacher
I'm the founder and editor of Beatdom Literary Journal, author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. I'm also a teacher and operate the popular website, TED-IELTS.

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