One of the lessons I wanted my Freshmen to learn was that words mean something. They already knew that, of course they did. But, I wanted them to truly understand that when the put words on the page they really did have meaning. After brainstorming with a colleague, I decided to have the students write the steps of making an ice cream sundae. I explained that I wanted them to be as specific as possible.
Actually, the first thing that we did was discuss ingredients. I told them what I would bring for the sundaes (vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, caramel syrup, whipped cream, cherries, strawberry syrup). If they wanted to add anything else to their sundae, I told them, they would have to bring the ingredients themselves. I also told them that I would provide spoons and bowls.
They got started writing. At the end of the period, I collected all of the papers.
The next time we met as a class, we went to the kitchen. Our high school consists of two buildings. My classroom is in the North building (the main building). The kitchen is in the South building and isn’t really used anymore. Originally, the South building was a Middle School and the high school took over the building. One of the nice things about that is that ISS (Instructional Support Services or Special Education) and the Learning Specialists (which is what I am) have their own little hallway with classroom in the South building. There are several regular classrooms, but there is also the kitchen, which is like a Home Economics kitchen and has two cooking stations. That is where we headed.
The students were excited and quite energetic. I had them for class first thing in the morning and I began to wonder if I made a mistake by giving them sugar for breakfast. I started by reading the directions written by one student. I followed the directions exactly as they were written. The first student I picked was a young man who was able to laugh at himself. He has a strong sense of self-worth. This was important in the lesson because, I knew, that some of the students would possibly be embarrassed by their directions.
I began reading the directions that he had written. He didn’t write that you were to scoop the ice cream, so he didn’t get ice cream in his bowl. He did write that you should put whipped cream in the bowl and then top with sprinkles. So, he got a bowl with whipped cream and sprinkles.
The class was laughing with the student as they all realized their mistakes. One student got a bowl with strawberry syrup, a little bit of caramel syrup and a spoon.
Another student wrote about scooping the ice cream, but didn’t mention a bowl, so he didn’t get one. The next student wrote great directions for making an ice cream sundae, but didn’t indicate that you needed a spoon to eat it. So, they didn’t get a spoon.
After I made every student an ice cream sundae according to their written directions, I let them “fix” their sundaes and eat them.
After everyone finished eating, we went back to our classroom. I had the students re-write their directions on how to make an ice cream sundae. They added details and specifics. The directions would result in great ice cream sundaes, in bowls with spoons. They got the object of the lesson. The end result was that they did add more details to subsequent writing assignments and I taught them a lesson they will never forget.