English - A taste for words

20th April 2012 at 01:00
Literary food can whet the appetite of young storytellers

It looked innocent enough: short, amusingly rotund and the most innocuous shade of pale yellow. Its name, Scotch Bonnet, gave little clue as to the near-lethal toxicity of its nature. But seconds after sampling it, I thought I might die.

My wife rushed into the kitchen to see what was the matter. Not that I could tell her. The searing pain in my mouth, tongue and lips made it impossible to speak. The best I could manage was rapid breathing interspersed with violent expletives and bouts of trying - like The Tiger Who Came to Tea - to drink the tap dry.

Several gallons of water later, I was able to explain that I was experimenting with chilli as an ingredient for my next English lesson. It sounds improbable, but it was the truth.

Young children love to tell stories; the teacher's task is to turn them into storytellers. To this end, I am always trying to encourage them to use more description in their writing.

An effective way to get children to develop their descriptive vocabulary is to encourage them to use all their senses, including taste. "Imagine," I tell them, "that you are a prisoner chained up in a pitch-black cell in a strange and foreign land. You haven't eaten for days and you're at the point of starvation. Now imagine you hear the scraping sound of a plate pushed under the door. Food at last! But what kind of food? What will it smell like? What will it taste of? What will it feel like in your mouth?"

The lesson mainly involves children wearing blindfolds, tentatively sniffing, licking, chewing, sucking and occasionally swallowing various items of a hopefully edible nature. We compose and record descriptions as we go along.

Tasting in the dark turns out to be a very enlightening experience. For example, did you know that a combination of watercress and rocket can taste bitter and bright like a cold winter morning? Or that pickled walnuts might tickle your tongue and crumble like the bones of dead sharks?

A variety of mouth-watering descriptions can be found in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. Why not let children taste the foods and write their own descriptions?

"Did they try the chillies?" asked my wife when I arrived home.

"Only the mild ones," I replied, "and they described them as hot as hell, like a devil's fiery horns. I shudder to think what language they would have used to describe Scotch Bonnets."

"Mmm," she replied. "Well, I'm sure it couldn't have been any worse than yours."

Steve Eddison is a key stage 2 teacher at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield.


If food-tasting isn't your thing, try krista_carson's homelessness-themed lesson to develop descriptive writing. It's one of the most popular on TES Resources.

Get children thinking with their senses with a PowerPoint from Miss R.


Can you recommend any inspiring descriptive writing to use in class?

Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources031.

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