The Internet TESL Journal

The International Potluck: An Integrated-Skills Cross-Cultural Activity

Terry N. Williams
williamst [at]
American Language Program, University of Georgia (Athens, GA, USA)

How can teachers encourage students to use the language they are studying? One way is to create a situation allowing for an authentic exchange of information that is truly interesting to the students. Everyone is interested in food. Some people enjoy cooking, but everyone enjoys eating. By organizing an international potluck, a teacher provides students with an opportunity to use English in an informal setting and to learn about their classmates' cultures.

To set the stage for the activity, the teacher first introduces the idea of a potluck, a dinner party in which the guests all bring food to share. The students work in small cultural or national groups to list typical dishes from their country. From the list, each group selects one or two dishes to prepare. In making their selection, the students must consider the availability of ingredients and any dietary restrictions class members may have.

Next, the teacher distributes sample recipes to illustrate the appropriate format and writes food preparation terms on the blackboard. Food preparation vocabulary always generates lively discussion and pantomime. The teacher or students act out, for example, chopping, mincing, slicing, beating, or pouring, plus discuss the differences among boiling, frying, baking, or broiling. As a group homework assignment, the students write the recipes for the dishes selected. The recipes are peer reviewed, edited, and word processed.

On the day before the dinner, the students divide among themselves shopping for ingredients and preparing the food. Some students living in dormitories may not have access to cooking facilities, so the food may need to be prepared at the time of the dinner. If this is the situation, having the dinner in a place with kitchen facilities is necessary.

On the day of the dinner, the teacher and students gather at a specified location to prepare the food and share it. They talk, eat, play games, and listen to music. As a final project, the recipes are photocopied, compiled in booklet form, and distributed to the class.

Below are sample recipes from one class's potluck.


(By Katsufumi Okura-- Japan)



First, chop vegetables. Slice tofu into half-inch cubes. Bring water to a boil. Add vegetables

(except green onions). Cook on low heat for 20-30 minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Stir

and serve.


(By Sang Yong Choi, Byung Il Lee, Dae-Kyu Lee, and Kang Ho Lee--Korea)



Cut kim-chi into slices. Chop the onion and mushrooms. Break eggs and stir in a bowl. Mix the

kim-chi, the onion, mushrooms, and flour with 2 cups water. Fry.


(By Ivana Spir, Juliane Reali, and Sergio Pinto--Brazil)



Melt the margarine. Add the condensed milk and the chocolate powder. Stir constantly until it becomes a paste and doesn't stick to the pan. Pour into a moist bowl, and sprinkle a full bag of granulated chocolate on top.


What do the students learn through this activity? Planning the menu, they learn about dietary restrictions; for example, Muslims do not eat pork. Writing the recipes, the students review imperative verb forms and practice describing a process. They also learn vocabulary related to food preparation. Sharing food, they share cultural information. Most importantly, the students spend a full afternoon or evening speaking English in an informal setting.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IV, No. 12, December 1998