By Laura Resau, 2021 CCIRA Featured Author
I love writing with all my senses, and taste is one of my favorites. It’s an often-neglected sense that taps into deep emotions and memories. I’ve found that if I’m lacking inspiration, I only need to go to the kitchen to find something to spark my creativity.
Usually, it’s chocolate! In my most recent book, Tree of Dreams, the main character finds inspiration in chocolate—you could even say she perceives the world in terms of chocolate. As I wrote this book, I explored chocolate with all my senses (which was really fun!)
I’d like to share with you some ideas that will inspire your students to use their sense of taste as a doorway into creative writing. Since many of you are teaching partly online this year, this activity is a way to let your students find joy in using their senses beyond the screen.
Food makes for fantastic writing inspiration! It can inspire us to explore figurative language, multisensory descriptions, poetry, and more. The academic literature shows that an awareness of the senses promotes mindfulness, which improves executive function (Flook et al, 2010). Multisensory learning approaches keep students engaged (Rose Report, 2006). Integrating more senses is inclusive of different learning styles (Rosenberg et al, 2015). And instruction on creativity and imagery makes students better writers overall (Graham et al, 2012). (Also, just… yum!!!)
You might consider guiding your students in an enticing “Ode to Food” activity. I love using Pat Mora’s and Rafael Lopez’s Yum! Mmm! Que Rico! as a example of vibrant food-inspired literature. This picture book text about food of the Americas is perfect for Thanksgiving-themed writing. Not surprisingly, Mora’s poetry works beautifully for elementary school, but I’ve also found that middle, high school, and adult students love these poems and illustrations as well. (If you teach secondary students, I also suggest a Pablo Neruda poem to use as an example, later in this post.)
At least a day before the class, ask your students to find a food (or spice or herb or tea) in their home that they want to use as writing inspiration. They can bring it to the computer for their online class, and have a notebook ready.
Before they launch into their own creative writing, read these haikus from Yum! Mmm! Que Rico! together with your students and ask them to think about the imagery and metaphors in these poems. I highly recommend getting a copy of this fabulous book at your library or bookstore so that you can read all the delicious poems to your students.
Note that if you teach secondary students, you might also consider reading aloud Pablo Neruda’s Ode to a Lemon. If you have Spanish speakers, you could have them read the original version (Oda al Limón). The English and Spanish versions are easy to find online. Again, as you read, ask students to think about the imagery and metaphors in the poem.
Ask students to take a taste of the food they’ve chosen and think about it, using all their senses. How does it taste? Feel? Smell? Look? Sound? (If you’d like, you could do a group example first, using a food that you’ve chosen to elicit ideas from students.)
Next, you’ll be asking your students a series of inspiration-sparkers about their food. You’ll give the students a few minutes to free-write their responses to each question. I’ll be using chocolate as an example (of course!), but feel free to use your own example and brainstorm ideas as a group first.
a) If this food were an animal, what would it be and why?
Example: This chocolate would be a jaguar, all stealth and grace… its spirit is strong and wild and fierce… silently, it creeps up on you in the night shadows.
b) If this food were a kind of weather, what would it be and why?
Example: This chocolate would be a late afternoon storm, dark skies and pounding rain and intense thunder that shakes you to your bones.
c) If this food were something in nature, what would it be and why?
Example: This chocolate would be crunchy, brown leaves on the rich forest floor… earthy and musty… wistful with gold and green memories.
Note that you can ask students to come up with their own inspiration-sparkers. (For example: What season would this food be? What kind of music? What emotion? Etc.)
4) Ask students to share what they came up with in their free-writing. Other students can give feedback on which imagery felt particularly vivid or interesting.
5) Ask students to use their free-writing as inspiration to write an ode, poem or song, about the food they’ve chosen. If any students are interested in exploring the haiku form, you could give them this option, too (5 syllables on first line, 7 syllables on second, 5 syllables on final line).
6) Ask students to share their creative work with each other, and guide them on how to give specific, encouraging feedback.
7) Remind students that they can write their own food-inspired poems whenever they’re feeling bored at home!
For more ideas and materials, please see my Literary Chocolate Tasting Guide here:
Thank you! I hope you and your students enjoy the activity and feel inspired to do more creative writing with all your senses!
Laura Resau is an award-winning author of nine highly acclaimed young adult and children’s novels, including The Lightning Queen (Scholastic), What the Moon Saw, Red Glass, Star in the Forest, The Queen of Water, and the Notebooks series (Delacorte/Random House). Her most recent novel, Tree of Dreams, was the winner of the Colorado Book Award, and praised as “a moving exploration of friendship, activism, and how chocolate makes everything better” in a starred review from Kirkus.