Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

“Everyday Situations” – The Taste-Test Activity


tastetest photoRemember those classic “Coke vs. Pepsi” commercials – where unsuspecting cola drinkers took a ‘blind’ taste test (don’t know which they are sampling) and then were stunned, or not, that what they thought they liked they didn’t? My original training is in marketing and the blind tasting is a staple when looking for what people really like.

Years ago I used a textbook for grade 12 that helped provide me with a ‘theme’ to the unit – but not a great activity.  While I no longer use the textbook some of my topic areas still come from this time. Food is one that gives a number of different possible approaches. I like to have my students utilize their language in a situation that parallels everyday life and so, for food – coupled with my graduate degree in marketing –  the ‘taste test’ became the activity. More specifically they are  to determine what new snack food/drink will be sold in the school cafeteria.

Pairs of students select one product made by 3 different companies. Generally I encourage inexpensive snack foods etc like ‘iced tea’, ‘cola’, ‘potato chips’, chocolate etc. I understand that ‘budgets’ may be an issue in for some students – and if  this presents a hardship to my students (I know who they are), I provide the product for them (water (bottled/tap) or milk chocolate). In a class of 30 they will have 11-12 visitors to their booth so they don’t need a large amount of food. I provide spoons/forks, small cups or plates for the products as needed.

Students do this as a blind taste test – so that those who are sampling do not know the brands that they are trying. Their job then is to construct a survey that will both gather information about who is doing the tasting and what they prefer. We do discuss in English the idea of ‘demographics’ (who is your population) and they receive hints as to what kind of questions they might want to ask. They take 2 periods to construct their questions – using an 11×17 piece of paper – questions along the top/side in English with spaces to record information that they receive.  They also practice asking about food allergies – so that students with those issues can avoid complications.

On the taste test day students bring their ‘product’ and their survey. They are allowed an ’emergency sheet’ if they want in their pocket but they don’t really use it at all. For 25 minutes one partner is administering the survey while the other samples – then they switch. Immediately after the activity they do a self evaluation for communication /use of English. They must support their evaluation with reasons.

The day after the taste-test they get time to meet with their partner to go over the results. They can bring those results to the written evaluation – as long as they are in English and on a notecard (that I provide). They don’t get to take the results home – all work is done/left in the classroom until the next day.  Many are surprised when stated preferences for brands prior to tasting don’t match the results they receive.

The written evaluation is a report – two or three small paragraphs reviewing the ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’ including recommendations. Students have their results card returned to them. In real life if I was writing a marketing report I would not be doing it without resources – so they are allowed to use any notes etc that they have with them in writing.  However they don’t know that they can use their supporting documents until they are in class and ready to write. Most students take 45-50 minutes to plan/compose their reports. I believe it is because it is something that is meaningful to them. When we used to have a ‘school store’ I would pass along recommendations.

My favourite student comment after testing was from one student “I feel more necessity to use Japanese in everyday situations like this where we need to use the language to do what we need to do. I find this more useful than artificial oral tests.” A great comment considering that the activity was the oral ‘test’! A ‘real life’ challenge in which the oral is necessary for the written evaluation is my goal for each unit.

My information for the project is attached here – if you aren’t a Japanese teacher I think you can still follow along. Next up  for the 12’s – the great ‘uniform or no uniform’ debate!


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