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How to Host a Literary Food Truck Festival

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Do you ever feel like you’re making the last stand in the battle against student apathy? Like even if you put on a Moana costume and sang “How Far I’ll Go” your kids would still be staring at their phones?

I get it.

Trying to figure out how to teach students who’ve already disliked English class for a decade isn’t easy.

But sometimes it just takes one breakthrough to start to make a connection. One way to capture their interest and steal their attention back from Lady Gaga’s Instagram.

I recently finished the book Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom, by Dan Ryder and Amy Burvall. They dove deep into a concept that I’ve always believed in. There are a million ways to let students share their understanding on a book. What matters is how they explain their intentions. If you ask students to build an Oreo cookie sculpture based on the theme of your book, great! Then find a way to have them show their intentions. How does that cookie spire connect to the dystopian theme of The Hunger Games? What does that pile of crushed cookies at the base represent? What quotations from the book will help make the bridge?

I know you want to help your student become better writers. Teach them how to make a claim and provide evidence. But writing argumentative essays is not the only way to do it. Sometimes, in the battle against apathy, you need something show-stopping.

Why not have a literary food truck festival?

Let’s start at the beginning. (Pssst, you can sign up to get the full curriculum set for this project in just a minute! So no need to stress wondering when you’ll find time to type handouts for everything you’re about to read).

The basis of this assignment is for students to create a food truck based on a character or a novel. Let’s say Ponyboy from The Outsiders was going to become an entrepreneur and create a food truck. What would he serve? Where would he park his truck? Who would work there? What would his truck look like? What would his menu be like? What would be his goal in starting the company? The key is for students to answer every one of these questions through the lens of their reading.

Or let’s say a group of students was going to start a food truck based on Macbeth. How could they represent the novel through their choices? As they created a menu, a design, a marketing plan, etc., they would need to think about how each detail reflected the play.

There are so many ways to use this project.

You can use it as the summative for a whole class novel. Let students, individually or in groups, create food trucks based on different characters or the novel as a whole.

You can use it as the assessment for literature circles. Let the groups present back to each other on their books by creating food trucks.

You can use it as a final project for independent reading. When everyone has read a choice selection, let them share it with a food truck.

You can let students work alone, in partners, or in groups. Whatever works for you and your kids.

Ready to dive in?

Here are the steps to food truck success.

Step One: Explanations

Explain the project. Make it clear that the food trucks MUST show INTENTION. Students need to make all their choices based on their books, and they will need to show their intentions clearly in a short paper accompanying their food truck presentation. Pass out the project handout so everything is very clear (remember, you can sign up below for the full curriculum).

Step Two: Workshop

Work in class. Guide students through several brainstorming sessions. Have them consider things like menu, staff, food truck location, music, design, and social media. Students can choose which areas to focus on. Keep reminding them about intention. Their work must be clearly connected to the text for the project to serve its purpose. This time in class is great for answering questions, so keep wandering around and checking in.

Step Three: Festival Planning

Plan your festival with them. Choose a date. Share a few recipe sites like Pinch of Yum, Half-Baked Harvest, or Smitten Kitchen to help them see where they might find ideas for what to have in their food trucks.

Step Four: Finishing Up

Let them finish their work either in or out of class, based on what works best for your students. MAKE SURE everyone knows when the food truck festival will be. Remind them continuously.

Step Five: The Big Day!

When the day of your festival comes, bring music, your camera, and your appetite. Plus, use the “meal tickets” in the curriculum set to help guide the day a little bit. As students walk around and browse, they need to fill out their tickets to help them make connections between the food being served at their favorite trucks and the novels those trucks represent.

This will all be soooo much easier if you let me give you the curriculum (including a rubric!) I’ve already created for this project.  Sign up below for my Friday e-mails full of creative ideas for class and highlights from the blog and podcast, and it will be the first thing I send to you.

The unusual nature of this project may make you a little nervous about how your colleagues will react. But stick with me for a moment. A few weeks ago I interviewed author and podcaster Matt Miller about Google Classroom on the podcast. Though I loved hearing all about how to use Google Classroom as a launchpad for all things creative online, my favorite part of the conversation came at the end. When I asked Matt if it was possible to use a Google tool to prevent plagiarism, he became very thoughtful.

“As the world changes and information becomes more and more ubiquitous,” he said, “we have to think differently about our assignments too, and the prompts that we give students, so that they are less recall-based, or at least certain assignments have less recall feature in them and more of those four Cs – communication, collaboration, critical-thinking and creativity.”

Basically, we need to give our students assignments that can’t be copied online. If we ask them to use their own creativity to come up with something totally new, something that fits their interests and their lives, they won’t be able to plagiarize it, and they probably won’t want to anyway.

I don’t think any students will be plagiarizing their literary food trucks. And I don’t even think they’d want to.

I hope you enjoy this new project. I’d love to see photos of your festival when the big day comes! Tag me on Instagram @nowsparkcreativity so I can come and admire your students’ work.


hey there!

I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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