Teaching Strategically: Health and Nutrition [4 of a new series]

Once your unit of study is launched you may find that the hardest part is to shut it down, to bring closure and move on to other topics. There are endless variations and you have access to huge amounts of information at your fingertips – and a few key items that ought to be specifically considered at particular grade levels.

After starting with various prompts to get students started thinking about the ideas, here is how I have transitioned to focus on the nutrition aspects with due thanks to ReadWorks. This site has a database of resources by grade level and the materials are categorized in terms of:

  • skills and strategy units
  • comprehension units
  • novel study units
  • reading passages

I love learning jigsaws, though admittedly they require some extra perparation on my part and require me to specifically and explicitly teach how jigsaw learning proceeds. It is also not wise to assume students ‘know’ what to do after having done it once before – some time ago. A careful lead-up and review is always helpful. If you are new to learning jigsaws, you will find information here. If you are interested in a complete professional development unit that teaches the strategy  for use with grade 3 to 8, Using the Jigsaw Cooperative Technique is available from ReadWriteThink.org.

To help students focus on nutrion I start with a show and tell. I ask students to show me their lunches and we talk about what we like or not, how often we eat particular things, what we know about what is good/not so great for you and so on. A list is quickly generated on the board or a large chart paper that can be added to as we go. I then give them another Anticipation Guide. They are now getting quite comfortable with this strategy.

Lunches Tabulation.png

After some discussion, I tell them we shall be learning about what students in five countries eat for lunch. [TIPS: I will have taken time to review how a jigsaw works,set up heterogenous groups for the ‘home’ groups, and  I also ensure my handouts are colour coded. [If you do not have access to various colours of paper, buy highlighters in five different colours and mark the tops of the pages for easy reference and easy grouping and regrouping.]

The reading passage from ReadWorks includes a variety of comprehension questions but I make a copy and set them up so each ‘lunch’ is on a different page. I also include the introductory paragraph that starts the passages, at the top of each page so we have a common starting point – which I usually read aloud and discuss before students read further. Here is my set with instructions for how to proceed. This can be copied on the back of the lunches texts or put on the board. I use the back of the sheets for the table which they will use to collect their information as the jigsaw proceeds.


  1. Follow along as I read the introductory paragraph.
  2. Read the section about students in the city/country you have. Feel free to make notes or highlight key information.
  3. First, complete the section of the table [ onteh back of your paper] for what you had for lunch.
  4. Next work with your group to complete the sections for what the students in your reading had for lunch. Compare with each other to ensure you have all the information you need.
  5. Practice with each other to TELL [not read] what you learned about the students from your city/country.
  6. When everyone is ready, you will rejoin your ‘home group’ and teach them what you have learned. As each one tells you about their students’ lunches, you will make notes in the appropriate places on your sheet.
  7. We will talk further about your learning when we have completed the jigsaw.


The table includes such categories as the following:

  • what I had for lunch
  • where the students I learned about live
  • whether they bring or buy lunch; eat at home or at school, eat in school or out, etc.
  • ingredients of lunches – types of foods, number of courses, etc.
  • other information

Since I know the readings well, I prod and provoke more thinking and information as we discuss our findings after the jigsaw is complete. Next, of course is to examine lunches and meals in general more closely to consider healthy choices.Some students will have already expanded the groups thinking because their  ‘ordinary’ lunches are not so common, adding five new countries may just be the beginning to further exploration.

The tabulation of data is a great way to consider compare and contrast writing practice and the use of the ‘signal words’ associated with the language of comparing and contrasting. In addition it lends itself well to using discussion  webs to provoke deeper thinking. Two topics I have used for this strategy are ‘lunches around the world are more similar than different‘ and ‘sugary drinks should be banned in schools‘.

Whatever you decide to do, your students are sure to enjoy learning ‘strategically’. [end of series]