Recipe for Writing Success

Around the holidays, I often think of food—perhaps because there is an abundance of food served to celebrate family gatherings or perhaps because holidays feature menu items that aren’t everyday fare—treats like cheesy potatoes, shrimp cocktail, and prime rib or peanut brittle, frosted cut-out cookies, and pecan pie. 

Foods also connect us to culture, so holidays might mean peach kuchen if you’re German, lefse if you have Norwegian roots, or huckleberry honey cakes if you’re American Indian.  The list could go on to embrace every culture and its diverse food practices.

Psychologists suggest that food memories are strong ones because of the sensory information our brains receive.  With food, we engage all of our senses, so food memories aren’t just based on the facts or our need for survival; they are shaped by the context ― the company, the situation, and the emotions involved.  Perhaps those psychological triggers explain why people who eat together form bonds.

Teachers can harness this information and make writing almost effortless.  Try these prompts to get your students writing:

Read the following poem and think about the taste, candy, or experience that acts as a portal, transporting you back to childhood, to being ten again.  In your writing, consider sensory details that bring the experience to life; use colors, feelings, tastes, and smells to make the memory vivid:

Adams Country Store

When extra money begged to be spent,

we pedaled our bikes two miles

to Adams Country Store

on the corner of Raymond and Lolo Streets, where penny candy lined up in boxes

for sale on wooden shelves.

After deciding and discarding Pixie Sticks, candy necklaces, atomic fireballs, jawbreakers, and eighteen-inch ropes of grape or cherry Bub’s Daddy Bubble Gum for a nickel,

we’d ride off,

smoking our chalk-white candy cigarettes,

their artificial red tips glowing.

--Donna L. Miller

Try one of the following prompts to generate writing:

  • Gary Soto wrote a poem called “Eating Mexican Food” in which he provides seven playful rules for how to eat Mexican food.  For example, “Rule #1: Don’t pick up the tortilla / with your fork.”  Write a series of steps for how to do something.
  • Retell/describe an unpleasant memory you have with a meal or eating a particular food.
  • Our comfort foods are those we may turn to when we’re under emotional stress or when we long for the security of childhood.  For most of us, certain foods promise solace as much as they do fuel.  What are your comfort foods?
  • What candy, dessert, or other food describes you or a family member?  Explain.

These are meatier topics with an obliquely related theme:

  • In his book The Essential 55, Ron Clark advises: “Always make sure there are seven things in your life at all times: laughter, family, adventure, good food, challenge, change, and the quest for knowledge.  With all of those things, you can grow, enjoy life, and become a better type of person you can be proud of.”  What are your seven essentials for a complete and satisfying life?
  • According to Reba McEntire, “To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone, and a funny bone.”   What three qualities do you deem necessary for life success?
  • Tony Dorsett, former American football running back in the National Football League for the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos, claims that “to succeed. . . you need to find something to hold on to, something to motivate you, something to inspire you.” Based on your life experiences to date, what do you define as the ingredients for success?
  • Using the language of cookbooks, write a recipe for success.  Use the following template if you like: Take (ingredients).  Put (ingredients you need to combine) in (container).  Mix (or blend, stir, chop, etc.) with (utensil or machine) until (how can you tell it’s ready?). Pour (or throw, drop, etc. whatever describes the next step).  Cook (bake, broil fry, etc.,) in a (what) at (temperature) until (when/what happens?).  Let stand (cool, etc.) until (when/what happens?).  Add (sprinkle on, etc.).  Cut (slice, chop, etc.) and serve (with, to, etc.)

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