Hospitality and Essay Writing

We’re at the end of our first grading period this semester, and I want to share something I meant to post at the end of the last semester: my final writing project with my English 6 class. Day-to-day busy-ness has kept me from getting to it until now; it’s been a busy, busy semester in terms of teaching. I’m serving as the interim director of the language program, which means many new administrative responsibilities, and I’m also teaching two English 1 classes, in addition to working on with our organic garden project and our women’s leadership program. Working with beginning level students after teaching English 5 and 6 last semester is quite a difference, especially since one of the classes is all first-semester students who are still getting used to being in a university, living away from their families, etc. There’s a lot going on!

The final writing project that my English students completed in December, though, is one of my favorite teaching experiences from my time here in Carmen Pampa. Our essential question for the semester was, “How do we use language to show hospitality?” – my attempt to contextualize and lend a little depth and critical thinking to a textbook focused on communication within the service industry. As a final project to challenge students to think more about the essential question, and to put into practice the writing skills we’d developed throughout the semester, I decided to show the film Rent and ask the students to write a 5-paragraph essay about examples of hospitality in the movie.

The 5-paragraph essay is a common part of ESL and ELA instruction; in Minnesota, passing a writing exam in ninth grade is a requirement to graduate, and I’ve spent lots of time with colleagues brainstorming different strategies and techniques for teaching students how to write a 5-paragrah essay successfully. This time, with limited class hours and a format that was new to many of my students, I decided to try something I’ve thought about for a while, after seeing a presentation at a professional conference in Minnesota a couple of years ago: Presenting students with an essay template, and teaching them how to complete it.

I found the template to be very successful with this group of students. Although in some ways they were just “filling in the blanks,” giving them the template allowed them to focus more on expressing their own ideas than on the format, and it ensured that they were able to express their ideas more or less coherently. All of the students were very proud of their final products, and on an end-of-semester evaluation many listed this project as both the most challenging and the most enjoyable of the semester. I was amazed by the insights that students drew from the film – some examples of their essays are below, as well as the two handouts I gave to students to guide their work.

This is a format that I’d like to continue working with in the future. I think it might work well to start with a format like this at the beginning of the school year, and gradually remove elements of the scaffolding over the course of the year as students become more and more confident in their own ability to organize their ideas and focus their paragraphs. As a place to begin, I found that this worked very well: Students were able to really focus on understanding the film and developing their own thoughts and opinions, and their final essays were an authentic expression of their perspectives.

I’d love to hear from other teachers how you teach and scaffold extended writing projects for your students!

christian final essay dana reflection eddy final essay luis final essay mishuvi final essay    peer and teacher writing conference

rent essay packet

Rent Sample Essay


Dinner and Dessert Delight

In addition to teaching my regular English class for ecotourism students, I also teach a weekly class for staff members who want to learn more English. We meet every Wednesday night, and there is a group of four wonderful women who come regularly. One is a professor of veterinary science, one is the director of the tourism program, one is an education student completing her thesis, and one is the school psychologist. This Wednesday, we held class at the volunteer house where I live, and the staff cooked a delicious Bolivian dinner. dinner 1Carmen, the vet science professor, prepared fritanga, a yummy fried pork dish with a spicy red sauce, along with mote (hominy) and traditional dehydrated potatoes called chuño.

dinner 2I made dessert, and although my brother is usually the one who shares his cooking adventures, I’m including the recipe for these cupcakes because they were so delicious! They’re a dark chocolate cupcake with salted caramel icing and garam masala praline – super yummy, especially with fresh mango on the side.dinner 3It was a delightful evening with wonderful food and great company, and I hope we can repeat it again soon. I loved the opportunity to get to know each other, build community, and share our unique food traditions.dinner 4

Recipe: Chocolate Caramel Cupcakes with Garam Masala Praline

The cupcake and icing recipes are from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics, published by Clarkson Potter in 2001; the praline is something I came up with!

Deep Chocolate Vegan Cupcakes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a cupcake pan with 12 liners, or grease with butter or cooking spray and dust with cocoa powder.

Sift together 1 1/2 c. flour, 1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1 c. sugar. In a separate bowl, combine 1/2 c. vegetable oil, 1 c. chilled brewed coffee, and 2 tsp. vanilla. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until smooth. Add 2 Tbsp. cider vinegar and stir briefly; pour batter into pan immediately.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool.

Salted Caramel Icing

Combine 2 c. brown sugar, 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, 1 c. half-and-half, and 1/4 tsp. salt in a large saucepan. (Add more salt to taste, if you wish.) Bring to a rolling boil, stirring often. Cover and boil on medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Uncover and continue to boil until the caramel begins to thicken and coats a spoon, about 4 minutes. Be careful not to let it burn! Remove from heat and pour into a large mixing bowl.

Add 1 tsp. vanilla and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until creamy, thick, and a good spreading consistency, about 10 minutes.

While the icing is still warm, frost the cupcakes and top with the praline.

Garam Masala Praline

Combine 1 c. chopped nuts (walnuts, brazil nuts, and pecans are all yummy!), 1/2 c. white sugar, 1/4 c. water, 1-2 tsp. garam masala (depending on how spicy you want them to be), and a pinch of salt in a saute pan. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until the liquid boils off, leaving a sugary coating on the nuts. Pour onto a buttered plate, spread out, and let cool. Break into pieces and top the cupcakes.

Word Wall

A great vocabulary strategy that I’ve seen many wonderful teachers use is a Word Wall. I’m fortunate in my current classroom to literally have an entire wall that I can use for our vocabulary words.

Borrowing from the marvelous Minneapolis English teachers Tara Ferguson and Nicole Brinza, who divide their word walls into “language of life” and “language of literature,” I’ve divided the wall for my tourism students into “language of life” and “language of business.”


Deciding where to place the words leads to some great discussion among the students, and it helps the class explore the ways that words have different meanings depending on context. We will keep adding to the wall throughout the semester, helping keep track of how many new words we’ve learned!

List – Group – Label

As I’ve learned more about teaching English in a Spanish-speaking community, I’ve realized how important explicit vocabulary teaching is. It’s important in all contexts, obviously, but being in an environment where my students have very few outside opportunities to practice English makes it especially apparent.

One of my favorite strategies that I’ve used quite a bit here is called List – Group – Label, from Janet Allen’s Inside Words. Students generate or receive a list of vocabulary words related to a certain topic, such as adjectives. They work in pairs or small groups to sort the words into logical groupings and then create labels for the groups.

lgl                        lgl2

As you can see in this example, students in different groups come up with different ways to categorize the same group of words. This provides great substance for discussion about reasoning and word meanings. I like this activity because it requires students to think carefully about what words actually mean, and about the relationships between them. It also requires some higher-order thinking skills, as students group words and justify their logic. My students really enjoy it as well, since it’s interactive and engaging.