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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sandwich Lesson

So, this is the most recent lesson I wrote for the unit I am creating (the one due Monday, yikes), and although I don't normally post my lessons, I really like this particular lesson, and I thought it might be fun to share what I am working on. (Note- I must admit that there is nothing new under the sun, and I don't claim to reinvent the wheel. This lesson is inspired by an Erin Gruwell lesson- citation at the bottom of the page).


This is a creative lesson to get students metaphorically thinking about the importance of structure.

The idea of this lesson is for students to understand that a good story must be well-developed. It highlights the importance of structure and including all of the necessary elements into the story.


To start the lesson, have 5 desks set up at the front of the class, or a long table with 5 places at it, facing out to the class. It can be fun to add table cloths and fancy place settings at these tables if you want to create a special atmosphere.

Choose 5 students who you know are outgoing and vocal and will enjoy being the center of attention for a little bit. Try to pick students who do not seem like they are picky eaters. Have these students sit up front. (Check for food allergies first).

Welcome your students to “Ms._________’s Sandwich Shoppe” and tell them today you have selected 5 sandwich “connoisseurs” to try your new sandwich creations. Through the connoisseurs descriptions of what they are eating, the class will decide on the best sandwich.

Have 5 sandwiches pre-prepared. You have some freedom on this obviously, but they should be approximately like this:

1. A fancy (and hopefully very tasty!) sandwich, possibly from a local deli, with several different meats, cheese, maybe a flavored spread, vegetables, spices, etc. (Note- Italian deli’s are a great choice for this).

2. A plain sandwich on plain bread. The cheaper the better. Basically just meat and bread. Go easy on the meat. NO condiments!

3. A piece of meat and cheese with mayonnaise and mustard all over it. No bread. Ideally, the student will have a hard time eating this without making a mess.

4. 2 pieces of bread. Nothing fancy and nothing in between the bread. In fact, a thicker wheat bread that doesn’t taste very good by itself is a good choice.

5. A sandwich with a little bit of everything, only sandwich ingredients, but stuff that doesn’t exactly sound good together. Think peanut butter, jelly, meat, cheese, etc. I recommend thin bread for this so that there is less to drown out the ingredients. (Note: Try to give this to that kid who is probably known for being willing to try anything and will likely at least take a bit or two).

Pass out the sandwiches to the students but tell them not to touch them yet. Have the rest of the class fold a sheet of paper into 5 columns for taking notes. Have them label each column (you can give the students up front numbers or just have them write down the students’ names) for easy note taking. Inform the class that each connoisseur will take a turn eating and describing the sandwich and the class is to take notes on the connoisseur’s reaction.

Give each student with a sandwich a turn to eat and describe. You can try a variety of orders, but I recommend leaving sandwich number one (the good one) for last. Encourage the rest of the class to write down all the reactions, even the just “Eww, I have mayonnaise all over my hands” reactions. It should take a while and be a somewhat fun process.

In the end, ask the students to, judging from the connoisseur’s descriptions, vote on the best sandwich- the one that they would most want to eat. Undoubtedly, the choice will be number one- the fancy sandwich. Then, you can ask the students to have a seat. (If there is leftover sandwich on each plate, have them leave it there for illustration purposes).

Now, explain to the students that essays or stories can be thought of like these sandwiches. Go through each sandwich and ask the students to discuss what they think this sandwich represents as far as writing goes. Some of the answers you are looking for may be like this… (but let the students be creative in their answers)

1. A well-developed literary essay or story.

2. A very basic essay or story, but sort of boring and dry.

3. A story/essay that feels really weird to read because it doesn’t really have an introduction or conclusion.

4. A story/essay that isn’t really anything more than an intro or conclusion- there is no real action or “meat” to the story.

5. A story/essay where the writer has put in TOO much detail where it is hard to tell what is necessary and it ends up just leaving a “bad taste in your mouth,” rather than a satisfying feeling.

Next, have the students pull out their “story proposal worksheet” from the prior lesson and have them look specifically at the 3rd, 4th, and 5th bullet points on the worksheet- the questions that deal with structure. Ask students to re-read their answers, thinking of this story proposal as the recipe for the “sandwich” they are building. Which sandwich does it look like it is shaping up to be? What ingredients do they need to add to the list make it more likely to come out like sandwich number one? Give students about 3-5 minutes to consider this and revise their proposal sheet.

This will likely bring you to the end of a one-hour class period, but if you have more time or would like to extend this lesson, one possible next step could be to have students return to the story they annotated the day before, this time looking specifically for elements of structure. They could even creatively label the story with terms like “Bread,” “Meat,” “Mayo,” etc.


- This lesson was inspired by a lesson in The Freedom Writers Diary Teacher’s Guide by Erin Gruwell.

Gruwell, Erin. "Making a Sandwich." The Freedom Writers Diary: Teacher's Guide. New York: Broadway, 2007. 73-76. Print.

* If you are teaching this unit along with the Freedom Writers Diary, there are some great suggestions in this lesson on how to use specific entries from the diary to do this. Page 76 also has a fun graphic organizer that could be used in a variety of ways.

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