Pedagogical Snacking: Transforming Classroom Dynamics

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 44 seconds

Before I start writing this, I want to say that if you’ve never done this before, you may think I’m exaggerating the impact of what I’m about to tell you. I want you to trust me on this, but I don’t think you’ll imagine it until you try it. I also want to differentiate very clearly, outright, that my use of snacks is completely different from others who use snacks for “reward” (I never do that) or food for occasional celebration (I have almost never used it that way). I use this in very intentional ways for clear pedagogical purpose, and occasionally, I do something different for various reasons and discover new impacts.

Snacking for Diversity and Inclusion

My initial use of snacks was as a way of demonstrating diversity and inclusion. I’d bring in a variety of snacks and invite students to take the one that appealed to them most. Often, one of the snacks was a really popular chocolate called Ferrero Rocher and a box of Galaxy Jewels (with a variety of different chocolates) – and over time, I added something like savory biscuits, gum, milk, juice, fruits, nuts. I’d ask students if it would have been better to just bring Ferrero (since the majority of people preferred that) versus other things, and we’d discuss the diversity of our tastes, but also, more importantly, that bringing only one type of snack (chocolate) would “exclude” certain people – and they’d share whom those excluded folks would be, right? People who were diabetic, dieting, vegan, allergic, etc. And then we’d tie it to the rest of what we were discussing that day around diversity, equity, inclusion, pedagogy, depending on the course and topic. This was always a simple, powerful, and also delicious 🙂 approach that we kept referring to later in the semester.

Snacking for Breathing

This one is related to Fall 2021 when I was teaching with masks. I felt like some students may find it difficult to spend 75 minutes straight wearing a mask in class, so I decided to give them a 5 minute break around 40 minutes in, to go outside and take off their masks, take a breath, and come back in. I also decided, for some reason, to include a little snack with it (a tiny candy or gum or dates or whatever) and it became a thing they do on their way out, is pick out a snack and take their break. I always found them coming back in more energized and ready to focus with me again, whether it was from the breath of fresh air or the sugar rush, it worked well for me. The outdoor element was a safety consideration: it was safer to take masks off outdoors and I was lucky enough to be teaching at the ground floor where they had room to walk outdoors straight away.

Snacking for Socialization

Last semester and this semester, the “outdoor” element related more to the cleanliness and rules of the special classroom where I teach – it has special new high-end tech and food is not allowed inside. And I teach at 8:30am when maybe many students are still not fully away, had not had breakfast, etc. I know nutrition influences the capacity to learn/focus. So we do the outdoor snack thing, usually around 40 mins in, occasionally our discussions are intense and I don’t have time to do it until the last 5 mins, and I still give them snacks on their way out. Last semester, students commented on how the “snack time” element of class truly contributed to the social relations of class, and this semester students have talked about how they use snack time to reflect on class topics less formally. I sometimes go out with them during snack time, and sometimes I use the time to set things up in class, or chat with a particular student who needs help with something.

However, a couple of times, I’ve done it at the BEGINNING of class, for different reasons. Yesterday, especially, it was serendipitous and transformative at once. I decided to do snack time at the beginning of class because it was a class session where students needed to give each other feedback on the prototypes of their projects, and some people were late… and also, one student seemed to need individual attention before her presentation. So I gave a 10 min snack break at the start of class. When I was done supporting the one student inside the room, I went out to call in the rest and they were standing in a circle laughing and joking around the snack… and when they came into class, it was the most boisterous social environemnt ever! They came up in small groups to present their prototype, and others were eager to jump in and give feedback more quickly than ever before, and they were sooooo supportive of each other, giving suggestions of how to improve the game, occasionally commenting on brilliant scenarios by their colleagues. Students who weren’t always very talkative were participating and giving feedback to their colleagues. People felt comfortable receiving critical comments on their prototypes, more than ever before. It felt like such a supportive classroom environment, and I think, I really think, it’s because they warmed up over some mini-croissants in the outdoors before coming in.

Now, of course, doing this in the beginning of the semester without me there would have probably been awkward, but because it was in the middle of the semester after I’d done a lot more structured warm-up and social and group activities, we’d reached a point where the class gelled with each other and could manage their social interactions comfortably without me there at all. Several of them commented on how much they enjoyed class yesterday (and honestly, they enjoy class many days, as do I, but yesterday was super special).

Yes, but what about learning?

If you know me, you’ll know that the social outcome/process is a goal in itself for me. Building community alone has value. But also, in the case of yesterday especially, but also all the examples above more broadly, their learning is influenced by the snack break. Yesterday especially, the way they interacted with each other to give peer feedback was deeper than any peer feedback I’d seen ever before in any class, mine or anyone else’s (I observe a lot of other people’s classes). And so I’m blogging this to reflect on and record this dynamic, so I never forget this idea of trying the snack break ahead of a “peer feedback” session. I think perhaps it also relaxed them before the presentation, which many people might have felt nervous about? Presenting in front of friends is so different from presenting formally, and the snack at the beginning reminds them that they’re at least “friendly” with one another.

Featured Image of coffee and macaroons by Pexels from Pixabay 

13 thoughts on “Pedagogical Snacking: Transforming Classroom Dynamics

  1. Maha! I love this! I have been bringing snacks to class with me for years for all the reasons you outline – and offer them as people are leaving because I know some of them won’t go get lunch / can’t afford lunch. I love your framing!

  2. This is quite brilliant to read about, not only for the results but demonstrating the idea of experimenting with new ideas for socialization and also creating a belonging sense in the room. Like Roz I wonder about variations one could try online.

    I was reminded of time long long ago, like pre-pre-pre-pre pandemic when I got to visit the high school classroom of an early blog hero, Clay Burrell. His practice including starting his English / literature classes with making of and sharing hot tea with everyone. The ritual part seemed to create a sense of calmness in the room, or maybe it was just not the typical class that launches into content/assignment.

    1. And hot tea is just so special. I know some ppl also enjoy the act of making it, and in some cultures it means a lot. For many years, I didn’t drink anything hot. And then during the pandemic my voice started to suffer from all the workshops I was giving across timezones and hot drinks incl tea helped a lot and now I value it a lot. I bet my students would love it if I got them coffee (we once discussed tastes and smells that bring them joy and sooooo many said coffee). I forgot to mention that I baked cinnamon cookies for that class session and many of them like cinnamon so they liked those. Baking for my students is occasional, too. I used to make banana bread but with zucchini and rice flour and demerera sugar and ask them to guess the ingredients. Very few ever guessed those three ingredients. It was for a creativity course, so it was all about the creativity aspect back then.

  3. I have an assignment where students examine the calories for 3 snacks they like. Having them share that back with the class would really add to that assignment (though they can’t actually eat it in chemistry labs for obvious reasons).

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