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Why Use Visual Recipes in the Classroom?

At a Glance

In this post, we'll go over the ways that you can use visual recipes in your classroom to cover a wide range of skills with your students.

Define and describe the important "ingredients" of a visual recipe and what to look for.

Discuss how a visual recipe can be more helpful for your students as an accommodation vs. a fully written one from a cookbook or online source.

So many students love cooking in the classroom for a variety of reasons. Depending on your recipe and equipment you can do everything from fun decorating to learning about chemical reactions. As a bonus, making food can feel like a unique departure from everyday classroom activities even when the recipe itself is fairly simple.


On the teacher side of things, there’s so many different skills that you can emphasize within the context of making a recipe: making accurate measurements, time management, reading management, practical math (including fractions!), social skills, teamwork, and self-advocacy! Because there is such a wide variety of possible recipes you can use, it’s often possible to find the type of recipe that would best help you emphasize a particular skill over others.


While recipes can feature many different processes and come in many different forms, today we want to make the case for the specific value of visual recipes in general and special education classroom settings. 


Many recipes out there have visual components, and one telling place where you will often see lots of detailed visuals is in instructional books for people who want to learn foundational cooking skills on the way to becoming a professional. 


Oftentimes recipe books more geared toward a home cook audience are not so heavily technique focus and will just leave written instructions knowing that the recipe leaves some room for error.


But this ambiguity in “simpler” recipes can make them harder to follow for many would-be home cooks! How does one know if they’re using the correct, say, folding technique when the only instruction a recipe offers is to fold two ingredients together? 


While it is great that we have visual instructions for learning basic skills like cutting an onion or butchering a chicken, the value of seeing how something is done exactly can translate to simpler recipes too! 

What exactly do we mean by visual recipe?

Visual recipes can take a variety of forms, but there are some working definitions trying to encompass all of the elements that make their core function and purpose. Drawing from the definition provided in the link, we made a list of the core components of a given recipe that may include with pictures that fit as a visual recipe:

  1. Identifying the ingredients

  2. Measuring the ingredients

  3. The physical steps in the recipe

Identifying the Ingredients

While some ingredients may be obvious to some people, too many recipes take for granted that a given reader will immediately be familiar with ingredients or whether they have the right one. 


What type of brown sugar or corn syrup should I be looking for? Is there a specific cacao % I need in the chocolate for this specific recipe? What type of apple works best in this pie? And if I”m looking for all of this stuff in the store, how do I know I’ve found the right product?


Some recipe books will go in-depth on this subject and others might offer some specific advice about specialty ingredients, but many recipes fall short of giving people the details they need to procure the right ingredients, especially those who are learning to use a particular recipe for the first time. 


Visual recipes can both address that challenge with its core component of pictures and be cognizant that sometimes ingredient selection can be confusing and offer more detail about what is important for this particular activity.

Measuring the Ingredients

One common refrain from beginning bakers is that things just don’t seem to quite turn out right, and that’s because baking among all types of cooking is most prone to problems stemming from incorrect measurement of ingredients. 


Incorrect measurements can happen in all sorts of ways and some of them might be the result of carelessness, but others can be because the home cook in question simply doesn’t know the way the recipe book expects them to measure the ingredients.


For those who aren’t bakers that last sentence might seem a little weird. The recipe book expects you to do measurements in a specific way? The long answer depends on the recipe book but the short answer in a lot of cases is yes! 


Some recipes account for the fact that there will be some variance in home baker measurement, but particularly when it comes to powder ingredients like flour baking books will recommend you put spoonfuls into a measuring cup and then leveling off to prevent overpacking. 


But then if you’re measuring brown sugar you specifically want it packed in! Showing how and with what tools ingredients are meant to be measured can have a real impact on the final product.

The Physical Steps in the Recipe

What constitutes “folding”? How do I know when I have soft peaks?


There’s all types of specific terminology in cooking that is great for clarifying but for those who are still learning it can be hard to know exactly what the instructions are asking you to do, whether you’re doing it right, and whether it is working or not. 


Much like we shouldn’t just assume someone would chop an onion the way we want them to because we said “go chop that onion,” we can’t assume everyone will carry out written instructions the exact way we intend. 


With visual recipes, we can not only offer specifics on how to carry out a given step but what it should look like when done correctly.

How should visual recipes be helping students?

Now that we’ve explored why the visual elements of visual recipes can be so important, it’s worth taking time to dive into the ways students might find use or benefit from visual recipes in particular. 


For many students, having an activity that tries to get as close as possible to real life is helpful on its own.


Other students may find value in learning more about sequencing in recipes and why we do it a certain way or specific skills from a given recipe that generalize to other recipes. 


So, for example, if a visual recipe focuses on correct folding technique that student may be able to apply that technique to other recipes that are not as clearly defined. Alternately, students may find particular recipes to be enjoyable and something they want to go back to over and over again!


Although visual recipes feature an accommodation and many people may find them valuable for instructional purposes, ultimately they are still recipes and when a student feels confident preparing them they will be able to take that skill with them and apply it elsewhere. 


Even if your student moves on to less accommodating recipes, the skills they learned will be a valuable asset.

Of course, at AGU we have never believed that the purpose of accommodations is purely to get to a point where that accommodation is not needed.


Accommodations are tools, and people who benefit from the tool of a visual recipe should continue to be able to access them as our skills grow. 


That’s why AGU is continuing to grow its visual recipe library and we would be very excited to hear what any self-advocates, students, or teachers are excited to try next!

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