Visual Recipes: A Way to Increase Participation in Cooking Classes

  • Situation

    I’m a Middle School FACS (Family and Consumer Sciences) teacher and I have a student with special needs in my class of 20 general education students.  She’s not disruptive, but she also doesn’t participate very much.  How can I help her get more out of my cooking classes?

  • Summary

    Try using Visual Recipes to help your student understand the ingredients, measurements, and steps in your cooking lessons.  Additionally, utilization of visuals may increase class participation.

  • Definition

    Some students benefit from visual supports that help clarify verbal information – such as using a Visual Recipe in cooking class.  A Visual Recipe uses pictures to walk a student through identifying the ingredients, measuring the ingredients, and the steps involved when cooking with a recipe.  The Visual Recipe will assist the student in understanding and sequencing the steps in the recipe.  In addition, having pictures available provides the student with  an alternative response form if they have limited or unintelligible speech (or even if they are just shy!).  As the teacher, you can provide the student with a warning, telling when he or she has to respond, such as, “Sarah, get ready. After Adam tells us the first ingredient, I am going to ask you to tell the next one.”  The student will then have time to reference the Visual Recipe and respond by either saying or pointing to the next ingredient when asked.  To further assist the student in keeping pace with the class, he or she may be instructed to “check off” each step as it is completed.   The Visual Recipe may also be sent home for the student to cook with his or her family!

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 3-5, 6-10, 11-13, 14-17, 18+
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Pre-requisites

    • ability to follow a visual schedule

    • understanding of basic measurements in cooking and/or ability to follow a measurement chart

    • creation/conversion of simple recipes to visual recipes

  • Process

    1. Preview the cooking lesson you want to teach your class.  If possible, select a short, simple recipe that easily lends itself to visual conversion.

    2. Locate pictures or draw simple sketches to depict the ingredients and amounts in the recipe.  (see Related Resources section below)

    3. Add visuals to the steps in the recipe to show the actions the student will take to complete the cooking activity.

    4. Prime the student for the lesson by introducing the Visual Recipe to the student before class.  This may be done by another adult such as a paraeducator or Learning Support teacher if necessary. Review the ingredient list, measurements, and steps.  Check for understanding by asking the student to tell you what each picture represents.

    5. Post the Visual Recipe in the cooking area and remind the class to use it as necessary.  Using the visual support with the entire class may keep your student from feeling singled out.  Privately encourage your student to refer to it consistently or possibly assign a willing and supportive peer to assist.  Provide frequent reinforcement for use of the visual support – especially in the initial phase of learning.

    6. Monitor the effectiveness of this visual strategy to determine if changes need to be made (i.e. fewer steps, bigger pictures, photos vs. icons, etc.)

  • Documents and Related Resources visual resources  (website for visual recipe examples)

  (website for visual resources)


    Visual Recipe Yummy Sausage Squares (Word document)


    Visual Recipe Yummy Sausage Squares (PDF)


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