North Carolina Teacher
As a special educator, my favorite class that I have had the privilege to teach was called “Independent Living.” This class was, as I’m sure will come as no surprise, a class all about preparing students to live independently. A unique aspect of this class was that we frequently had the opportunity to utilize real-life skills in real-life settings by way of field trips.
Usually, the field trip definition people subscribe to involves traveling to some exciting destination that is set up to maximize learning, such as a museum, show, exhibit, etc. However, when your goal is to refine everyday skills, it only makes sense to visit everyday places! This challenges the common field trip definition. A field trip destination my class and I frequented was the grocery store.
While a grocery store may not sound like the most thrilling of field trip destinations, there are a myriad of vital life skills students can practice in this setting.
Below are some simple lesson ideas to be used in conjunction with a grocery store field trip.
Money can be a weak spot for students, even at the high school level. Not only do students often struggle to count money, they may lack common sense about the value of money and the cost of basic items. Here are some activities that can be done to strengthen your student’s financial literacy. Keep in mind that these activities work best with small class sizes (perhaps ten or fewer students).
- Unit price calculation— While at the store, have students record prices and sizes of various products. When back in the classroom, help them calculate the unit price for each selection (for example, the cost of a single cookie in a package or the cost of one ounce of soda). This can lead to a discussion of the benefits of buying in bulk or the reasons behind joining membership stores such as Sam’s Club or Costco.
- Brand comparison— Have students record and compare prices of brand name and generic Make sure that students select identical sizes of products they are comparing (or that they calculate unit price prior to comparing). To increase student engagement, let students pick what types of products they are comparing.
- Store pricing comparison— This idea requires two field trips to two separate stores. Have students record and compare prices of identical items at two different grocery This can lead to a discussion over why discrepancy in prices exist for the same item across stores, and why someone may choose to shop at a pricier store. If you can only visit one store in real life, you can “visit” the other store online to collect relevant prices.
- Grocery Shopping— It’s common for students to have no concept of what it costs to eat for a week. In class, have students compile a grocery list of all the items they think they will need for a You can have them estimate what they think each item will cost at the store, have them record the actual prices of all of the items they listed. Back at school, they can find the total of their supplies for the week. Then, they can come up with ways they can reduce their weekly grocery bill (coupons, buying generic, shopping at a different store, cutting out extras, etc.).
- Paying at the cash register— You don’t need money to browse and learn at the grocery store, but if each student brings in a few dollars, they can select an item to purchase and practice paying (either with change or to the next dollar). During this interaction, students can also practice proper check-out line etiquette, such as how to wait in line, how to place items on the conveyor belt, how to greet the cashier, making appropriate small talk, etc.
If your students are anything like mine, they’d love to exist off a diet of hot chips and energy drinks. As appetizing as all that may be, nutritional knowledge is crucial to living a healthy, well-balanced life. Here are some ideas on how to use a field trip to the grocery store to help familiarize your students with the nutritional value of food.
Nutritional facts scavenger hunt— Get your students to study the nutrition labels on various foods by creating a scavenger hunt with prompts such as:
- Find a food with less than 1 gram of sodium
- Find a snack with 300 calories
- Find a food that doesn’t contain gluten
Consider having students record serving sizes of the foods they find as well to have a more in-depth conversation about what and how much they are putting in their bodies.
Create a balanced meal— This idea requires some extra resources in the forms of:
- money (ask each student to bring a few dollars)
- a kitchen to cook in (special education departments often have these– ask to borrow their kitchen if you do not have access yourself).
Following a lesson on what makes a balanced diet (see the excellent website MyPlate), have students plan, shop for, and cook a meal for the class. This field trip idea utilizes a wide variety of vital skills apart from nutrition:
- Money skills- Students will need to work off of a budget of whatever money is available to the class to build a meal that will feed the whole class
- Food safety- After the food has been purchased, teach your students how to store it correctly and talk about how long it can be stored (you can bring in discussion of expiration/use-by dates)
- Social skills- Eat the meal in a “family style” way and facilitate mealtime-appropriate conversation. Also, incorporate dinner table manners that the students can practice while
For many high school students, it is not easy to approach an employee at an establishment to ask a question. And, even if they do build up the nerve to approach such a stranger, they may not know what to say to communicate their needs clearly. Social skills, especially those pertaining to speaking with professionals at a place of business, are other skills that can be practiced at a grocery store.
Grocery store scavenger hunt— Create a list of questions that can only be answered by asking the correct employee at the grocery Create a variety of questions that will require students to visit different departments and talk to different employees. Some questions can be those that they may need answered as a customer, and others can be questions about employment at a grocery store.
Some examples of questions for students to investigate:
- What is your return policy on perishable food items?
- How can I get a cake personalized?
- Where can you find (obscure grocery item students will need help in finding)?
- What education do you need to be hired at a grocery store?
- How many hours a week does a cashier work at a grocery store?
- How does a grocery bagger decide which groceries to bag together?
- What is the best part about working in a grocery store?
- How can I apply for a job at this store?
If you do a field trip where your students will be interacting frequently with employees, it’s probably a good idea to give the manager a call and ask if they are willing to accommodate your class. They can then prepare their staff and let them know to be ready to field questions from your students. The manager also may be able to advise you on good times to visit where there will be fewer customers.
These are just a handful of ideas of vital life skills that can be practiced at a grocery store. That is one benefit of this type of field trip– it is so versatile and the possibilities are endless.
Another benefit of a grocery store field trip is that the simplicity of this location cuts down on many of the hassles of planning for a field trip. For starters, you don’t need any money to learn at the grocery store. Scheduling is easy, as the grocery store is usually always open during school hours. Coordinating is easy as well, as the store doesn’t even need to know you are coming (unless you are hoping to utilize their employees in some way as mentioned previously). To cut down on the hassle of field trip planning even further, consider utilizing a permission slip app to send permission slips directly to your parents’ cell phones.
Enjoy your grocery store adventure!
This new land of virtual school thrust me head first into the fire that awaits me next school year: a hybrid position split evenly between classroom teaching and teacher support. I cannot pretend to be an expert in virtual school, but I can share some wisdom from the front lines.
If you’d have told me in January 2020 that just a few short months later, I’d be saying farewell to teaching my students physically, I’d have thought you were crazy. But that was early 2020, and as January progressed to February and March, the COVID-19 situation escalated far faster than I could have imagined.
Teaching a class from home has a very specific set of challenges that many educators are now facing daily. Some of the most common challenges are a proper network set-up, a reliable and safe platform to use, making sure students can connect, engagement and a quiet location to teach from.