Focus on Five: Classroom Restaurant Experience

This year, I really wanted to make my social studies lessons more engaging and hands-on. Using The Autism Helper’s Social Studies Daily Leveled Curriculum (Level 1) as inspiration, we are starting units based off of Unit 2, “All Around Town” and creating interactive lessons and activities for students that incorporate academic, functional and social skills in one experience. A restaurant was one of the places featured in this unit in this resource, so I decided to create a restaurant experience. Here are five things I considered in developing a restaurant experience for my classroom…

1. Planning

I started with my end goal of having a restaurant experience and worked backwards.  I chose a Reading A-to-Z book called “We Go Out To Eat”, to introduce all the steps and skills that going to a restaurant required. I thought about all the skills needed to be independent at a restaurant- ordering, paying, conversation skills and developed those into mini-lessons and practice opportunities. I also needed “food” for the restaurant experience, so I planned on students creating plates of their own. We created breakfast plates since “We Go Out to Eat” was about going out for breakfast. I planned on this unit being about 2 weeks long and invited the OT and speech pathologist to come in to help with lessons, practice and activities leading up to the experience.

2. Academic Skills

I used “We Go Out to Eat” as an introductory activity to learn all the steps of going out to eat at a restaurant. I also introduced the vocabulary featured in “We Go Out to Eat”, the same way in introduce vocabulary during small group reading lessons. To further reinforce vocabulary, I used a video on YouTube as a warm-up before each lesson from Learn English for Kids- All About Restaurant. This video was really great because it was really clear, showed the picture and word for restaurant vocabulary and repeated each word multiple times. I also brought in real life items, such as my bill from a restaurant, menus and an apron (which I wore during the experience and to make practicing the skills more fun).

3. Functional Skills

Functional skills that were taught and practiced as part of the restaurant experience were ordering and paying. Before we practiced ordering, I asked students what their favorite breakfast foods were so I could make sure I could put together a menu that students would want to practice ordering from. We also worked on paying, which was a helpful way to show that we use math and money as part of our everyday lives. I created slides to show how to count out money and offered multiple practice opportunities for students to practice paying a bill.

4. Social Skills

Social skills can be a difficult skill for students in a low-incidence setting to grasp, however, the more exposure and practice opportunities students have, the more they will improve. We took the opportunity to practice expressing preferences, answering questions and having a conversation while waiting for food. Although I mentioned ordering and paying as functional skills, there is a social component to both of these skills (e.g. greeting, saying “thank you”). Our speech pathologist was able to come in for two social studies lessons to help practice ordering and commenting.

5. The Experience 

The actual restaurant experience was a lot of fun!  Our social studies time is in the middle of the morning, so I needed some time to set up the restaurant. I had students help create a “waiting area” on the carpet with chairs. During the restaurant experience, the students knew exactly what to do because of the practice opportunities we had ordering and paying.  I also projected a Restaurant Background Noise Ambience to add to the restaurant feel and experience.  I hope to do this activity again, perhaps with different foods and having a student be the server and the cashier. To incorporate writing, I had students craft a Yelp review after their restaurant experience.

I hope this inspires you to create an experience or simulation in your own classroom. For more restaurant resources, check out The Autism Helper’s All About the Restaurant Life Skills Unit. Stay healthy and safe! 

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