writing in good taste

Instead of doing boring research before writing a typical routine composition for English class, what if you could have an amazing meal on Washington Road with your classmates and write about it like you were a real dining critic? Fifth graders at Washington School got such an assignment this spring.

The fifth-grade restaurant critics selected among low, medium and high priced restaurants, ate at their chosen spot during a weekday school lunch period and kept detailed notes about the quality of service, food and atmosphere. As soon as they returned to school, to keep from forgetting details, they wrote their reviews right away, then submitted them as an assignment.

Dining review criteria
Dining review criteria

Fifth-grade teacher Rose Davidson says the reviews are a way to incorporate informational writing, narrative writing and math (calculating a tip), while supporting local restaurants. “It [helps] community building and is a win-win for the community,” Davidson says.

Students started by reading examples of food reviews before attending the lunch. They then selected a restaurant in the Washington Road business district to review. This year’s groups reviewed Mineo’s, Lebo Subs, Arancini House, Little Tokyo, Sesame Inn and Il Pizzaiolo. The lunch trips are optional as students must pay for their own meal; if students cannot afford the lunch, the school provides funds to ensure all students can participate.

We tagged along on a recent trip to Il Pizzaiolo. Although teacher chaperones kept an eye on the critics, the kids were calm and polite as they took notes on clipboards and asked servers about different dishes. “We treat it as a business lunch,” Davidson says, adding that “they take it seriously, like a professional would.”

Student reviewer Cole Bodnar asks the server about the menu
Student reviewer Cole Bodnar asks the waitress about the menu

Fifth-grader Cole Bodnar chose Il Pizzaiolo because, “it is well-known in the area and a good place to get good food.” Bodnar loved that Il Pizzaiolo smelled like fresh bread and the pasta was the “best I’ve ever had. It’s delicious, rich with texture and flavor.”

Wearing lanyards that identified them as restaurant critics, the kids enjoyed the food and good company, promising positive reviews for the restaurant. “The restaurant is very fancy and good quality,” fifth-grader Sophie Toussaint said of Il Pizzaiolo. “I like how the waitress was constantly checking on us.”

Critics at work
Critics at work

The curriculum has included restaurant reviews for six years and the local restaurants have always welcomed the kids, Davidson says. “They have always treated us really well,” Davidson says. “Everyone embraces it, the staff always goes out of their way for us.” Sometimes the teachers even give restaurants the kids’ reviews after they are submitted.

Impressed by more than the food and service, fifth-grader Mallory Gilberg remarked that she “[couldn’t] get over the ceiling, it is different from all the other ceilings and it’s very Italian.” Gilberg, a first-time customer at Il Pizzaiolo, said she would write “a lot of positive­­ stuff in my review, I really like it here.”

Davidson sees the lunches as fifth-graders’ final hurrah in elementary school. “It adds a little feather to their cap,” Davidson says. “They are the big kids and it is another opportunity for them before they become the little kids [in middle school] again.”­­­­­