Chocolate is worth studying, and it can be a great classroom theme all year round.
The very first thing to do, when you first start thinking about using the theme, is to write off to the chocolate companies explaining that you plan to do this in your classroom. They will send you things, but it can take some time, so don’t delay. I got a bunch of pamphlets, stickers, and stuff like that, and Kathy Simmons from Farmington even got samples. If you still teach letter writing skills, have students find company addresses online and write the letters.
I also ordered some chocolate from other continents, because candy bars from other countries are really quite different from ours. Gourmet chocolate isn’t the way to go for the variety; gourmet chocolate tends to be much the same from one country to another. It’s stuff like Australia’s Violet Crumble , Japan’s Pocky Stick Snack , England’s Nestle Yorkie Bar (“It’s not for girls!”) or Canada’s Big Turk that really shows the variety. City dwellers may be able to find exotic candy bars in local groceries, the online Chocolate Lover’s Box has an exotic assortment, or you could post a request for candy bars online and see whether you can persuade fellow citizens of the world to send you some exotic wrappers. If you go with any variant on this idea, be sure to have students use maps and globes to find the origin of the chocolates in question.
Use these items to make a table or a bulletin board for your chocolate theme. You could also cover your bulletin board in chocolate brown paper and plaster it with chocolate wrappers.
Bring out your chocolate books. Here are some of our favorites:
- Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, by Steve Almond, has some fine economics lessons, and is a fun read. Choose some paragraphs to read aloud for younger classrooms, and let secondary-level students enjoy it for extended reading.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,by Roald Dahl, is a classic. There is an excellent TCR lit unit for this book, DVDs of the movie versions to show clips from, and recordings to enjoy. If your class has already read it, consider the sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.
- The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier, brings up some serious discussion points.
- The Chocolate Touch, by Patrick Skene Catling, is a chocolaty take on the Midas story. TCR does a lit unit for this book, too.
- Chocolate Fever, by Robert Kimmel Smith, is one of the most popular elementary read-aloud chapter books.
- The True History of Chocolate, by Sophie and Michael Coe is a wonderful resource and will answer all your questions about chocolate’s exciting past.
Here are some handy general links:
- The Chocolate Manufacturer’s Association has lots of useful stuff, including a discussion of social responsibility in cocoa production, instructions for doing a chocolate taste test, and health information.
- Classroom teacher Beck Settlemoir has compiled a list of chocolate activity ideas.
- The popularity of the M&Ms math books by Barbara Barbieri McGrath has led to lots of folks’ using M&Ms as math manipulatives. Here is a page of ideas.
- Here is a lesson using Jerry Pallotta’s The Hershey’s Fractions Book.
- Recipes give good opportunities to practice fractions, and there are so many chocolate recipes available that you will have no difficulty in finding numerous examples.
- The Exploratorium’s Chocolate site includes science and social studies connections.
- Work with candy bar nutrition labels. Of course you could go buy lots of candy bars and eat them in order to gather wrappers, or use the suggestion above to collect them from kind correspondents, but you can also go to Brad Kent’s site and find 600 examples.
- Chemistry and botany tables on chocolate will give good practice in reading tables, and a rare resource for classification of a plant rather than an animal.
- “The Physical Chemistry of Making Fudge” is an excellent article and will have even more meaning if you follow it up by making some fudge the old-fashioned way. This is practical physical science.
- Learn about the History of Chocolate. This is a topic that lends itself to so many studies, including continents, culture contact, explorers, the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, technology, inventions, New World civilizations, economics… in short, something for everyone. This link has lots of background information, and lots of reproducible PDF files, too.
- The Smithsonian has a resource with video.
- Add items from this Timeline of Chocolate to your classroom timeline. There are a few slightly racy entries.
- If you have written to manufacturers for information, you may find that you have multiple versions of chocolate history. Sharpen research skills by checking and synthesizing them all and compiling the most accurate history of chocolate possible.
- A set of lesson plan ideas designed to “internationalize” your curriculum.