When I was a child, we had a poem which was often recited at the dinner table:
The Goops, they lick their fingers,
The Goops, they lick their knives,
They spill their broth on the tablecloth.
They lead disgusting lives!
We liked to say this last line in a dramatic way, dropping our voices about an octave and shuddering.
The Goops, they talk while eating
And loud and fast they chew.
And that is why I’m glad that I am not a Goop —
We liked to say this last line in an accusatory and sudden manner, hoping to startle people who didn’t already know this poem.
We don’t have our students do much memorization and recitation, but I think it says something that I can still easily type this poem out from memory, even though it has been many years since it was a feature at my dinner table.
The complete title of the book containing this and other information about the Goops is Goops and How to Be Them: A Manual of Manners for Polite Infants Inculcating Many Juvenile Virtues, etc., and it was written by Gelett Burgess in 1900. Print out a PDF file of a poster showing Table Manners, the poem at the top of this post.
Trout Fishing in America extended the words and made a song of them.
Once you’ve enjoyed “Table Manners” as a poem, you might want to go ahead and study table manners. These may or may not be part of the curriculum at your school, but we think that they give kids confidence in social situations and are likely to improve their experiences with holiday meals.
Another book we like for starting off discussions on this subject is The Perfect Thanksgiving by Eileen Spinelli. This fun picture book compares two families. In one, “Everyone takes dainty bites, and no one makes a sound,” while in the other, “My sister slurps. My uncle burps. And Aunt Clarissa sings.” The point of this story is that both families are perfect, each in its own way. That’s a far cry from “They lead disgusting lives!”
Use this contrast to start a discussion of table manners. Check out our Perfect Thanksgiving Lesson Plans for more ways to use the book in your classroom.
One more book to consider is How My Parents Learned to Eat, a story about how an ethnically diverse couple learns about one another’s eating customs: chopsticks or forks stand in for a more general concept of differing customs and the importance of respecting them. Discuss different ideas about table manners in different cultures. Some examples:
- In France, it’s rude to put your hands in your lap, while in the U.S. it’s rude to put your elbows on the table.
- In India, people eat with their hands, while in the U.S. people usually eat with forks.
- In Laos, it’s rude to drink anything with your meal, while in the U.S. it’s customary to do so.
- In Japan, it’s polite to slurp your noodles with gusto, while in the U.S. it’s considered rude.
Collect other examples from students. This should help dispel the idea that table manners are “common sense” or “ordinary courtesy,” and help to clarify that following the customs considered appropriate in the home where you’re eating is a sign of respect.
Some online resources:
- Use printable cards to make meals into a game.
- A checklist of table manners for little children.
- A Victorian era Manners Chart which was posted in schools in Australia. Compare the ideas on this chart with current ideas about manners. Have times changed?
Just a note from us — we found that a surprising percentage of the online resources listed when we searched for table manners resources and printables were from shady or dangerous sites. We recommend that you not have students research this topic online.