Lesson Plans

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Eating Right with a Little Help from the VT

Lesson Question:

How can the Visual Thesaurus help students figure out what constitutes a "balanced diet"?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students will use the USDA food pyramid and the VT to learn about what foods constitute each of the five major food groups. Then, students will use this knowledge to write "balanced diet" menus for one day.

Length of Lesson:

One hour to one hour and a half

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:
  • understand the USDA "MyPyramid" balanced diet graphic
  • define each of the five major food groups and identify foods that fit into each category
  • write "balanced diet" menus for one day


  • student notebooks
  • white board
  • computers with Internet access
  • USDA MyPyramid for Kids graphic
  • "The Five Major Food Groups" worksheet [click here to download]
  • "A Balanced Diet Menu" worksheet [click here to download]

Warm Up:

Introducing the USDA MyPyramid graphic of a "balanced diet":
  • Display the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) MyPyramid for Kids graphic on the white board or print out a copy of the image for each student in the room. Explain to students that this food pyramid was designed to teach kids healthy eating habits.
  • Briefly discuss the different elements of the food pyramid with students, while pointing out that the different colored stripes in the food pyramid represent the five different food groups (plus oils): Grains, Vegetables, Fruits, Milk, and Meat & Beans.
  • Ask students why they think some colored bands on the pyramid are wider than others and establish that the wider bands represent food groups from which students should eat more foods, but that people should eat foods from all of the food groups every day in order to eat a "balanced diet."


Defining each of the five major food groups by using the VT:
  • Organize the class into small groups so that each group can cluster around a computer with Internet access.
  • Distribute a "The Five Major Food Groups" sheet to each group and have students fill in the blank following each food group title with the definition that their group finds on the VT that best fits the context of the food pyramid.
  • Circulate around the room to ensure that each group has correctly identified each food group's definition. For example, the first definition for "grain" listed in the "noun" meaning list on the left-hand side of grain's screen is "a small hard particle"; however, the definition of "grain" that applies to the context of eating habits is "foodstuff prepared from the starchy grains of cereal grasses" (Note: students are advised on the sheet to use the term "dairy product" to find a definition of "milk" that fits the context of this lesson.)
Analyzing current eating habits:
  • Ask students to jot down in their notes a typical day in their "eating lives." In other words, what foods do they tend to eat on a daily basis?
  • Have students look at the food chart and at their definitions from the "The Five Major Food Groups" sheet and try to determine if they are currently eating foods from each of the five food groups. If not, which food groups do they "hit" most often? (If possible, students could even sketch their own personal food pyramids to reflect their current eating habits. For example, if a student eats lots of meat and grains, but virtually no fruits and vegetables, or milk, they would end up drawing a pyramid dominated by the orange and purple color bands).
Designing a "balanced diet" menu for one day using the Visual Thesaurus:
  • Distribute "A Balanced Diet Menu" to each student and explain that students will be using this "fill-in-the-blank" menu to help them design a balanced menu for one day that includes foods from all of the five major food groups.
  • Explain to students that they can use the VT to help them plan their menus and to figure out the foods that make up each of the five major food groups. Demonstrate this process by clicking on the meaning or definition of one of the major food groups (thus reconfiguring the word web on the display to a "meaning web" where the definition is at the center of the web and different foods that belong to that food group will be shown in the outer positions on the web).
  • For example, if you click on the definition of "dairy product" as "milk and butter and cheese" in the meaning list on the right-hand column on the computer display screen, the definition will become the center of a web display that has various examples of dairy products "fanning out" around the central definition -- such as "cheese," "yogurt" or "cream."


Sharing Menus with the Class
  • Give students an opportunity to share their balanced menus with the class by either having volunteer students read them aloud or by displaying them on the classroom walls. As students learn about their classmates' menu choices, they may be inspired to tinker with their own menus by incorporating foods into their diets that they have not previously tried.

Extending the Lesson:

  • Challenge students to try to stick to their balanced menus for a complete day. They may need to make a special shopping trip in anticipation of that day to ensure their cupboards or fridges are well stocked. At the conclusion of their "balanced menu" day, have students write reflections on that day and whether or not they stuck to their balanced diets. If not, what did they eat in addition to the foods listed on their balanced diet sheets? What foods did they neglect?


  • By the end of the lesson, each group should have correctly identified a definition for each major food group that fits the context of this lesson.
  • Check students' balanced diet menus to assess if they include foods from each of the five major food groups.

Educational Standards:


Standard 6. Understands essential concepts about nutrition and diet

Level II [Grade: 3-5]

1. Knows the nutritional value of different foods

2. Knows healthy eating practices (e.g., eating a nutritious breakfast, eating a variety of foods, eating nutritious meals and snacks at regular intervals to satisfy individual energy and growth needs)

3. Knows factors that influence food choices (e.g., activity level, peers, culture, religion, advertising, time, age, health, money/economics, convenience, environment, status, personal experience)

4. Knows how food-preparation methods and food-handling practices affect the safety and nutrient quality of foods

Level III [Grade: 6-8]
1. Understands how eating properly can help to reduce health risks (in terms of anemia, dental health, osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, malnutrition)

2. Knows appropriate methods to maintain, lose, or gain weight according to individual needs and scientific research

3. Knows eating disorders that affect health adversely (e.g., anorexia, overeating, bulimia)

Standard 7. Knows how to maintain and promote personal health

Level III [Grade: 6-8]

3. Knows strategies and skills that are used to attain personal health goals (e.g., maintaining an exercise program, making healthy food choices)

Standard 8. Knows essential concepts about the prevention and control of disease

Level II [Grade: 3-5]

1. Knows ways in which a person can prevent or reduce the risk of disease and disability (e.g., practicing good personal hygiene, making healthy food choices, acknowledging the importance of immunizations, cooperating in regular health screenings)

Language Arts

Standard 5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process

Level II (Grades 3-5)

6. Uses word reference materials (e.g., glossary, dictionary, thesaurus) to determine the meaning, pronunciation, and derivations of unknown words

7. Understands level-appropriate reading vocabulary (e.g., synonyms, antonyms, homophones, multi-meaning words)

Level III (Grades 6-8)
3. Uses a variety of strategies to extend reading vocabulary (e.g., uses analogies, idioms, similes, metaphors to infer the meaning of literal and figurative phrases; uses definition, restatement, example, comparison and contrast to verify word meanings; identifies shades of meaning; knows denotative and connotative meanings; knows vocabulary related to different content areas and current events; uses rhyming dictionaries, classification books, etymological dictionaries)

Standard 8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

Level II (Grades 3-5)

1. Contributes to group discussions

2. Asks questions in class (e.g., when he or she is confused, to seek others' opinions and comments)

3. Responds to questions and comments (e.g., gives reasons in support of opinions, responds to others' ideas)

4. Listens to classmates and adults (e.g., does not interrupt, faces the speaker, asks questions, summarizes or paraphrases to confirm understanding, gives feedback, eliminates barriers to effective listening)

15. Knows specific ways in which language is used in real-life situations (e.g., buying something from a shopkeeper, requesting something from a parent, arguing with a sibling, talking to a friend)

16. Understands that language reflects different regions and cultures (e.g., sayings; expressions; usage; oral traditions and customs; historical, geographical, and societal influences on language)

Level III (Grades 6-8)
1. Plays a variety of roles in group discussions (e.g., active listener, discussion leader, facilitator)

2. Asks questions to seek elaboration and clarification of ideas

3. Uses strategies to enhance listening comprehension (e.g., takes notes; organizes, summarizes, and paraphrases spoken ideas and details)

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Comments from our users:

Friday June 20th 2008, 11:03 AM
Comment by: RICHARD C. (TEMPLE, TX)
I like this!

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