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Unit 2, Activity 8: Food Environments

Activity Description/Rationale 

The guiding questions of this activity are: what is a food environment? What types of food environments exist in the U.S.? What are their characteristics? What diet(s) does/do each type promote? Students will construct definitions of different food environments, rate them in terms of health, economics and emotional states, and discuss the relationships between them and those topics. 


Students will…

- identify types of food environments and their characteristics

- identify what nutrients are found in specific food environments

- identify what diets are promoted in specific food environments

- understand that the experience of food environments is often subjective


Universal Design for Learning/Differentiation



  1. printouts of various food environments from the outside and inside, photos of specific foods found in these environments (identical sets for each student group)
  2. the same notecards with nutrients, additives, diseases and health conditions used in Activity 7 (identical sets for each student group, and probably multiple copies of each term)
  3. a computer with internet access connected to a projector, and ideally, one computer per student group

Estimated Time of Activity
50 minutes

Students will have become familiar with the definition of food environment and have a general idea of types of food environments from the readings. 

Activity Instructions

  1. Warm Up (5 min): Ask the class to call out some types of food environments in the U.S. and list them on the board.  Combine any types that are very similar into one type and leave the list up on the board.  Encourage students to expand on the types listed in the readings to come up with more specific categories (e.g. instead of just “restaurants”, list “fast food restaurants/national franchises”, “homestyle restaurants”, “high-end restaurants”, etc.).
  2. Group Work (15 min): Tell students to group the printouts of food places, aisles, and foods based on which ones they think go together in a food environment.  After they’ve done so, have them add the notecards to the groups based on what words they associate with each food environment.  Ask student groups to name each food environment, using the list generated in the Warm Up.  Then ask each student to individually brainstorm additional words they associate with the food environments, and write them down, along with the notecard words.  Encourage students to draw from the homework readings and add some words relating to food access and security.  Next use a Word Cloud generator (examples are given here: to create Word Clouds for each type of food environment.
  3. Whole Class Discussion (15 min):  As a class, compare different groups’ and individuals’ photo clusters and Word Clouds.  Were they mostly the same or different? Why do we think this is the case? Which nutrients are found in and diets promoted by each environment? How?
  4. Individual Work and Whole Class Discussion (10 min): Have students individually rate each food environment from 1 to 5 (1 being least and 5 being most) in terms of: healthiness, fun, comfort, cost, overall appeal, etc.  Discuss.  Which food environments are highly and lowly rated for each category? Why?
  5. Wrap-up (5 min): Ask the class what kinds of food environments exist in their communities, neighborhoods and regions.  Explain that for homework and the next activity, they’ll be collecting data about their local food environments, and analyzing it in combination with demographic and health data to explore the relationship between food environments, socioeconomic status, and health where they live.  If you don’t already know the neighborhoods in which the students live, have them list their neighborhoods for you, so you can print out the appropriate base maps for the next activity.

- do Assessment Sheets 2 and 3 (4 if they have enough time) in Activity F4b in Solar One’s Green Design Lab: Food

- write short photovoice narratives for the photos of the food available in their neighborhoods used in Activities 3 (second session) and 7 – they can take more photos if they want, especially of the places they visit for Activity F4b

Assessment and Reflection
The Warm Up and Group Work assess students’ knowledge of food environments from their lives and the readings.  The two Whole Class Discussions assess students’ understandings of food environments by asking them to think about how different perspectives affect how people define and describe food environments, and to connect their knowledge of nutrients and diets to food environments.