TBLT Czech Lessons – Task 4: At a Restaurant

After a few experimental lessons described in the previous posts, we were finally heading to safer ground. The language of ordering food at a restaurant appears in many coursebooks at quite early levels, and I had previously taught it on many occasions.

I knew, however, I would want to make some differences. In the coursebooks, the topic of ordering food is usually connected with the grammar of teaching the accusative case.

To je černá káva. —-“Dám si černou kávu, prosím.”

This is quite natural because if you want to speak accurately, it is what you need to be able to do – change the food items you order into the accusative. Yet it seems to me that the grammar is usually the main item on the agenda for the lesson. Obviously, there is also always a sample menu and a sample dialogue waiter: client ordering food and paying, but there is often very little practice, so after the lesson, students can’t cope in a restaurant on their own. Moreover, coursebooks become dated and you can see it in the choice of the menu items and, especially, the prices. So, my task was to design a lesson that would be similar to those in the coursebooks, but more principled and structured differently. Here’s what I did:

Thinking and Analysis

I analysed the topic and identified the following tasks and subtasks involved in the Final Task: “Order Food at a Restaurant and Pay for it.”

  1. Read restaurant menus.
  • Identify the different sections of the menu (Polévky, Předkrmy, Hlavní jídla, Přílohy, Saláty, Dezerty, Nápoje)
  • Understand the names of meals on the menu. This isn’t easy unless you just want to limit yourself to some “typical” Czech dishes. The language is often unpredictable, complex and different for each restaurant. Typical idiosyncrasies developed by restaurants include using the diminutives to name the meals for no obvious reason.

Smažený řízeček s domácími brambůrky

Why would you want your clients to think the “řízeček” is tiny if you can sell them a large “řízek”? I assume affection, not size is what is meant. Whichever of the two, the diminutive form suffices to obscure the mind of a beginner learner.

I also knew my student doesn’t care for Czech food, so I asked him to tell me his favourite restaurants and used their menus to prepare the lesson.

  1. Carry out basic conversations with restaurant staff:
  • Ask for a table
  • Order food and drinks (using the accusative case)
  • Ask for the bill and pay, give a tip (understand prices, say numbers)


I downloaded menus from the restaurant my student had mentioned. Beware, copying menus from a website into a Word documents results in some very messy layouts and can take ages to clear. Compared with a coursebook lesson, we were going spend a lot more time studying these if my student was to really understand the menus.

I prepared a worksheet with some of the pragmatics. Note to self: totally unnecessary. (Overly complicated thinking is, alas, the only resemblance I bear with my favourite female heroine Amélie de Montmartre). Note to yourselves: (1) Plan the language you want to teach – (2) Elicit from the students what they already know – (3) Then add whatever you had on the plan. No worksheet needed.

I found a reasonable recording of dialogue exchanges between the waiter and the customers in one of my textbooks. I would have liked to write my own dialogue and have it recorded by a different voice, but you can’t always have everything. I made a photocopy of the page, which contained four short dialogues and accompanying pictures. I cut up the dialogues and the pictures into eight different cards.

In Class:

The entire Task spread over nearly three 60-min lessons.

Reading Menus

We started by identifying parts of the menu, briefly dealt with beer terminology (presumably, my student had picked it up himself), and I helped him understand the meaning of the words on the menu. For homework, the student was to write a 5-course menu he would like to eat himself.

As an exit task for this, I downloaded a different daily menu from the same restaurant. I randomized the meals (the simplest way to randomize lists on worksheets is to use the A-Z button in Word) and asked the student to identify: (1) in which category the meal goes. i.e. whether it is a soup, main course, etc. (2) what he would order from the menu. This whole sequence spread over the three lessons by which time my student had picked up the words and started to understand. It was definitely a leap from where we had started.

Ordering Food and Paying

These were really nice two lessons. I presented the pictures that went with the dialogues and asked the student to order them and say what happens in each one. I then played the dialogue to check the order, and then I played the dialogues many more times for the student to understand as much as possible. When it was clear he wouldn’t retrieve anything else, I gave him the printed dialogues and we looked at the language.

Focus on Form 1: the Accusative

Here is the transcript of parts of the dialogues:

Dialogue 2:

Číšník: Co si dáte, prosím?

Eva: Dvakrát zeleninovou polévku, jednou hovězí guláš a knedlíky, jednou vepřový řízek a bramborovou kaši.

Dialogue 4:

Adam: Pane vrchní, platím.

Číšník : Hned to bude…. Takže dvakrát zeleninová polévka, jednou guláš, jednou řízek a třikrát malé pivo. Dohromady to dělá 338 Kč.

The language in bold is our target language. The language in bold and underlined highlights two different forms:

zeleninová polévka x zeleninovou polévku

I pointed out the difference to the student and asked why he thought the two forms were different.

After some thinking and negotiating with me, he did settle for the right answer. It is because the forms in Dialogue 2 are in the accusative which is used after “dám si” and many other verbs as a direct object.

The form of the accusative is different in some of the Feminine models, as you can see here, and in the Masculine Animate. Compare: To je pečený pstruh x Dám si pečeného pstruha. (This is roasted trout x I’ll have roasted trout.) The form is the same as the Nominative in the Neutral and Masculine Inanimate.

We clarified the rule and practised using the sample menu we had. I asked the student to find examples of the Feminine. I decided to leave out the Masculine Animate for the moment.

The student then practised ordering the food using the correct form. He still isn’t always accurate, but I think he understands the rule and knows when to apply it.

Focus on Form 2 – Numbers

Then we looked at reading numbers, which is an essential task for getting by when paying. I had assumed my student would be somehow familiar with numbers, but I didn’t know how much. What we did is we took one of the menus we had been using. I had made sure it didn’t contain any prices. My instructions were very simple. (As you may have noticed, my class activities tend to be quite minimalistic. It is the thinking that takes time.)

Think how much each meal might cost and write the price next to it.

I explained I would do the same with the same menu. We then asked the same question all over again (a very useful drill):

A: Kolik stojí XY? (How much is…)

B: Moje XY stojí 109 Kč. A kolik stojí vaše XY? (My XY is 109 Kč. And how much is yours?)

A: Moje XY stojí 129. (My XY is 129 Kč).

I had not anticipated it, but it was fun. The different prices made us laugh and comment on.

“To je moc drahá chřestová polévka.” (This asparagus soup is too expensive)

“Chřest je drahá zelenina a teď je sezóna chřestu. ” (Asparagus is an expensive vegetable and it is in season.”

It was also a meaningful number-reading exercise. I did notice some problems and told my student we would have to keep working on the numbers later.

Exit Task

Finally, it was time to test whether all the time spent reading menus, prices, and practising dialogues had been well spent. I handed my student one of the menus we had been using and we did a roleplay. His task was to (1) choose (2) order (3) pay (4) leave a tip. It went really smoothly and we were done! (What I love about TBLT is you are actually done. It’s not like you finish a unit and you know it never stuck and you could stay with it forever). We agreed to keep learning the numbers, but otherwise, we’re moving on to…getting around the city and saying where places are. Until next time!


5 thoughts on “TBLT Czech Lessons – Task 4: At a Restaurant

  1. This cycle sounds great. Numbers take ages, I think, unless they are pretty similar (e.g. English and German).

    Hi Kamila. One thing I want to ask is whether you always plan your language to teach in advance? I usually have a guess at what’s needed but tend to forego worksheets unless I have some handy. I wonder sometimes if I am leaving my options too open at times.

    I’m already looking forward to the getting around lesson.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Marc,

      Thanks for the comment. Czech numbers are different and difficult. They take different forms for M, F, N, are declined, and followed by different cases depending on the number 😦
      For teaching Czech, I always plan the language. In this project, I plan it, too. In fact, I’m quite worried we don’t explain enough of it here, but I don’t want to overwhelm my student. Roleplays and conversation are more important for him now.
      I’m glad you liked the cycle. I felt the blog post was too long but I didn’t want to break it down so people could see the logic of the cycle.
      Do you have any recommendations for me for this TBLT project?
      Thanks, have a great weekend

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Ooh, recommendations for others classes are tricky. I wouldn’t know where to start. Why is your student in the Czech Republic? Business? Fancied a change? Escape? Bearing these in mind would be key as he gets better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, that’s very useful advice, actually. I also need to know something though. In Czech, every preposition is followed by a different case. The rules for cases need to be taught separately, otherwise it’s too much. So I need to keep this in mind when designing the task of telling directions and saying where things are. To me, it makes sense to break it down by the cases and teach some prepositions only, but that will lead to a grammar based, not task-based approach? I’d really appreciate any advice in that. Thanks very much.


      1. Well, you could do that. I would probably focus on overall form first then pay specific attention to the most pressing case first. But that’s me, and I have no experience in teaching or learning case endings.

        Liked by 1 person

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