Cousenaire rods and ELT

Cuisenaire rods were introduced to teaching in 1950s. Their invention was inspired by music and the relations between melodies and their first applicable usage can be found in teaching maths (multiplications, ratios, fractions etc). Silent method presents the first practical application of cuisenaire rods into an FL classroom. In the later years, silent method was replaced by other approaches to teaching a foreign language and cusenaire rods lost their place in the language classroom.

Before the teacher uses the rods in a language classroom

Before using the rods in an ELT classroom, the teacher must know her/his students; her/his classroom and her/his box of cuisenaire rods very well.

Students are the key factors of success. The teacher must be aware of any reasons why students may have problems with using the rods (e.g. colour blindness or allergies to certain material). Apart from that the teacher needs to know the exact number of students in his group to plan the number of rods needed for the lesson. The rule is five or six students per box of 300 rods. The teacher also has to know whether the students are already familiar with the rods through other subjects or not. If the students are not familiar with the rods, the teacher will have to prepare the students for their use by explaining the rules on how are they made and similar.

Next is the classroom. Although classroom management does not play a big role during the lesson; it is very important that the teacher set the classroom before the lesson. The best desks to use are circular so each student has easy access to rods. Wobbly desks or to small desk may cause the rods to keep falling on the floor or the students may not be able to create anything. Alternately, the teacher may consider doing activities on the floor – if the floor is clean enough.

The last thing to consider is the set of cuisenaire rods you are using.

Recomended set of rods

Each box contains a different layout of the rods – so the teacher needs to look at what sort of rods are in the box: is the colour of the rods contrasted enough; also the teacher needs to think about the quantity and size of rods available.

Some practical ideas to be used in the classroom

Cuisenaire rods can be used at any stage of the lesson: as a warmer, practice activity, speaking activity etc. The teacher needs to be aware that she/he will not only develop student’s cognitive skills but also collaborative learning, student’s autonomy and multisensory learning. The learning process is above teaching therefore during activities teacher is only facilitator.

A good idea to begin with is to use the rods to increase students’ self-esteem. Rods in general have a positive influence on the students as (1) teacher will never say this is correct or this is wrong and (2) students are creators of their work – they are also the only ones who know how to interpret their work. An activity that builds on interpersonal intelligence is when students build their own faces from rods. This activity helps to build group dynamics, it gives students realia to speak about and “the faces” present a good point of discussion. With this activity the teacher also avoids asking the textbook questions but she/he gives the students’ the opportunity to make their own presentation (sometimes the students are not even aware that they are speaking English).

The tasks one can do with rods are suitable for all types of learners. In primary school a lot of students are kinaesthetic learners. Another activity (especially suitable for kinaesthetic learners) is “build your dream town”. Students work alone. Their task is to use as many rods as they wish to build a town of their dreams. After the teacher stops the activity, the student’s are invited to go for a walk through this magical town. The teacher decides where the first stop is and she/he asks the students to stop there. Author of the town is asked to describe it. The teacher may ask questions regarding the colour and size of certain buildings e.g. “Why is your hospital black? or “I’m surprised that your tree is higher than the skyscraper”.


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