I remember in my first year of teaching I came across this box full of bizarre coloured sticks in the modern language department’s
dump storeroom. My head of department informed me that they were ‘Cuisinaire Rods’. Great… wait… what? Cuisinaire? Being a French teacher I heard ‘cuisine’ and immediately started wondering what their culinary use could be. It took another few years before I learned just how valuable a tool they can be in language learning.
Image sourced from https://goo.gl/gjscz5
1. Storytelling with younger learners
Ignite your learners’ attention when storytelling by giving life to your cuisinaire rods as character in your story. Watch as the children become mesmerised by their movements and begin creating their own version of the story in their imaginations. What better fairy-tale romantic ending that the hulking orange stick falling in love with the gracious blue stick?!
2. Teaching sentence structure
Designate each colour of stick as a part of a sentence (subject, verb, etc.). As you dictate sentences, learners can move the rods around to accurately reflect the structure of what you have just said.
3. Teaching stress
Whether it be which part of a word or which part of the sentence to stress, cuisinaire rods are the ideal way to show students where to place stress.
Stressed syllables: have learners put down one rod for each syllable in a word (this can be particularly challenging in words like ‘chocolate’ and ‘comfortable’, then ask them to substitute the stressed syllable for a different colour of rod.
Stress in sentences: have learners put rods in a line with one to represent each different word. Then have them substitute in a coloured rod to show where the stressed word would be. An alternative that I enjoy is to lay out seven rods for the sentence “I didn’t say I killed my teacher”. Learners then substitute each word in the sentence one by one, analysing how the meaning of the sentence changes with each word stressed (compare I didn’t say I killed my teacher with I didn’t say I killed my teacher).
Treat the rods like Lego bricks! I remember a colleague telling me many years ago that her class of six year olds used rods to make imaginary objects. I heard wonderful stories of students using the target language mixed with the mother tongue to describe their creations (think “¡Mira! He hecho un car. Estas son las doors y esta es mummy and daddy and me). This activity lends itself wonderfully to natural use of language in free play.
5. Teaching chunks of language
As well as using rods to represent the different words or parts of a sentence, we can exploit the varying lengths of the rods to teach chunks of vocabulary. Learners can set out the rods with longer ones representing longer words, or different colours highlighting more challenging words. This physical aspect to vocabulary learning can help them visualise the words falling into place and enable them to retain more information.