February 04, 2014

50 affective ways to use cuisenaire rods with children

"Never go to a class without rods."
Saying at Juan Uribe Ensino Afetivo

Emile-Georges Cuisenaire was a Belgian primary teacher, who invented the small wooden blocks that come in different sizes and colours, which are known today as cuisenaire rods. Emile-Georges called them réglettes and used them to help students learn Math in a  concrete way. Egyptian educator Caleb Gattegno named them cuisenaire rods and expanded their use to language learning through his famous Silent Way method.     

Cuisenaire rods are great resources for warm ups, storytelling, grammar, classroom management, and many more! They allow students and teachers to bring their originality and creativity making language very alive and concrete.  Students usually smile as soon as they see them coming out! 

Here below I share 50 different uses for cuisenaire rods with young learners and learners young at heart: 

Classroom management

1. Matching students or preparing a jigsaw: distribute rods and students that have the same color get together. You can them have new groups with one students of every color and these students share what they talked in the first group. 

2. Talking chips: you can also have a colour code in which each question on the board is assigned a color. Example: brown = how are you? , white = where do you live?, blue = what's your favorite sport?. We can also have students come up with the questions they will ask their classmates, as it's better that they do not know the answers to create authentic interest.  Once they ask the question they have to give their peer the rod they have just asked. Rotate students every 3 minutes to make sure they do not ask all their rods to the same person. 

3. Assigning characters: you can assign different characters of a story to different colours. Then each characters will give his ir her version of the story. You can also play scenarios in which characters talk to each other in pairs or small groups. 

Numbers, colours, and letters

4. Playing with numbers: students can either collect rods or make the actual numbers according to the numbers you dictate. You can even put simple math problems  or questions on the board for them to solve and write you the answer with the rods. Example: How many players are there in a soccer team? How many times did Brazil win the world cup? 

5. Creating a secret number code with rods: Using the scale you can pair one to the white rod and ten to the brown rod. Students can then answer questions using the rods as a "secret code". They can write their telephone numbers using this code. 

6. Playing with colours: students get rods according to questions or commands that they go giving each other. Example: What colors are there in the American flag? What colors are there in a kiwi? Make an apple! Make a lollipop! 
7. Guessing colours: students put their hands inside a bag and try to guess the colours of the rods according to their sizes. You can have the rods out for students who are younger and play just with four sizes with the very young learners. 

8. Playing domino with colors: here we play domino in a creative way. For you to add a piece you have to say something that has both colors. For example, black and yellow, you can say a banana, green and red a watermelon. Some combinations are harder: what is black and blue? 

9. Remembering things that start with a letter: students can work together to make with the rods things that start with a certain letter. You can time them during three minutes and then go over all their creations by having them write the words on the board. 

10. Spelling words: here you go spelling the letters of a word in the correct order and students go making the word with the rods. Their objective is to try to finish the word with the rods before you say the last letter. Example: S C H O - School! 

11. Solving the word challenge: you spell the letters of a word in a different order and once students have done all the letters they have to come out with the word. Example: R B D I - Bird! 


12. Kicking soccer penalties: now that the world cup is coming, you can make a goal and have a long rod as the goalkeeper and the student uses the white rod as a ball and one long rod as the kicker. You can also play bowling with rods. 

13. Remembering items in a list: here you can have the traditional chain "I went to the beach and I took a ....." and then the number of items goes growing and students have to remember all of them. Match the colours and length of the rods to the objects. 

14. Playing with pictures: here rods can be used to play with magazine pictures by creating new items that change the pictures. We can have a bowl of water for a dog, put somebody behind bars, make it rain on somebody, or give caps to children. This is great fun! 
15. Showing the refrigerator: students draw refrigerators using an A4 sheet and they use the rods to put what they have inside theirs. Then they can ask others if they have things. Great for practicing some and any with countable and uncountable. 

16. Exchanging treasures: ask them to get three rods to symbolize three precious things they like. You can model by giving examples such as the sun, cold lemonade, a videogame, my bicycle, etc. Then they go around showing what they have and can ask others to exchange things. In the end they report what they have. 

17. Playing domino with things: one rod is set on the table with a meaning, let's say dog for example. You have to use another rod to match a word to dog. House, bone, cat, collar, are some possibilities. Then the next person has to match a word that matches the second one and so on. Remember you have both sides of dog to play! 

18. Creating a city: here students create a perfect city with everything they would like to have. You can go giving them the language they need as long the need arises. You can make questions to guide them into making certain parts by asking questions such as "Where are children going to learn? " if there isn't a school. 


The sea, the beach, and trees
20. Recreating a scenario: similar to storytelling you can tell students to reenact scenes or the whole plots such as Alladin, Titanic, Mario Bros, or anything they really enjoyed watching. This is a great opportunity to have them rewrite the story. Here they can also be given a text or a piece of listening to recreate what they have understood. 

21. Creating an animation: nowadays with a telephone it is easy to make an animation by taking lots of pictures and putting these into programs such as flipagram. These animations are great to be shared with other groups and also with their parents. These animation can have characters or can show how to make something. 

Stress, poems, songs, and rhymes

22. Separating words in syllables:  a great exercise in pronunciation is dividing the words in syllables. First you model and show students how words can be divided in syllables and how the rods can be used to represent these. Then students can be given the words in cards and they make the rod combination or the rod combination is given and they have to find the written card with the word. 

23. Showing word stress: rods can be used to show which syllable is stronger in the word. You can have the rods standing and the stronger syllable is taller than the other ones. 

24. Showing sentence stress: similar to the last activity but here we have horizontal rods representing the words. Short rods can be used for pronouns and auxiliaries and longer ones for longer words. The stress can be marked by having two rods of the same color one on top of the other. Play with different meanings with different stress. A good sentence is "I didn't say you ate the cake that was in the refrigerator". 

Incy, wincy spider ...
25. Helping with a rhyme: you can tell a quick story with the characters in the song to help students identify them. Then while singing the song you can move the characters. Can you imagine "Five little monkeys"? What about "Incy wincy spider"?

26. Memorizing a poem: you can present some 5 or 6 key words that are in a poem by assigning each one of them to a rod and playing with them.  Students can them write a short poem with those words. Then you can work the poem's first line by inserting other rods for the other words and students repeat it. Then you do the second line and students repeat the first and then second line as you go pointing to the rods. Go like this until the end of the poem. 

27. Putting words in order while listening: similar to the poem activity, you can match words to rods. Students can create songs with those words. Then you play a song and students put the rods in the order the words appear in the song. Try "What a wonderful world" and have red for roses, blue for the sky, orange for children, and so on. 


28. Describing feelings: students get a rod or some rods to say how they feel on that day. Students can also make analogies such as "I have a lot of energy from the sun"  when getting the yellow rod or "I am thirsty" when getting the blue rod. 

29. Ranking: students can put a specific topic according to how they like each item. They can put colors in order or days of the week (sunday would be the white one). 

30. Feeling words in a text: students are given a rod of each color and on an A4 sheet with a text they place the rods on top of words that follow a code you can create with them. Example: Red = new word, Blue = word I like , Black = hard word to write, Yellow = easy to remember, and so on. Students then compare their words. 


31. Reviewing topics: somebody names a topic and each person creates an item with the rods. Items can be created by simply matching the colors to the word or by using many rods to make it the actual item. Students can then either say what they built or guess what others have made. The teacher can also give cards an each student makes what he/she has received. This is good for clothes, fruits, weather, sports, animals, etc. 

32. Naming parts: you can use rods to explain all the different parts involved in a topic. Later young learners have to build one making sure they include all the details. You can use rods for parts of the body, of a car, of a house, etc. 

33. Describing your bedroom/ house: you can model by describing your own house with all the rooms and pieces of furniture. Then you can show your routine by having a rod as you moving in the house. Then they can build their houses and show their routines in pairs or small groups. This is certainly a favorite of mine! 

34. Naming family members: making the family tree helps students understand the relationship among the different family members. You can go building the family tree gradually in many classes, adding three or four members per class. Have them build their own family trees and ask questions about the people in their families. Remember to include the pets! 

What is sticky doing here? 
35. Making stick figures: here we can make questions and students answer by making stick figures. Another possibility is for students to make the stick figures and others have to guess. Example: What do you love to do during weekends? What are you doing after class?

36. Creating needed props: give students a situation and ask them what they need. For instance, we can tell them they are serving dinner for their friends. What do they need? They will need a table, chairs, plates, glasses, food, etc. You can work here with substitution drills such as: I need  3 black rods  to make a table. 
37. Showing a scale: rods can be used to show a scale of something progressing or growing. It can be done easily with days of the week, months, and frequency adverbs. Another possibility is animal in size. We would have animals growing from ant to elephant. One can be even more creative by asking about the progression of a person moving. White = walking, red = riding a bike, green = riding a horse, black = taking a bus, blue = taking a spaceship. 

38. Telling the time: we can have students working on both digital and armed clocks to show different times. I also like to ask students about their favorite time of the day, what time they do certain things, and each students answers by showing their clocks. 

39. Presenting prepositions: you can model putting rods in different places in the room by using different prepositions. Then they can give each other commands where to put rods. 

Scaffolding for speaking

40. Talking about a routine/procedure: you can start by modelling 5 actions, one to every rod, you do every morning and showing their relation by using time markers such as first, then, right after, before, and finally. Once students know the meaning of every rod really well, you can shuffle them and laugh together at the crazy stories with situations as brushing your teeth before you get up! 

Where do you sit? 
41. Talking about your classmates:  I ask students to make the seating arrangement in their classroom at school and show me where they sit. Then I ask them to tell me everything they know about different classmates. This activity is great to practice does questions and to use third person S. 
42. Giving directions: after students make the perfect city you can have students give directions going from one place to another. Or you can give them directions and they have to move their character rod to get there. 

43. Creating mini dialogues: you can give students three or four sentences and they have to put these in order and make a dialogue. For example: not today, fine, bye, and sorry. They can use other rods for the other sentences. 

44. Modelling a small speech: you can model a small speech using one word per rod and students use the same structure to deliver their mini speech. This is great for those small particles that students usually forget. Make it maximum 4 lines. 

45. Stick puzzles: you can use rods to make the traditional logical puzzles in which you have to move some to get to an objective. You can find many of these at matchstick puzzles.


46. Making a sentence: the teacher gives two or three words assigning each one of them to a rod and students have to put these in the right order and supply the missing pieces in order to make a sentence. Example: car have red. Students put the three pieces in order and supplies two more to form "I have a red car". 

47. Manipulating  auxiliaries for negatives and questions: you can use the rods to make affirmative sentences that are changed to become negatives and questions. Then you can give every two or three students a set of rods and they create the negative and question for the affirmatives you give them. Inserting auxiliaries and inverting these becomes very concrete with the rods.  

48. Making contractions: you can use the rods to make simple sentences without contractions and then you show how particles get contracted by putting the rods together. You can then dictate sentences and students manipulate these to get the contractions. 

49. Comparing their constructions: students can be back to back and they build something by following directions given by the teacher. When they are done they compare their constructions according to adjectives they come up with. Students can then give each other one instructions at a time. Example: S1: make a table S2: put a candle on top of it S3: there is a cat under the table and so on. 

50. Quantifying and describing: We can get a bunch of rods from a bag and describe what we have using many of them, most of them, none of them, and so on. 

Wow! So many ideas!
Wish you great moments with your students living language with cuisenaire rods! 

What about you? 
Do you use rods with your young learners? 
Do you use them in any different way in your classes? 

Send you a big hug, 


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Thank you? 

Check also 50 affective ways to use flashcards with young learners! 


  1. Thank you Juan for the wealth of creative activities shared ... So inspirational and motivational ! I have never used them in my teaching but I think I will ... Thanks :-)


    1. My great pleasure, Faten.
      Wish you a great time using rods to live language affectively with your students!

      All the best always,


  2. wowowowowow... your mind has worked a lot! I wouldn't have imagined all these uses!!! I'll do my best to find them here and... put kids to work with them when we go back to class.
    Thanks for these useful ideas!! Keep posting ;)
    Tons of smiles, Maria :)

    1. Maria,
      Yes, my mind worked a little for this post and I am happy with the result.
      Wish you a great time with your students learning with the rods.
      Let me know how it goes!

      Hugs and hugs,


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