7 reasons to use Cuisenaire rods in the language classroom

18 Oct

I love Cuisenaires


As you may have noticed from a few previous posts (The Big Picture: Teaching Grammar Holistically and VisuallyHolistic Grammar with Cuisinaire Rods, and Teaching Past Simple vs. Present Perfect with Cuisenaire Rods), I’m a bit of a fan of finding fun ways of using Cuisenaire rods in ELT. Of course they’re amusing, colorful, and surprising for learners using them for the first time, but that’s just scratching the surface. They also have valid pedagogical qualities such being able to help learners notice patterns, bring the additional senses of touch and sight into language learning, and add an element of play to an otherwise cognitively taxing process (translation: they’re fun).


Here’s a short list of reasons why Cuisenaire rods can make an interesting addition to any teacher’s toolbox:

  • They give learners hands-on ways of manipulating grammatical structures and vocabulary (great for showing the differences between interrogative & declarative forms, for example)
  • Learners have something tangible on which to focus, generally increasing concentration and engagement in the task at hand
  • They offer visual and memorable ways of explaining word and syllable stress (good for non-auditory learners, for example)
  • They can be used to represent things for other activities (bar graphs, a room or city layout, quantities, an abstract work of art, etc.)
  • They can make prettier timelines and process stages than simple drawn lines
  • They’re so versatile—the teacher’s (or learners’) imagination is the limit!
  • This one’s obvious, but they can be used to teach colors and comparisons (“the blue rod is longer than the red rod”)
  • They’re not incredibly expensive—I’ve seen sets for around 20-30€ and they’re durable. With lots of ideas on how to use them (coming in a future post J ), a set of Cuisenaire rods can be a worthy investment! You can even find them on amazon.

Please add your own reasons below! I’ve only touched on some of the qualities of these versatile little tools.

Further reading

Interested in the theory behind using Cuisineaire rods in the language classroom? Here are a few resources for further reading if you like to know the rationale underpinning the activities!

Akarcay, S. (2012). Cuisenaire Rods: Pedagogical and Relational Instruments for Language Learning. AYMAT Individual Thesis/SMAT IPP. Retrieved from

Callahan, J. J., & Jacobson, R. S. (1967). An experiment with retarded children and Cuisenaire rods. The Arithmetic Teacher14(1), 10-13.

Mullen, J. (1996). Cuisenaire rods in the language classroom. Les Cahiers de l’APLIUT16(2), 69-82. Retrieved from

More detailed ideas on things to do with Cuisenaire rods coming soon–keep an eye out (or just sign up for email notifications if you want to be sure to get them!)


Posted by on October 18, 2013 in Random reflections


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6 responses to “7 reasons to use Cuisenaire rods in the language classroom

  1. bealer81

    October 21, 2013 at 11:01 am

  2. Bill Thomas

    October 21, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    Hi, Cuisenaire rods are a cool way of teaching grammar. Students can easily grasp the tenses because they can visualize them. An alternative would be popsicle sticks. I will try this with my students one of these days.


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