In the continuing series officially baptized « things you can do with Cuisenaire rods in ELT» here’s the next idea : building 3D Cuisenaire cities.
This can add a hands-on twist to lessons on asking for and giving directions and also brings in a whole lot of extra functional language as learners build their cities together. You’ll need a set of Cuisenaire rods (one set per 1-2 groups of learners is good). For all of these activities, learners ideally work in pairs or groups of three maximum.
Building up the situation (literally) :
Give learners a map of a city (or even better, ask learners to bring in maps of cities they have visited or would like to visit). Learners select a city and use Cuisinaire rods to reconstruct the city and its main landmarks in 3D.
The long blue rods then become rivers, any rods stood vertically can represent skyscrapers and tall buildings. They can also add arches, bridges, and cathedrals with steeples by stacking rods like blocks. Then let them take turns asking for and giving directions in the city they just built. If they need more landmarks to help their partner find their way around the city, they can always add them as they go too.
Then there are a few possibilities as to what to do next :
Learners can practice basic language for asking and giving directions. They’ll first need to decide where they are in the city. They can even place a little Cuisineaire mini-me (the small cube Cuisenaire rod works well) in their 3D map. The conversation may go something like this :
« Excuse me, I’m looking for Victor Hugo Square but I can’t find it. »
« Yes, it’s just there, past the church. Go straight for about 10 minutes and you’ll see it on your left. »
« OK, thanks. »
A variation on the above activity : Have learners place a mini-me in the 3D map but then stand up near the table (so they can still see their city). They do the same activity as above, but this time add hand gestures and body language that we so often use when giving directions. This has the added bonus of associating memorable movements with the meaning of the language (thanks to Scott Thornbury’s plenary at the 2013 TESOL France Annual Colloquium for reminding us how important this is).
Learners can focus on prepositions of place by continuing to construct their city. One learner has the map and the other adds on to the Cuisenaire city. They decide what they want to add and then the « builder » asks the « map-reader » where to put the new buildings. Make it more challenging by encouraging them to be as precise as possible (« across the river from the Eiffel Tower and a little to the left, if the Tower is behind you »).
After learners have done the activities, they can consolidate language with a writing activity such as writing an email with directions to a friend coming to visit or by simply recording the scripts of their conversations to keep in their notebooks. An audio alternative would be to record their conversations on their mobile devices to keep as digital notes they can listen to.
For a more interactive and investigative writing activity, have the pairs create a worksheet for another group. The aim is to use the landmark clues provided in the text to fill in the missing target language for directions. Click this link to Cuisenaire rod cities – sample text Paris for a sample text based on the city of Paris. Of course, the text can also be used to demonstrate the task to students before they create their own.
And if you’re looking for more ideas for using Cuisenaire rods (because if you’re going to buy them, you may as well use them to their full potential!), you may enjoy these articles too:
- 7 reasons to use Cusienaire rods in the language classroom
- Teaching past simple vs. present perfect simple with Cuisenaire rods
- Holistic grammar with Cuisenaire rods (or 9 tenses in one lesson!)
- The big picture: Teaching grammar holistically and visually