iTDi + Shelly Terrell: Learning to go, webinar notes 1

At the beginning of March, I signed up for one of iTDi’s Advanced Teaching Skills Courses: Language Learning to Go, led by the brilliantissime Shelly Terrell, who is probably about as near to a living encyclopedia of apps, mobile learning, and the joys of Web 2.0-based learning as anyone’s ever seen.  Shelly and iTDi (International Teacher Development Institute) have set the course up on a private Google+ community (the course is not free, but for what you get out of it, it’s a steal at $50) and during the week the learners (me and about 30 other teachers in various places around the world) have “missions” to complete, consolidated by weekly webinars hosted by Shelly and iTDi faculty member Barbara Sakamoto.

Continuing with my experiment in sketchnoting, I’d like to share some of the tips and tools we learned about in the first weekly webinar. I have to admit I’m struggling to keep on top of teaching work, association volunteering, incoming projects and preparing for IATEFL Harrogate (in just one week!), so I’m a bit late with the notes. You’re all busy, busy teachers too, so you know what I mean!

Anyway, here are the notes–hope you get something out of them! (Disclaimer: I’m no artist, so apologies for the AWFUL drawing of Shelly–it looks absolutely nothing like her!) These are from the webinar back on March 9, 2014 but hopefully I’ll be able to catch up with the our “missions”! As you’ll see, we’ve already learned a lot in just the first week!

p. 1-2


p. 3-4


p. 5-6


p. 7-8


I’ll try to catch up and post notes from the other webinars if possible!

I’m really enjoying the course and have already started using some apps with a group of my clients, who have agreed to be the guinea pigs for the experiment. After seeing how engaging it can be to learn as a group on the Google+ community, I’ve set up a private Google+ for a group of 5 A2-ish level learners. I’ve also started giving “missions” for learners to do on Audioboo to help them practice their speaking skills outside of class. They can then post their Audioboo recordings to the Google+ community and comment on each other’s work. The group has just started, so we’ll see how they take to it. I’ll be blogging about that project as well in the near future, hopefully to encourage other teachers to try setting up something similar with their learners if they want to try!

And while working together in a virtual learning environment (VLE) is just plain fun, it is also based on sound theory. Here are a few resources that Shelly shared to help us understand how VLEs take advantage of social learning theories:

Howard Rheingold’s Peeragogy and Co-learning theories

Siemen’s Connectivism Theory

Vygotsky’s Social Cognitive Theory

To be continued…


Tags: , , , ,

So, is that your real job?

It’s happened so often that it just doesn’t bother me anymore. In fact, I’ve come to find it amusing, in a bittersweet sort of way. You know, when you start off with a new client or group, you’re doing the first-lesson introductions and after you say “My name’s so-and-so and I teach business English to adults in companies,” you get one learner who asks innocently “Is that your real job?”

Now, surely they do not mean it as an insult and it’s doubtful that they’re implying that teaching English in companies isn’t in fact “a real job” (whatever that means). In fact, if they’re asking, it’s probably because they’ve likely had teachers/trainers in their past lessons for whom teaching English wasn’t their “real job.” After all, no one asks their doctor “Is this your real job?” simply because they’ve never come across a doctor who was just doing that job because they needed to do something to earn some money. Not the case for some English teachers.

Again, the learners aren’t to blame. It’s an innocent question that reflects their experience. The teachers aren’t to blame either. After all, when you land in a foreign country you may or may not speak the language. You may or may not have qualifications recognized by the system. You may or may not have training and experience in other fields that can be practiced in your new homeland. These problems apply to foreigners (native and non-native English speakers alike) teaching English in a country that is not their own. Unfortunately, in the companies I’ve worked for in France, I’ve never come across a French person who teaches English to other French people, so I don’t know if they too get asked “Is this your real job?” Wait, there was this one French guy I remember way back when I started teaching, in 2004 when I was a student looking for a job a bit better than flipping crêpes . He was French, teaching English to other French people. And he always told clients he was Canadian. But the whole native-speaker requirement to teach is a different question entirely, that I’ve ranted about in another post.

So where does the problem come from? Why is it that respectful, professional adults see nothing wrong with asking their professional trainer (who has been hired by their company to help them learn a skill that will make them more efficient in their job) if the job they are doing is their real job? Probably because English language teaching is a field with very low–even non-existant–entry-level qualifications. After all, I got my first job because I was American. That was the only credential I had going for me, but for the place that hired me, it was sufficient. In fact, for the next six years of my working life, the fact that I was a native speaker got me two other jobs in different places. Then I decided that if this was to be my “real job” I should probably get some training and qualifications.

And so, yes, teaching English to professionals is my “real job.” It’s my career. I know that and my colleague-friends in the ELT world know that, . But without going into the the details of one’s projects, qualifications, past experience and future ELT projects, there’s no way for a client to know if the trainer in front of them is a career ELTer or a “I couldn’t do anything other than teach English” ELTer.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking new trainers who are still finding their way into the ELT world. I’m not saying all ELT trainers should dash to get a DELTA, a Trinity DipTESOL, or an MA in TESOL before knowing that the investment is worth it. I’m not knocking employers who give fresh-off-the-pre-service-program trainers their chance to develop themselves. I’m not even knocking those clients who ask “Is this your real job?”. Forgive them for they know not what they do, let’s say.

What I’ve got a problem with is the fact that a trainer with no experience and no qualifications (like me when I started in 2004) gets the same wage as a teacher with years of experience, proper training, and continuous investment in one’s professional development (where I was when I left my last company to go freelance, in 2012). The hourly wage was basically exactly the same.

Fortunately there are some companies out there that recognize quality trainers and are willing to pay salaries that reflect the investment the trainers have made in their career and the quality of the training they provide. I wish there were more companies like that. On the flip side of the coin, there are companies who offer the same salary (give or take a little) to all their trainers. If you want more money, you can look elsewhere, because there will always be some fresh face ready to take your place. Maybe the problem is there. Maybe that’s why clients feel it’s normal to ask “So, is that your real job?”

To finish, a bit of good reading on the same or similar topics from around the web:

TEFLing at 35: A life gone right by Ptefldactyl

ELT Community forum: Is ELT a real profession?

Sandy has a real job, thank you very much!: An interview between Barbara Hoskins-Sakamoto and Sandy Millin

Teachers Tread Water in eikaiwa limbo

The European Profiling Grid project website

And a disclaimer: This post is not meant as a mere rant about ELT conditions in various places around the world. I love my job, I’ve got good work, and a variety of interesting projects going on. Plus, I’ve gotten to the point where I know it’s my real job and I’m happy to invest time and energy to make it so. This post is meant to point out yet another absurdity of our profession that we as teachers can take steps to rectify by being proud of who we are and what we do. We are ELTers and yes, it is our real job!


Tags: , , ,

ELT Teacher2Writer webinar notes: How to become an ELT materials writer

Last week (March 5, 2014 to be precise), Sue Kay and Karen Spiller of ELT Teacher2Writer led an hour-long webinar titled “How to Become an ELT Materials Writer.” The event was full of useful insider info on how the whole publishing industry works, the knowledge good writers need, and tips for aspiring authors from both publishers and accomplished writers.

Rather than just write up classic verbal notes with their outlines, bullet points, and line after line of text-text-text like I usually do (which usually ends up stuffed on a shelf somewhere, sadly to rarely be read again), I decided to try something different: sketchnoting. While not all ideas are captured, I tried to get the essentials, sketch them up into something visual and memorable, all the while hoping they would make some sense to someone who didn’t attended the webinar.

I’ll let you decide…

p. 1-2

How Publishing Works1

p. 3-4

How Publishing Works2

 p. 5-6 (end)

How Publishing Works2 1

Something I didn’t manage to capture here though and that will be appreciated by aspiring ELT writers is the ELT Teacher 2 Writer database. It’s free for writers to add their details to the database and it’s free for publishers to use the database, so it’s a great way for (presently) little-known or new writers to come into contact with publishers. It’s simple to add your name to the database: you fill in the registration form, which includes all the basics plus information about countries you’ve taught in, age groups or levels you’ve taught, and the type of materials you’re interested in writing. That way, when publishers are looking for someone with your profile, they’ll have all your contact information right there!

Hopefully the notes are helpful (and pretty to look at)! If my notes aren’t enough or you just want to watch Kay and Karen in action, you can watch the full webinar here. You’ll also be able to catch the ELT Teacher2Writer team at IATEFL Harrogate 2014. On Friday April 4, 2014 (time TBA), they’ll host a practical workshop demonstrating practical materials from their training modules.

Either way, the webinar helped add a bit of clarity to the whole mysterious process and also made it seem like something accessible to experienced teachers looking to expand their teaching careers beyond the classroom.


Posted by on March 9, 2014 in Webinar notes


Tags: , ,

Teaching Conference Calls: Funny and useful video (with transcript)

Admittedly, this post is not the most original, as I’ve seen this video going around on Facebook pages of several colleagues’ (Carl Dowse, I’m looking at you 🙂 ) However, I thought I’d share it because it really is a good video to have on your hard drive to take into class.

So without further ado, enjoy “A Conference Call in Real Life”:

There are a few reasons why this video makes a good resource:

First, it’s just funny. Anything that gets learners laughing earns a mark in my book.

Second, business learners who have already participated in conf calls will definitely be able to relate to it. We’ve all experienced the frustration of distracting background noise, people who can’t connect, and maybe we’ve even been the one who quietly slips away (shhh!)

Third, it has a lot of useful language that can be focused on after having just watched for gist (and for fun). This is one of the important benefits of the video, since most materials on the market are poorly lacking in modules on the language of conf calls. The video transcript (downloadable here)  may be useful in helping learners highlight the useful language.

While, yes, the language of conf calls is basically the same language as meetings, beginning a conf call, handling technical problems, and overcoming the challenge of understanding someone you can’t see (and who’s speaking in a foreign language) are unique to conf calls.

Hopefully this video will help bring some laughter and language to an necessary business evil that is neither fun nor funny for many language learners.

I know a lot of trainers have already seen this video. How have you used it in class? What did your learners think of it? I’m curious to know…

On a post note, I must recommend Barry Tomalin’s book Key Business Skills (published by Collins) for its very good chapter on dealing with both phone and video conf calls. You can also find more conf call tips in this summary of his talk at IATEFL 2013 in Liverpool, “Make Meetings Work.”


Tags: , ,

Qualification required: Native English speaker

Join our team of friendly gynecologists! If you’re female, we’re looking for people like you! A degree in medicine is preferred, but not required. Apply today and begin a new rewarding career!

Let’s hope we will never see job ads like that in the medical field. No one in their right mind would think that just being female will make you a good gynecologist.  So why do so many TEFL job ad writers think being a native speaker makes you a good teacher? Seriously. In the above announcement replace “gynecologists”, “female”, and “medicine” with “teachers”, “native speaker”, and “teaching English” and you’ve got the meat of far too many ELT job announcements.

This is a serious issue in our field, generally not among the teachers themselves (thankfully!) but among the people recruiting the teachers (and hence paying the salaries). For some reason recruiters, especially in private language-training centers, have come to confuse teaching qualifications and birth certificates. This is one of the biggest shames in our field if you ask me because being a native speaker is NOT a sign of one’s ability to teach the language well. It is not even a guarantee that the (native) English taught will correspond to the English that will be encountered outside of the classroom. I, for example, am American but the vast majority of my trainees don’t do business with Americans. They use English with Chinese, German, Indian, Scottish, and Brazilian suppliers and colleagues. My American-ness is not of any added value here. I don’t know much about those countries’ business cultures, I don’t speak with any accent other than my own American accent and my native English certainly differs from that of a Scot or an Indian. So why is it fair that I would likely be preferred over a Polish or Hungarian EFL teacher with similar qualifications? It isn’t fair. Period.

Nowadays, native speakers no longer are the majority users of English. So why do recruiters specifically seek out native speakers over non-natives with equal qualifications? To be honest, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s a way for recruiters’ to hide their own lack of knowledge of the field’s teaching qualifications. Between the CELTA, DELTA, Trinity DipTESOL, M.A.s in TESOL, and the whole gamut of sketchy “TEFL certifications” out there it’s no wonder that it’s just easier to slap “seeking qualified native speaker” on a job ad and leave it at that. The lack of clear professional qualifications within our field has led to an ersatz discriminatory qualification of “native speaker.”

I just ran a quick search for “TEFL job ads” and clicked on a few random ones that were posted on a few popular ELT sites. Here are some of the requirements I found (get ready to cringe):

  • Native-level intonation, accent, and pronunciation  (Which native accent?)
  • Requirements: teaching experience, degree in any field, British, American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Irish, South African or South American Passport holders (what a clever way of avoiding saying “native speaker”. At least it technically leaves the door open to dual citizens!)
  • We are looking for CELTA / TEFL qualified native English teachers to join our team
  • We are looking for native speakers of English to join our friendly teams
  • Qualifications required: Native English Speaker, some knowledge of Spanish

Of course some of the ads from which these examples are taken also mentioned teaching experience and/or teaching diplomas so at least they’re not stopping at “native speaker” as the only qualification. It’s the fact that “native speaker” is included as a qualification that irks me. Sure, arguments can be made that native speakers bring their cultural background and that they have intimate knowledge of their home culture. Sure but so do non-native speakers and if the learner is a French guy who is going to work mostly with Chinese businesspeople, what use–culturally speaking–is a teacher from England?

And I’m not claiming that ONLY teachers with recognized certifications or diplomas make good teachers. There are plenty of good teachers who got to where they are through experience, reflective practice, and participating in continuous professional development opportunities such as conferences, workshops, and webinars. It’s a damn shame that these people may automatically have their CV sent to the bin (or is that “have their resumé sent to the trash can”?) because they weren’t born in the right country.

TESOL France recently issued a message to employers who send announcements out on their Jobs List discouraging them from using “native speaker” in their announcements, explaining that trained, professional non-native teachers can be just as effective (if not more so) than native speaker teachers. This measure was unanimously applauded by the ELT teaching community on Facebook (which is rich in both native and non-native speakers 🙂 I hope other organizations who provide job ad services also practice this, even if they don’t yet have a formal statement on the issue. We as teachers can also be stewards for fair recruitment policies by addressing the issue with our hiring managers, by encouraging our schools/companies to seek out high-quality teachers who can show proof of their training and/or development, and by explaining why this is more important than the hollow requirement that one be a native speaker to teach a language.

I do have an idea as to why “native speaker” has wrongfully come to be seen as a qualification. It follows in the footsteps of why use of learners’ L1 became a taboo for much of the 20th century. But that, my friends, is for the next blog post!

P.S. There was a great post written recently on this same subject by Marek Kiczkowiak on his blog I see that it has been removed because it’s awaiting publication in the TESOL newsletter and in the Winter 2015 edition of the TESOL France magazine “Teaching Times”, which is fantastic. He says a link to the article will be published on his blog at a later date, but in the meantime, you can still read the many comments on the original post.


Tags: , , , ,

Teaching directions using 3D Cuisenaire rod cities


How many Parisian monuments can you identify?

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 »).

Consolidation :

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:

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 23, 2014 in Lesson skeletons


Tags: ,

Lesson framework: Telephoning

I love it when, at the end of a lesson learners say that they appreciated the work done because it helped them with English and with being more effective in their work too. Of course we could argue that that’s what Business English lessons are all about, but it is nice when the learners point out how helpful the lesson was and not solely in terms of language.

Yesterday we had one such lesson, on telephoning about problems. This learner specifically has to call about IT problems she may have, so we worked on that. In the role-plays we set up, I would play the role of IT support and she would be herself.

Here is the sequence of activities for the lesson, which can be adapted to other telephone conversations .

1.  Discuss with the learner the reasons why they use the telephone. Ask them to choose a situation that they wish to work on.

2. Invite the learner to give you more details about the situation. Who are they calling ? What is the subject of the call ? In our case of an IT problem, what have they already tried to solve the problem ? How urgent must the problem be solved ? What are some possible responses that will be given by the person called (in this case tech support) ?

This step has two advantages : you’re sketching in the background of the phone call that will soon happen (as in real life, you know all this information before calling) and it provides you the trainer with valuable information to use when playing your role (which you may be unfamiliar with—I’m certainly no IT technician !

3.  Role play and record the first version of the phone conversation.  I call this a « diagnostic role play » because you can « diagnose » what needs to be worked on in the lesson.

4. Listen to the recording with your learner. Discuss their impressions and yours, negotiate what to focus on in the communication work that will follow.

5. Ask the learner to take a piece of paper. On the left side they will draw a flowchart of their actions in the conversation. In our lesson, this took the form of boxes lined up vertically. Each box had one « action » in it and they were connected by arrows (Click here for a blank preparation chart that can be printed  or just used as inspiration). On the right side, the learner wrote key expressions and/or vocabulary they would need for that step of the phone conversation. The trainer can provide valuable input and suggestions during this step, where the learner and trainer decide together what goes onto the paper.

6. Role play and record a second version of the conversation done in step 3. This should be the same conversation (but hopefully improved).

7.  Again, listen to this second recording with your learner. Discuss your impressions and compare it with the first recording. What has improved ? What could still use some work ? You may also want to point out that taking a few minutes to sketch out some notes before making phone calls may vastly improve the effectiveness of the communication.

8.  Ask the learner to think of another situation, but one that falls into the broad category of the first role play. For example, our first role play dealt with calling to ask for help with a problem. The new situation thus involved solving a problem, but it concerned a problem with information in a document rather than an IT problem.

9.  Give the learner time to create their notes themselves. This is similar to what they will do when using this technique outside of class. They can then explain what kind of information they would possibly receive from the person they call. This way, the trainer who is playing this role can provide information that reflects the reality of the situation for the learner.

10. Role play this new situation and again, ask the learner for their feedback. Feedback can include both the effectiveness of the role play and the effectiveness of the preparatory stages.


The structure of the lesson has several advantages for both the trainer and the learner :

  • The content of the lesson is based on situations the learners must really deal with in their professional life.
  • By doing a « diagnostic role play », the trainer can ensure that the lesson covers the areas of communication that most need improvement.
  • Taking time to build up the situation allows both learner and trainer to have the necessary background information for a successful role play. Remember in real life, we often have a lot of background information before making a call.
  • Preparation time for the trainer is reduced. They supply the structure of the lesson, but the learner supplies the content.
  • By the end of the lesson, the learner has created notes they can use for future phone conversations. They also come away with a technique that can be adapted to other situations.

If you’ve got any suggestions for effectively blending telephone skills and language skills, I would love to hear from you ! This is a topic that comes up in nearly every business program I write, so I’m always looking for fresh ideas !


Tags: ,

Walk on the wild side and fly free!

Book cover - walk on the wild sideIn case you missed the announcement from the round last week, I’m happy to announce that our first book was published this week ! I say « our » because it is the fruit of a joint collaboration between Jennie Wright (who runs the fabulous TEFL Helper blog) and myself (who runs this blog, but you probably know that already).

Before getting into the book itself, just a quick word on the launch. When we posted the news to Facebook and Twitter, we got so many messages of congratulations from colleagues around the world. We really felt how much the wider teaching community supports each other’s efforts and it was an awesome feeling! Thanks a lot guys (and gals)!

So, the book…

Inside you’ll find five chapters, one for each selected experimental area : Dogme, lexical chunking, corpora, translation, and CLIL. Within each chapter, you’ll get the history & background of the approach/method, lesson objectives, a (beautiful) sample lesson plan, the principles and explanation of that lesson plan, a list of dos and don’ts for testing the approach/method, opportunities and risks that come with it, and a toolbox packed with resources for finding out more. All that for about the cost of large fancy Starbucks! Sure it’s got less caffeine, but it’ll last longer and you can’t spill it while on the bus!

Where did the idea come from? It’s pretty simple and is really just another story of necessity being the mother of invention. Jennie and I were doing our Delta module 2 together at ESOL Strasbourg in 2012. When we got to the experimental practice assignment, our trainers showed us all sorts of resources for exploring possible experiments.Wouldn’t it be great to have a single go-to reference with resource lists, an overview of experimenting with a particular method, and a bit about its background? And wouldn’t it be even better to have a compilation of a few possible experiments laid out like that to be able to compare and choose? “Oh, we could write that book!” we thought. So we did!

As for the cover, that’s the fine work of designer Mark Bain. The cage is open. The bird is free. Imagine the metal bars as the rut that we all get into at some point of our teaching careers. We start relying on the same old exercises, going through the same lessons and slowly we create our own cage. Then one day, we decide we’re tired of being locked in. We want out. So we experiment, try new things and shake ourselves up a bit. The cage door flings open and we’re free, just like the bird you don’t see on the cover. We’re out of our comfort zone and walking on the wild side!

Experimental Practice in ELT: Walk on the wild side is available on all Amazon sites and on Smashwords.


Tags: , , , , ,

“Yes, and…”: Improv theater techniques to build creativity and speaking skills

Here you can download the list of resources I frequently turn to when looking for improv activities for class. This is the list referred to in my talk “Yes and…”: Improv theater techniques to build creativity and speaking skills.

A few activities I often demonstrate in this talk:

No-language warmers:

“Beat out that rhythm” from Maley & Duff, 1985, p. 53

“Emotional mirror” from

Verbal warmers:

“Metronome” (used in my improv theater group, but I haven’t found where it comes from)

“Using Lines of Dialogue” from Bernardi, 1992, pp. 127-136

Ways of Improv:

“Segmenting” from Spolin, 1999, p. 22-23

“Fishbowl” adapted from Wilson, 2012, pp. 50-51

Click here to download the annotated resource list for “Yes and…”: Improv theater techniques to build creativity and speaking skills by Christina Rebuffet-Broadus

If you have any suggestions for the activities or just want to share how they went in your classroom, please do so! I’d love to hear from you!


Posted by on November 5, 2013 in Downloads


Tags: , , ,

7 reasons to use Cuisenaire rods in the language classroom

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


Tags: ,