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Rods - any suggestions? 
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Joined: Fri May 19, 2006 3:59 pm
Posts: 42
Post Rods - any suggestions?
Has anyone used Cuisenaire Rods?
I've tried it with high school students -- some liked it, some didn't, but my classes are a bit large to explore it more.

I first learned about rods & ESL in my TESOL course, and have read about them: ... aire.shtml ... aire.shtml ... sw/vts.htm

Just wondering about others' experiences. :)
I'm teaching a Jr. High summer class of about 15-20 students and will give it a try once again.

Thu Jul 13, 2006 2:00 pm

Joined: Fri May 19, 2006 3:59 pm
Posts: 42
I just wanted to add that I've used the colored box of wooden rods that vary in length to practice:
family members
prepositions of place, etc...

It encourages precision with grammar, which is not something I focus on in my classes, usually. I don't like to be hypercritical of students because I don't want to inhibit their speech.

To give a run-down of the Rods method... The teacher is equipped with two main tools -- a box of colored rods and a chart displaying the words to be used that day (and maybe a pointer). Students and teacher share one table, everyone seated on the perimeter within arms-length of the rod box in the center. Day 1, the chart has: a, an, the, -s, rod, blue, red, green (etc. -- all the colors of the rods).
First, the Teacher shows the box to the students. With excitement and anticipation, the teacher places the rods on the table. The students lean in and the teacher removes the box top, gesturing to its contents and says, "The rods". Then, the teacher gestures to the students, saying, "Repeat." "The rods." (but maybe the students repeat naturally...)
Next, the teacher pick up one rod, holds it up for all to see, and says, "Blue" (or whatever color it is), and sets the rod on the table. Then, the teacher sits back gestures toward the rods. The intent is for another student to pick up a rod, say its color, and set it on the table. It's a bit of a waiting game at times, but the teacher's words are very limited. This is the presentation part of the lesson. This can be done assuming the students as a group have some knowledge of the colors but need practice. If the students were absolute beginners, the teacher might say the colors first, then pick one up and set in on the table in the same manner.
After all the students have taken a rod, said its color, set it on the table, the reverse can be done -- the teacher might put the rod back in the box, saying the color, but this time say, "A blue rod." The next student will say "A ___ rod" inserting the color of their rod, etc. If a student fails to say "A" or "rod", the teacher puts his/her hand up, says, "repeat," maybe models the language again for the student...if the students still has problems the the target language, the teacher turns to the chart and points to the words missing, or sorts out the word order, etc.
So, this continues, focusing on building sentences and practicing structure slowly. In this example, I start with the adjective, add the noun marker and noun in the next phase. Next, I could practice possessives "my your, her, John's", then possessive pronouns,etc. It's building a sentence or practice structure one concept at a time.
I've only done this at the beginner level, and have heard it can be taken farther with advanced students, but how to do that -- I have no idea!
So...the downside is that it can be a bit tedious, but the upside is that, while precision is necessary, I've had some very satisfied looking students at the end of a lesson. They know they're talking accurate English because no mistake slides with this method.
It takes a lot of energy and focus to do, but it's a great way to reduce teacher talk time!
My only thought is that students like to mix it up - so, personally, without more practice, I'm hesitant to have an entire course based on the Rods method... It can be very rewarding, though, especially for beginners. :-)

Fri Jul 14, 2006 1:26 pm
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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2006 10:46 am
Posts: 2130
Location: Nagano, Japan
Thanks for letting me know about the Rods. I had never heard of this before but it's very interesting. I'm a little bit confused about how rod lengths and colors can be used to represent grammar structures but it's intriguing.

I'm not sure how far I want to delve into the Rod world but...

I've long been working on how I can narrow verbs down to just be and do.

I am. _ _or _ _ I'm not.
I do. _ _ or _ _ I don't.

Whether this will help me to work it out, I don't know.

I guess along the same lines as the rods, I've also been trying to symbolize tense to make it visually clearer and have the ideas be a little more concrete. I haven't used it with students yet and I'm still trying to work it out myself.

I want to use symbols the students can relate to and I've been working in my mind with video player symbols.


It's all very complex and I can see why it's hard to understand. I don't even get it sometmes :shock:

What do you think about the Video Tenses?

If anyone can explain how the Rods can be used to present tenses or structure let us know.

Build up! Be positive! Teach hard!

Fri Jul 14, 2006 10:14 pm
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Joined: Fri May 19, 2006 3:59 pm
Posts: 42
I still feel like a newbie when it comes to using rods in the classroom, so I'll try my best to give a run-down of how I've used rods for grammer. :)

Actually, it is quite similar to the video player symbols you've mentioned.

There are 10 colors in my rod set -- the white rod is the shortest (cube-sized, .6 of an inch) and the orange rod is the longest (about 4 inches). Here are the rod colors rom shortest to longest: white, red, light green, purple (or pink in other sets), yellow, dark green, black, brown, blue, orange

For the example you've given (I am vs. I do), let's add an emotion/physical condition like "tired" (or bored, happy, etc. could be used later). I might use pictures for tired, bored, happy, so forth, to supplement the rods.

Each rod will represent a can pick any color to word correspondence, of course :-) -- let's try:
white = I
light green = am
purple = do
red= not
yellow = feel

I'd hold up the white rod first and say "I" and gesture for all the students, then individual students to say "I"...then do this for each word. When all of the students are clear on the word each rod represents, I'd pick up the white rod and shrug my shoulder as if to say "What's this?" and the students would say "I". I'd nod and place the white rod on the table. Next, I'd do the same with the light green rod -- students would say "am", I'd set it next to the white "I" rod on the table, leaving a small space between the two blocks. Then, I'd point to the "I" block, students say "I". I'd point to "am" - students say the word. Then I'd point to white block, light green block, and look at the students, waiting until someone said "I am" I'd smile -- our first sentence. Next, I'd add the picture of "tired" for students to say this word. Then we'd go through the emotions pictures for students to say each sentence (I am tired. I am happy. I am bored...) Next, I'd add "not"... etc. for each word. For "I don't" I'd push "do" and "not" together and say "don't"... same with "I'm" .
The sentence building would continue, until "I don't feel tired" etc. Then, I'd introduce two more rods:
black = are
blue = you
From here, I'd add the question "Are you tired?" And students would respond "Yes I'm tired, etc."
Here's where grammar corrections comes in more. Now, I'm not pointing at the blocks -- I'm just holding up pictures and asking individual students, "John, are you tired?" Maybe just for the first student, I'd say, "answer" or point to the "I am" blocks to elicit an answer, but for the most part, it would be question and answer, the students responding to my questions for each emotion "Yes, I'm tired" or "No, I'm not tired" etc.
If a student says, "I tired not", I'd go back to the blocks...hold up each block for "I" "tired" and "not" as the student said the word. Also, I'd leave a big space between "I" and "tired" since there's a word missing. Next, I'd point at just "tired" (students says the word) and "not" (students says it), and I'd switch the positions. Maybe the student will say "I not tired"...I'd repeat the process until "I not tired" was said. Then, I'd point to the empty space between "I" and "not" and shrug my shoulders as if to say, "What goes here?" If the student isn't sure, I'd hold up the light green rod and shrug as if to say, "What's this word?" When the student (or another student in the group) says, "am", I'd nod and put in the sentence block after "I" -- and the students looks at each block "I" "am" "not" "tired" ...
As I mentioned, it can be tedious! Sorry for the very lengthy example... I hope this ideas behind this method are of some use! :)

Sat Jul 15, 2006 6:50 am
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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2006 10:46 am
Posts: 2130
Location: Nagano, Japan
I've been thinking about getting the rods but I'm not sure if I'll even teach using them. They might help me visualize a better way to teach structure without having to 'teach' grammar.

After thinking about them for a while, they seem like they would be really helpful for sentence transformations and helping to expand sentences to contain more information.

There's a pretty quick overview of teaching grammar here

Does anyone know of a good link for 'sentence patterns' or diagramming?

Build up! Be positive! Teach hard!

Fri Aug 25, 2006 7:43 am
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Joined: Fri May 19, 2006 3:59 pm
Posts: 42
mesmark wrote:
I've been thinking about getting the rods but I'm not sure if I'll even teach using them.

:lol: Well, I must admit that my set is collecting dust at the moment. But, a big factor is my class size is too large -- I have no less than 21 students per class. Ideally, rods are great for 10 students or less, in my opinion.

But, my friend uses the rods for role play/dialogues, too. For teaching about grocery shopping and fruits, students could purchase 3 tomatoes (taking 3 red rods), or asking how much the bunch of bananas cost (yellow rods)...

Regarding sentence patterns, here's a link on syntax: ... syntax.htm

And another link that's very concise and organized re: sentence patterns:

On diagramming: ... frames.htm

Wed Sep 06, 2006 3:29 pm
Very interesting idea with the rods but I don't see how this raises the students' language awareness. It's almost a gentle way of error correcting, instead of saying wrong, you're telling them they've made a mistake, and that mistake is a missing word between two other rods. Are they learning why the word is missing? It seems to me that you could save a lot of trees and simply repeat their sentence, but pausing where they left out a word. Some people snap their fingers or stomp their feet in place of the missing word.

I would see the rods useful if they also represented the students' native language. If each rod had a meaning in English and the L1, then the students might be able to visualize the basic structure of English in contrast with their own language.

What's the children's response to this activity? Do they enjoy it, do you feel they are learning? Curious. Thanks!

Wed Oct 04, 2006 9:27 am

Joined: Fri May 19, 2006 3:59 pm
Posts: 42
Hi Dear Scotty,
Just wanted to address some of the points you've raised.
I can see what you mean by rods as a means of error correction, but this impression may be due to my poor explaination than the method itself. :)

But regarding error correction, I guess I think a wide-ranging number of tools address a wide-range of students' needs and learning styles, so I look at this as another tool. And, as teachers, do we really teach and correct, or offer guidance and suggested devices to help students in their own voyage of discovery? I suppose I'm getting at learning versus acquisiton, not to delve into too much debate on teaching philosophy. :-D

To fill the gaps of my explaination and the methods for rod use, just want to list the info I've read on the web regarding Rods, in case it's helpful to anyone else. The very last site I found rather helpful. ... rods.shtml ... mmar.shtml ... ammar.html ... entway.htm ... m_hahn.htm ... er2000.htm ... sw/vts.htm

Happy teaching!

Tue Feb 13, 2007 10:01 pm

Joined: Fri Nov 10, 2006 3:35 pm
Posts: 119
Location: Yamaguchi, Japan
The time I have seen the rods used is in conjunction with Gattengo`s the silent way. He was a mathematician/physicist who learnt something like 7 languages fluently. He thought there was a better way to teach, both maths and languages and he developed his methods. They are based on fantastic principles of learning and he was quite ahead of his time in terms of this development. His belief is that the teacher should truly be a director of learning and the students will retain knowledge better if they discover for themselves. He met Cuisenaire and saw that the rods worked well with his ideas.

The language method involves colour charts with different colours for different sounds. The students make a connection between colour and sound. The teacher doesn`t evenn have to say the sound but can get a student to make a sound and then show the colour. This is great left-right brain learning. The colours are also the same across languages, making subsequent languages easier to learn.

The colours then are matched to the written component of a language and there are then charts of a languages basic words, all using the colours. The teacher then guides the students, using the rods, into making sentences as explained here. It does have methods of then teaching writing. Gattengo also worked on how to get people to write more easily.

I only had a 20 minute demonstration of the method, teaching Japanese and it was quite a challenge, but I still can remember what we did clearly. There were about 12 in the demo lesson and I am not sure that it would work with a bigger group.

The person who showed us the method said that Gattengo had proved that students had much better recall. I have since read that he saw our poor memory as the main impediment to learning and that is why he developed the methods he did.

This is what I have been able to pick up from a variety of websites but I really like the philosophy behind it.

Wed Feb 14, 2007 9:21 am

Joined: Thu Feb 09, 2006 1:36 pm
Posts: 386
Location: Tohoku Japan

it looks interesting but I am not all that convinced

I don't think I will use it in class (yet anyway)

but its always good to look at new ideas and to share them

Wed Feb 14, 2007 11:18 am

Joined: Thu Jun 25, 2009 4:18 pm
Posts: 8
This thread is great.....I'm learning alternate ways of teaching from you all.

Thanks Mark for a great site.

Wed Feb 17, 2010 10:23 am

Joined: Tue Oct 07, 2008 10:06 pm
Posts: 34
Thanks, this is so interesting. I've only used them for math!


Fri Apr 23, 2010 8:05 pm
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