Lesson Plan - An experiment
with the Cuisenaire Rods
by Simon Ferdinand
Level: Intermediate (BEC-2 preparation)
Time: 60 minutes
Timetable fit: The lessons for this
group take place on Saturday mornings in two lesson periods,
10.00 - 11 .15 and 11.35 -12.50. This is within a nine-month
course. The previous lesson was on the same morning, from
10.00 to 11.15, and consisted of activities from the course
textbook, "New Insights Into Business" (Longman).
To experiment with the use of Cuisenaire Rods, and learn about
their effectiveness in different classroom activities.
To carry out a mingle speaking activity based on negotiations;
to recycle the language of company organisation and structure
(presented in the first lessons of the course, October 2000);
to teach and practise the language of economic trends (rise,
grow, fall, drop, sharply, gradually, go up / down, etc.)
The lesson will begin with a brief
explanation to the history of the Cuisenaire Rods and their
use in EEL teaching, while actually bringing the rods out
of their box. I believe this is essential to validate their
sudden appearance in this lesson, as I am concerned that they
may remind some of the students of primary arithmetic lessons.
The next stage is a mingle activity.
I want the first activity to familiarise the students with
the rods in a simple way which does not require the rods to
be interpreted. The intention here is similar to that of a
top-down approach to language presentation. This is a mingle
activity in which each student will be given three rods of
different colours, and each one will decide to try to collect
a particular colour. The students will be told to exchange
rods for other rods by negotiating with other students. In
the event that a proper two-way exchange is not possible,
the pairs must find a third student who can create a triangular
exchange. In order to give this activity a communicative twist,
the students will be told to negotiate using polite expressions
which would be suitable for a business context, and persuasion
will have to be used.
The third stage of the lesson is the
mapping activity. According to the number of students present
in this lesson (out of a maximum of twelve), I shall split
them up into pairs or threes. The students must make an organisation
chart of their company. Initially, I shall tell them to map
out the management structure in order to give them a clear
task as an example, but they will be free to go about this
task differently if they wish - a student who works in a very
small company may not have much to map out if limited to management.
The students must explain their own position in the scheme,
and their partner(s) must ask questions about roles and relationships
in the chart; the students later exchange roles. This should
personalise the use of the rods and result in a visually-stimulated
The third activity (Stage 4) intends
to revise the language of trends, which was presented at the
beginning of the course, but which still causes some difficulties,
since the students seem generally to use the verb "to
be" with "up" or "down" as an alternative
to the verbs "to rise", "to fall", "to
raise", "to drop", etc. I shall read a selection
of short texts from "The Economist" magazine's "Business
This Week" section. The students will make a bar graph
of line graph of the situation. For this, they will also work
in pairs. In order to make a bar graph, the rods can be laid
down side-by-side in such a way that they are set level at
the end nearest the students (the "base" of the
rods), but that the rise or fall can be seen at the "top".
In order to make a line graph, vertical and horizontal axes
can be formed by two pairs of the longest rods, with the trend
movements represented by shorter rods. Since the rods will
be laid out on the table top, I will be able to see immediately
how well I have been understood. Since each of the texts used
is about fifty to sixty words long, and describes neatly a
real-life and up-to-date trend, the creation of a bar graph
or line graph using the rods should be an effective way to
combine rods with a visual notion which reflects the meaning
of the language of economic trends, and should be as relevant
to the students as possible. This activity also integrates
At the end of the lesson, I shall ask
the students informally if they have enjoyed using the rods
and if they have found them useful. This will enable me to
decide whether to make further use of the Rods or not.
I assume an intermediate level of linguistic competence, and
at least a passive knowledge of the language of: company hierarchies,
job titles, economic trends.
Anticipated problems and solutions:
1. This is the first time I have used
Cuisenaire Rods, and as far as I know, the first time these
students have seen them in an English-language classroom.
1 am not at all sure about how the students will react to
them, nor about my own ability to use them effectively.
Solution: I will introduce the Rods in a brief preamble, mentioning
their history and their use in the Silent Way, as I believe
that if the students are told that the Rods are instrumental
to serious adult language learning, it should overcome any
idea they may have about the Rods being used only for children's
I have also planned three main stages based on the use of
the Rods which progressively assign the Rods an interpretable
identity, rather than jumping in at the deep end using a Silent
Way technique. I hope that this will steadily familiarise
the students with the Rods.
2. One set of Cuisenaire Rods will restrict
the activity of the students if they each take some Rods.
Solution: I will split the students into pairs or groups of
three, thus making more Rods available for each group.
3. The Rods will require a certain amount
of table space when mapping out organisation charts and bar
Solution: I will use a classroom which contains proper tables
and chairs rather than individual seats with armrest writing-panels,
and ask the students to clear the tables of their textbooks
and other paraphernalia.
- Set of Cuisenaire Rods.
- Collection of short texts from "The Economist"
- "Business This Week" section.
- (Classroom furniture - tables and chairs)
- Blackboard and chalk for any necessary explanations.
Stage 1: Warmer
To familiarise stds with the rods
To validate the use of rods in this lesson
t >>stds 5 minutes
1. Open the box of rods , take them out &
lay them on the table.
2. Introduce the rods, talk about the history& uses in
Stage 2: Mingle
To give freer speaking practice
To practice some business language
To use the rods freely without having to 'interpret' them
a symbols for something else
stds>>stds 10 minutes
1. Stds are given 3 rods each of different colours & are
told to choose one colour & collect three of the same
using business expressions to trade rods with the others.
2. Mingle activity.
Stage 3: Mapping
To 'empower the stds'
For the stds to practise speaking about their own jobs &
For the stds to practise explaining systems & relationships,
using visual & tangible stimuli - as they would when giving
stds>>stds 20 minutes
1. Show the stds how the rods can be laid out to reflect the
organisation of a company.
2. Explain the activity - Stds are split into pairs or threes.
Each group is given a variety of rods &, taking turns,
stds map the organisation chart of their company with reference
to their position in the scheme. The other stds ask questions
about the roles & relationships.
Stage 4: Listening
To give intensive listening practice.
To recycle verbs, adjectives, nouns
& adverbs related to trend movements.
t>>stds 10 minutes
1. Show the stds how rods can make
bar graphs & line graphs.
2. Read out short texts from the 'Economist' magazine which
refer to trend movements.
3. Stds work in pairs & create graphs that reflect these
Stage 5: Speaking
To give stds practice in speaking about personal observations
To change the focus.
To practise the language dis/agreement.
stds>>stds 10 minutes
1. Write on the board - economy, inflation, house prices,
number of employees in my company etc. Tell stds to use the
rods to talk about the different movements in the given subjects.
2. Activity - monitor & help out.
Stage 6: Conclusion
To obtain feedback on the use of the rods in the lesson
t>>stds 5 minutes
1. Chat to the group about the lesson - did they enjoy it,
like using the rods, would like to use them again...
Tim Hahn's article about Cuisenaire Rods
the cuisenaire rod activity illustration page
the December 2000 newsletter - theme: cuisenaire rods