Mar 30

Cuisenaire Rods for Teaching Vocabulary- a great classroom idea!

Communicative vocabulary practice

Rods... an idea for teaching vocabulary

Maybe you remember Cuisenaire rods from primary school maths? Those little coloured sticks? They're great for langauge teaching, too! Want to know how? Stick around.

Video transcript

You might remember these little coloured sticks- they’re called Cuisenaire Rods- from learning maths when you were a child, but they’ve also been part of the language classroom for a long time. Want to know a great way to use them to teach vocabulary? Keep watching…

If this is the first time we’re meeting, I’m Jo Gakonga, I’ve been teaching for over 30 years, and training teachers on CELTA and MA TESOL programmes for over 20 of those. I’ve also got a website at where I make video based material for teachers at all stages of their careers. Check it out and don’t forget to like and subscribe if you want to see more – I make a new video every week.

Let’s imagine you want to teach the language of describing people to a group of pre-intermediate learners. Tell your class that they’re going to meet some people and you want them to watch, listen and remember, but not write anything down. Here we go.

You’ve just moved into a new flat and you’re meeting the neighbours:

In the ground floor, there’s Mr Jones (what’s his name?). He’s quite elderly and he’s Welsh. Where’s he from? Wales. That’s right. Is he young or old? (old)… what’s the difference between elderly and old? Elderly is more polite. He lives alone, he’s a widower- his wife died. Listen- widower. He’s a bit deaf, so he often has his TV turned up very loud.

What can you remember about Mr Jones- Welsh, widower, deaf, listens to loud TV.

OK- his neighbour Maria is from Poland. She came to the UK about ten years ago and she works as a nurse. She often works night shifts (does that mean she works in the day or at night-time? Yes- night- nightshift) so she gets very annoyed with Mr Jones – why? Because he has his TV very loud. That’s right. She’s not married, but she has a grown-up daughter who lives nearby and who visits regularly.

What can you remember about Maria? From Poland, been in UK 10 years, works night shifts as a nurse. Grown-up daughter who lives nearby.

In the flat next to mine there’s a family. Mike and Jenny and their twin boys Jack and John. Mike is a mechanic- he fixes cars- and Jenny has her own business online so she works from home. The boys are twins but they’re not identical (do they look the same or different?). They go to primary school and they both like playing basketball.

Now ask them to tell each other about the people you’ve described and then elicit from them all of the vocabulary you’ve taught them. You could get them to write down the descriptions or give them a gap fill for some controlled practice.

Now give each pair some rods and ask them to make up other neighbours and tell each other OR tell each other about their real neighbours.

End the activity with a discussion. Do you know your neighbours? Do most people know each other in your neighbourhood? How important are neighbours? Is it different in cities and country areas in your country?

I hope that this idea is helpful. Have fun with it and watch out for other lesson ideas with Cuisenaire Rods coming soon!

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