The tips and tricks for using Сuisenaire rods at the ESL class

Сuisenaire rods

Сuisenaire rods


  • Activities
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

ESL professionals are often looking for new ways of engaging their students in meaningful and thoughtful learning. Using Cuisenaire rods is one of such ways! If you have never heard of this word combination before, this article is definitely for you!

What are the Cuisenaire rods?

Cuisenaire rods are small, portable and not expensive, colorful wooden or plastic blocks that are used in teaching.

They initially come from Maths. Georges Cuisenaire (by the way, pronounced Kwee-zen-air), a Belgian teacher, once noticed that the students were much more engaged during their music class, where they had to constantly do something with their hands, rather than during the Maths class, where they were sitting and passively listening to the teacher’s explanations. 

That was the moment when Cuisenaire thought that it was high time to reinvent Maths teaching and make it much more engaging. This is how Cuisenaire rods were first introduced to the class. 

However, ESL teachers have come up with some ways to use the rods for their own benefit as well.

How can we use rods in an ESL classroom?

Below, you will see some ideas on how to use Cuisenaire rods in your classroom.


Cuisenaire rods are perfect for making any topic more visual. 

Say, you need to explain parts of speech. In this case, the rods may serve as a realia, and every block will represent a certain part of speech. Using yellow blocks as nouns, green – as verbs and blue – as adjectives makes it easier to learn the vocabulary, remember and recreate the correct word order, as well as complete correct-the-mistakes activities in a game form. 

Surely, it can facilitate the explanation of almost any grammar topic. For example, you can play a Past Simple game where students need to match a verb with a blue rod that means an -ed ending or a yellow rod which is an irregular verb. There are no limits to how Cuisenaire rods can be used. The application depends solely on the teacher’s imagination.


Storytelling with  the Cuisenaire rods is a great way to develop speaking skills in a new and unexpected way.

Every block represents a piece of text, a character or some plot twist. With the help of the rods, students are supposed to recreate a text while maintaining the correct grammar and vocabulary. 

As an alternative, you may give every rod a function (for example, blue is a certain action, green is a character etc.). Students are supposed to create a story individually or in groups and use every assigned piece. 

This type of task develops students’ creativity and soft skills in addition to grammar and target language practice.

Reasons to teach writing

Why should you try using rods in the class?

As we can see, there are plenty of ways you can use Cuisenaire rods for the benefit of your ESL classroom. But what are the specific advantages?

The improvement of classroom dynamic

Rod activities are usually not seen as hard studying practice by students and therefore provoke more enthusiasm and a more positive attitude.

That is why rods are especially effective in various language classes where English is more like an extra-curricular activity, which means that students arrive after a long day at school, university or work. 

Students may focus on a certain activity while having fun with rods.

More successful rapport building

During activities, interaction between learners and the teacher goes quickly back and forth. There is plenty  of room for personalization and humor from both the teacher and the student. 

That is why rod exercises are considered to be a great way to get to know your students better.

Students get more chances to speak

Naturally, rod activities are often connected with speaking practice.

That is why students get much more space to practice and develop their speaking skills. 

So, if you are thinking about adding more interaction to your ESL lessons, you should consider using Cuisenaire rods.

Build rapport in your class easily!

What challenges can you face while teaching with rods?

Surely, as with any method or approach, there are some potential challenges. Here are some of them:

  1. Some students may tend to get overexcited because of the fun atmosphere, so keep it under control. You may also establish some rules before playing.
  2. Active students get even more space for self-expression while introverted students may feel lost. Make sure everyone gets enough space for practice.
  3. Some students may feel skeptical about Cuisenaire rods due to their previous traditional educational background. If this  is your case, take your time explaining the aim of the practice and the procedure. 

We really hope that we have motivated you to try implementing the rods into your lessons. Join the Grade University for even more useful teaching tips.

Сuisenaire rods can't be used to practice storytelling. Is this statement correct?

Article authors & editors
  • Arina Kravchenko

    Arina Kravchenko


    Teacher of General English & IELTS



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