Quizzical about Cuisenaire

4 Nov

Last week at St. Mary’s we had a go at using Cuisenaire rods to build on existing vocabulary about food in English. Cuisenaire rods are small wooden blocks of varying colours and lengths, often used for maths, so that children can visualise sums and equations – they’re also really useful in language learning for the same reason.

So this particular Friday we were “opening a café”. We built the walls, put in the chairs and tables, and then began building the menu. Cuisenaire can be a tricky tool, as they require students so suspend disbelief, and use a lot of imagination to turn brown, red and yellow blocks into a chicken and bacon sandwich with mayonnaise and tomato. So often the activity gets off to a slow start.

However, after the premise had been accepted, the students were freely offering vocabulary, and building new vocabulary from the visual representations they could identify with (such as for our drinks menu – black for coffee, black and white for coffee with milk, and brown for tea.)

From the basic building blocks of food vocabulary, we were also able to build up a dialogue about ordering food, asking for prices, and talking about sizes and amounts. Students enjoyed building a “massive” sandwich with “lots of” chicken, “a little bit of” mayonnaise and “some” lettuce.

Cuisenaire rods are an enjoyable way of building vocabulary with beginner students, and they worked well with the idea of participatory leaning. It is left to the teacher to set the premise – i.e. Café, food menu, drinks menu – and then for the students to come up with all of the vocabulary, with the teacher using various blocks as visual prompts. It also allows for a lot of repetition without becoming tedious, and for a natural dialogue to grow out of the activity.

So overall, I think, a success.

If you’ve ever used them we’d love to hear how!

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